Longtime Companion is a 1989 film with Bruce Davidson, Campbell Scott, Patrick Cassidy, and Mary-Louise Parker 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 instead of using the word partner, or lover.
The movie chronicles the first years of the AIDS epidemic as seen through eyes of several New York City gay men and the straight sister of one of them and the impact it has on them.
The movie 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
Over a quarter century later, Longtime Companion remains both an essential film in the history of the AIDS 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 (except the Youtube version below) and the DVD is out of print.
Though AIDS (then GRIDS) 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 lived in NYC during this time. I worked and went to the bars in the NYC’s greenich Village, The Anvil, The Mineshaft, Fire Island, the St. Marks Baths, and the porn theaters. I was there. I personally buried so many friends that younger LGBT people of our community today cannot imagine it let alone believe it. But as wonderful as LC might be it will never come close to portraying the road from happiness to the fear and horror of that era. The liberation of the late 70’s to the plague of the mid 80’s. And the burying of 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.
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 ramifications we live with today because of it.
No movie could capture the true horror of those years and what gay men faced in major cities. But Longtime Companion does touch upon the confusion, and and loss that we shared and 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 a cure and equality.
We fight now only for us. But also for those we lost.
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*Longtime Companion is still rated 100% FRESH at RottenTomatoes.com