Buddies is now available on blu-ray
During the late summer of 1985, as AIDS tore through global communities, a small budget, hastily made film made its debut at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. Buddies would not only challenge the public debate on AIDS but deliver the world a fresh insight into the lives of those affected. Its premiere would come at a time when individuals were forced to take the state’s role in caring for their friends, partners, and lovers as the world talked of a gay plague. Here a small-budget film would quietly and confidently challenge perceptions and ideas while giving voice to isolated communities where heartbreak, anger and pain were rife. However, since its release, Buddies had all but vanished into film history, its place as one of the most powerful and influential AIDS films of the past 30 years undervalued.
On the 9th of December, Buddies will finally receive a long-overdue restoration and transfer to streaming and blu ray, with our friends at Peccadillo Pictures bringing this groundbreaking film back into public view.
During the early 1980s, concerns began to emerge in the United States about a rare form of cancer named Kaposi’s Sarcoma appearing in young people and adults and an aggressive form of pneumonia beginning to take root in selected communities. Many of those initially infected by these two new illnesses sat on the fringes of American society, with the public response lacklustre as governments backed away from any meaningful action. However, for many doctors, concerns were beginning to grow, and by 1982, the first documented cases of a new condition named Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) were recognised.
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By late 1982 AIDS was already out of control in major US cities ranging from New York to San Francisco, where it was clear that gay male communities, ethnic minorities and street workers sat at the centre of infections. But, despite this growth, the Reagan administration remained silent, allowing the virus to continue unchecked, with little research into its origins, causes and effects. Meanwhile, AIDS cases were beginning to multiply across the globe, from London to Berlin and Paris. Like America, global governments showed little concern while encouraging an atmosphere of fear and homophobia through language such as the gay plague. Here far-right religious groups and commentators would seize the opportunity to reverse the hard-one rights achieved during the 1970s while encouraging gay panic.
As a result, the LGBTQ+ community and their straight allies were left to their own devices, receiving little or no support in fighting the spread of the virus or possible treatments. By the end of 1984, 7,239 cases of AIDS had been reported in the USA alone, with 5,596 deaths (*amfAR). During this time, media and film largely remained silent, fearing the discrimination it may face in discussing this new epidemic, despite many celebrities and personalities dying of AIDS in silence and shame.
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Filming started on director Arthur Bressan, Jr’s two-person play, Buddies, in May 1985, on a shoestring budget of $27,000 over four months. Here the speedy filming reflected the urgent social climate surrounding his film as he attempted to shine a light on the AIDS crisis. Opening in a New York hospital, 25-year-old David (David Schachter) enters a room in full protective robes. Here his surgical mask, apron and gloves were symbolic of the fear and apprehension surrounding AIDS in the early 1980s.
David is due to meet Robert (Geoff Edholm), a 32-year-old gay man from California who is alone, angry and scared as AIDS ravishes his body. Robert’s life campaigning for equality now seems a distant memory as he lies isolated from the world around him until David walks in. Here both men come from opposing backgrounds, despite sharing the same sexual orientation. For example, Robert was disowned by his parents for coming out, while David is in a long-term relationship with close and supportive friends and parents. However, despite their initial differences, the two men grow close through shared stories and discussion. Here David discovers that being a buddy is far more than just conversation and support; it’s a life-changing journey of discovery, community, friendship and love.
Arthur Bressan, Jr’s intimate, powerful and emotional film plays witness to the early days of the AIDS outbreak and its effect on both individuals and communities. Here Bressan brings his own experiences to the screen through David and Robert. Bressan’s film would bravely and boldly challenge social stigma and prejudice, allowing humanity and care to shine through Robert and David’s shared laughter and tears. Here Buddies would tear apart the media image of zombie-like AIDS victims spreading the plague and replace it with the real people behind the disease, who were campaigners, artists, sons, daughters, writers and lovers.
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Buddies was the final film Arthur Bressan Jr directed before losing his own battle with AIDS in 1987. Its enduring power is held in a screenplay that was unafraid to explore AIDS, politics, community, culture and experience. Eight years after the film, Philadelphia was hailed as a groundbreaking piece of cinema. Yet it is Buddies that should have received praise and attention from Hollywood. The fact it didn’t is a damning indictment of a film industry too scared to place its head above the water. Buddies is not only one of the most powerful AIDS films ever made; it’s Bressan’s defiant, emotional and angry wake-up call to society.
Director: Arthur J. Bressan Jr.
Cast: Geoff Edholm and David Schachter