Buddies: A tender, angry, funny film about Aids

Review: 1985’s Buddies was the first, and arguably still the best film to tackle the Aids crisis

Geoff Edholm and David Schachter in Buddies

Film Title: Buddies

Director: Arthur J. Bressan Jr.

Starring: Geoff Edholm, David Schachter

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 81 min

Fri, Dec 20, 2019, 05:00

   

David (David Schachter), a 25-year-old typesetter with an academic interest in the Aids virus, is given strict written instructions as he enters the ward: “Wear your mask”; “Dispose of your gloves before leaving”. David has volunteered at the gay centre to be a buddy to an Aids patient.

His first encounter with Robert (Geoff Edholm) is not a roaring success. The two men are very different. Robert is 32, fiercely political, fighting his fourth bout of pneumonia, and all alone. “It was like one of those silent films where the father throws the kid out into the storm,” he says of his coming-out. When he reads a Christian account of Aids as a gay plague, he literally foams at the mouth, Klaus Kinski-style, with anger. 

David has grown up with supportive parents and has a boyfriend of five years. He’s more than a little shaken by Robert’s fire and his frank questions about sex and even franker confessions. 

Shot on 16mm film in nine days, Buddies was the first, and arguably still the best, to tackle the Aids crisis. It remains a tender, angry, funny and urgent film, an intimate and beautifully-performed two-hander that, even on a shoestring production budget, allows for rage at Reaganite indifference and an almost unbearably poignant fantasy beach sequence. 

Buddies earned good notices and several awards for Arthur J Bressan Jr – documentarian and occasional director of gay porn – in 1985. Almost a generation later, it receives its first theatrical release on this side of the Atlantic, thanks to a new print, a campaign by the film-maker’s sister Roe Bressan and film historian Jenni Olson, and supporting materials such as the short documentary The Importance of Buddies: An Interview with Film Historian Tom Waugh.

A final shot of David as a lone protester with a handwritten sign outside the White House, set to the lush strings of the New York Salon Quartet, makes for a strangely hopeful spectacle, against bookending shots of a printer punching out a list of those who have died from Aids.

Tragically, that roll-call would soon include writer, director and editor Arthur J Bressan and star Geoff Edholm.