Thirty-three years ago today, the film Longtime Companion opened in New York City. It was the first wide-release theatrical film to deal with the subject of AIDS, the film takes its title from the euphemism The New York Times used during the 1980s to describe the surviving same-sex partner of someone who had died of AIDS.
You must remember that the gay community was on its own in the early days of AIDS. We didn’t have funding for care or research, we didn’t have hospital rights to visit our loved ones, and we didn’t have many elected officials that would even mention the virus. This film meant a lot, it gave us visibility.
Title: Longtime Companion
Directed by: Norman René
Written by: Craig Lucas
Produced by: Stan Wlodkowski & Lydia Dean Pilcher (co-producer)
Campbell Scott as Willy, Patrick Cassidy as Howard, John Dossett as Paul, Mary-Louise Parker as Lisa, Stephen Caffrey as Fuzzy, Welker White as Rochelle, Bruce Davison as David, Mark Lamos as Sean, Dermot Mulroney as John, Michael Schoeffling as Michael, Brian Cousins as Bob, Annie Golden as Heroin Addict, Brent Barrett as Soap Actor, Dan Butler as Walter, Robi Martin as Transvestite, Robert Joy as Ron, Tony Shalhoub as Paul’s Doctor, David Drake as GMHC Volunteer, Michael Carmine as Alberto, Melora Creager as Finger Lakes Trio, Jesse Hultberg as Finger Lakes Trio, Lee Kimble as Finger Lakes Trio, Brad O’Hare as a restaurant waiter
Cinematography: Tony C. Jannelli
Edited by: Katherine Wenning
Music by: Greg De Belles
Distributed by: Samuel Goldwyn Company
Release dates: October 11, 1989 (Mill Valley Film Festival), 21 January 1990 (U.S. Film Festival), 11 May 1990 (New York City)
Running time: 100 minutes
Country: United States
Budget: $3 million
Box office: $4,609,953
GLAAD Media Awards – Outstanding Film – Wide Release
Golden Globe Awards – Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture – Bruce Davison
Independent Spirit Awards – Best Supporting Male – Bruce Davison
National Society of Film Critics Awards – Best Supporting Actor – Bruce Davison
New York Film Critics Circle Awards – Best Supporting Actor – Bruce Davison
Sundance Film Festival – Audience Award: Dramatic
Longtime Companion chronicles the first years of the AIDS epidemic as seen through its impact on several gay men and a straight friend of one of them. The film is split into several sections identified by dates.
July 3, 1981
Willy (Campbell Scott), a personal trainer, and his friend John (Dermot Mulroney) are spending time with affluent gay couple David (Bruce Davison) and Sean (Mark Lamos) at their beach house on Fire Island for the 4th of July. Sean is a screenwriter for the popular daytime soap opera Other People and David comes from a blue-blood background and has a large trust fund. Back in the city, Howard (Patrick Cassidy) is preparing to audition for Sean’s soap. His boyfriend is Paul (John Dossett), a business executive and their next-door neighbor is Lisa (Mary-Louise Parker), an antique dealer, whose brother Fuzzy (Stephen Caffrey) is a lawyer who represents Howard.
That morning, The New York Times publishes its first article about the rise of a new “gay cancer”. The news spreads as friends call each other. Some are immediately concerned, others dismissive. Willy meets Fuzzy at a tea dance later in the afternoon and they begin a relationship. Howard lands the role.
April 30, 1982
John is the first among the group to be diagnosed with the new disease, contracting pneumonia. Howard is given script pages in which his character is slated to become the first openly gay character on daytime television. He is very concerned about typecasting, fearing that by playing gay he will not be offered other sorts of parts. Willy and Fuzzy move in together.
John dies shortly after his admission to the hospital.
June 17, 1983
Willy, Fuzzy, Lisa, David, and Sean gather back on Fire Island with friends Michael and Bob to watch Howard’s character come out on the soap opera. The group also discusses a sick neighbor who has become a pariah on the island. That evening, Sean and David argue over Sean’s fears that he might be getting sick.
September 7, 1984
Paul is hospitalized with toxoplasmosis. Sean is also hospitalized. Willy visits Sean and is so terrified of becoming infected that he dons a surgical mask and protective gown and, when Sean kisses him on the neck, excuses himself to the bathroom to scrub the spot. Michael (Michael Schoeffling) is also visiting Sean, bringing with him homeopathic preparations and a book by Louise Hay. Howard visits Paul and breaks down sobbing. Paul tries to reassure and comfort him.
March 22, 1985
Sean has deteriorated to the point of dementia. David is helping with his writing and deceiving the studio into thinking that Sean is still able to work. Fuzzy tries to get Howard a movie role but the producer refuses to cast him because of the rumor that he has AIDS. The same rumor got him fired from his role on Other People. Paul is back in the hospital following a seizure. David takes Sean for a walk but has to take him home when Sean urinates in a fountain at a park. That night Willy catches Fuzzy checking himself for swollen glands and they talk about their fear of dying. “What do you think happens when we die?” Fuzzy asks. “We get to have sex again” is Willy’s reply.
January 4, 1986
Sean has deteriorated to the point of near-catatonia and is in constant pain. He has to be strapped into his bed and has lost control of his bowels and bladder and has to wear adult diapers as a result. After sending Sean’s nurse Henry on an errand, David sits with Sean and tells him that it is all right to let go. Sean dies. Willy and Lisa come by to help David, and they pick out a suit for Sean to wear to be cremated. Fuzzy calls Gay Men’s Health Crisis to find a funeral home. In a rare moment of levity, Lisa and Willy stumble across a slinky red dress in Sean’s closet and consider giving it to the undertaker. Ultimately they decide against it, since “it needs a hat. A big Bea Lillie thing!”
The four go to a Chinese restaurant to write Sean’s obituary and include David as his “longtime companion”.
May 16, 1987
David has died in his sleep on the day of his memorial service. Bob (Brian Cousins) and Willy eulogize him. At the following reception, the friends recall a time when David tried on his sister’s wedding dress, accidentally tripped, and fell down the stairs, still wearing it.
September 10, 1988
Fuzzy and Lisa are volunteering to answer phones at GMHC. Willy is a “buddy” to a GMHC client, Alberto (Michael Carmine).
Howard has been diagnosed with AIDS. Although it is not mentioned, the presumption is that Paul has died. Howard uses his remaining fame to raise money for AIDS causes by hosting a benefit, including a performance by Finger Lakes Trio of the Village People song “YMCA” performed in a pastiche of chamber music style.
July 19, 1989
Willy, Fuzzy, and Lisa walk along the beach. They talk about an upcoming ACT UP demonstration. They talk about remembering a time before AIDS and wonder about finding a cure. The film ends with a momentary fantasy sequence, with the friends and others lost to AIDS appearing with them on the beach before they vanish again and the three are left to walk off the deserted beach while the song “Post-Mortem Bar”, by Zane Campbell, plays on the soundtrack.
Full Film (YouTube has deemed this ‘age-restricted 18+, you will need to go directly to your YouTube account to view it)
This was a VERY important film about a health crisis that could have easily been better managed in therms of the population. The political stigma that was attached to Gay relationships is a hold over from Judeo Christian writings of over 3,000 years, and was codified in too many law books. Like Wiccan and other individual choices of religious basis, it’s entirely against the concept of individual freedom. And this “Codification” remains today, and is often used as the basis for far more outlandish claims in our society today. I don’t believe in indoctrination. I believe that every person has a right to discover their own person. I also believe that NO One has a right to enforce personality on anyone, of any kind.