Gay History: 1989 – “Longtime Companion” Released. The First Movie About AIDS Turns 25 Years Old

Longtime Companion

Longtime Companion a 1989 film with Bruce Davison, Campbell Scott, Patrick Cassidy, and Mary-Louise Parker celebrates its 25 year anniversary this week.

LC was first wide-release theatrical film to deal with the subject of AIDS, the film takes its title from the words The New York Times used to describe the surviving same-sex partner of someone who had died of AIDS during the 1980.’s

The movie chronicles the first years of the AIDS epidemic as seen through its impact on several gay men and the straight sister of one of them and is is split into several sections identified by dates from July 3, 1981 when the New York Times published its first article about the rise of a new “gay cancer.” to 1989.

“Bearing the burden of being the first film about AIDS, Longtime Companion (which premiered at Sundance Fest) it had the task of placing the crisis on the national agenda, which meant a gentler, kinder tone; even so, it’s a touching, sensitive film that helps us understand the bravery and gallantry of those who have been forced in the prime of life to confront death and grief.” –Emmaunnel Levy

More than a quarter century later, Longtime Companion remains both an essential film in the history of the epidemic and an enduring portrait of grief and loss. Yet in recent years, Longtime Companion has fallen into an undeserved obscurity: It’s currently not available on any  streaming platforms  and the DVD is out of print.

Though AIDS (then GRIDS) had begun as an obscure and seemingly isolated medical crisis — one that had been introduced to most of the country via a 1981 New York Times story featuring an ominous, and now infamous headline, “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals” — it had exploded into a terrifying deadly epidemic with no end in sight.

I was there. NYC, The Village, The Anvil, The Mineshaft, Fire Island, the St. Marks Baths, and the porn theaters. I buried so many friends that many younger people today cannot imagine it let alone believe it.  . As wonderful LC might  it will never even come close to portraying the road from happiness to the fear. The liberation of the late 70’s to the plague of the mid 80’s. And burying friends and loved ones week after week while wondering who was next and scared to death that it might be you. And no one in power gave a shit.

I lived through this and to this day I grieve for all the friends that I lost and often think to myself “Why me? Why did I survive while so many of my friends didn’t””  I was no better and in some cases so much worse.  i ask this question to myself day after day and probably will until the day I die and I see them again.

It’s impossible for people who didn’t live through it to understand the depths of the pain, loss and anger AIDS brought to my generation.  And what we live with today.  

Longtime Companion is an excellent movie.  And along with The Normal Heart it might, just might actually help the  younger members of the LGBT community  understand the devastation that our community suffered. And why the survivors today are so angry and fight so hard for equality.

We fight now only for us.  But also for those we lost.

 

 

**After 25 years Longtime Companion is still rated 100% FRESH at RottenTomatoes.com

Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, writer, blogger and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Advocate, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, Raw Story, and The Huffington Post

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8 Responses

  1. Rob Greene says:

    Very well thought-out article. Thank you.
    I, like you, lost too many friends; I was DJ-ing through the 70’s and 80’s and as much as I love to re-live the memories that practically every song raises, those memories have faces attached – faces gone but never forgotten.
    Who would have thought that the music we jumped and hollered to could have such a bittersweet edge.

  2. Don Larson says:

    Will, this is such a beautiful testimonial. Thank you! I lived thru the epidemic too, though not in NYC, and also lost many friends. It is so damn important to remember them and what our community went through. It’s where so much of the anger we feel comes from, I believe. Thank you again for this moving personal remembrance – you rock buddy!

  3. I just watched “The Normal Heart”. I am wiped out. It was totally painful to relive those early terrible days. It was powerful and heartbreaking.

  4. Very nice post. More movie suggestion please.

  5. Bob in Chicago says:

    I know this is a repeat from last year but I find myself sitting here crying all over again. This movie is so hard for me to watch. It represent lost youth, lost innocence and cherished lost friends. I need to go have a good cry. It is so painful and sad getting older when so many people died so young.

  6. Neil Macauley says:

    I was a teen in the late 80s and part of the first generation that knew from a pre-adolescent age that sex could equal death. In fact although we were sheltered by our parents, the school system and suburbia, it wasn’t hard to feel the ominous sense that sex wasn’t something to be celebrated but feared. Not a way I would want my child to feel but at the time it more fear was better for gay teens beginning to explore their sexuality in the closet with other gay youth. I credit the fact that the generation before had become so very angry and vocal in exposing aids. Here in Vancouver that was in the form of Dr. Peter who, as a young doctor who was also suffering from AIDS, documented his very personal health struggles on a tv show funded and carried by our public broadcaster here in Canada, the CBC. I highly recommend checking out his legacy for those not aware of him.

    But now I’m 40 and the older I get the more I am aware of a lack of the role models that so many in the generation before me would have become. Gay history is not something one inherits, it’s chosen. And therein lies a dilemma, challenge and opportunity. We have a duty to remember those that came before not only because of the awareness and rights so many of us take for granted now but because despite our gains, the mainstream heteronormative culture will always largely ignore, malign and suppress cultural history on the fringe.

    I wish there were more of that generation around partly (selfishly perhaps) because if AIDS hadnt taken so many at so young an age they would have revolutionized how gay men experience aging like the larger baby boom generation is. That is so important because the role of the community in our aging experience – which is largely one of relying on friends as opposed to children – is and will continue to be so vital.

    Anyways, thanks for that post and this post and this website. Much appreciated.

    Neil

    • Bob in Chicago says:

      That was a very thoughtful contribution.

      Stay with me on another was of looking at this.

      This may be provocative but I sometimes think if we had not had AIDS we may not have had gay marriage today. Well AIDS and the Stonewall Riots. Stonewall was very liberating for gay people but our liberation resulted in very casual and frequent sex for many of us. And it often remained very private and closeted. But AIDS forced many gay men out of the closet. I remember so many men wasting or on crutches or in wheel chairs. It was so tragically sad. But they were also very visible. And gay men and gay women rallied to care for each other in a very visible way. In so many ways AIDS made my generation very very visible. I think that gave a lot of inspiration to your generation and the next to stand up in a very healthy way and to demand respect and acceptance. I think my generation started the acceptance movement but the next generations demanded very loudly that they were never going to be left behind or hide in the same closet that so many of my generation did until illness forced so many out.

      Congratulations to all who survived AIDS and all those who moved our cause forward in a magnificent way! But we still have a long way to go.

What do you think?