For a stretch of time in the 1980s and '90s, the word "buddy" meant, in modern gay life, someone who had agreed to be a friend to a man dying of AIDS. A buddy visited. Listened to stories. Laughed. Cried. And above all, tried to make sure that the frail man in the bed knew that he had not been forgotten. That his passing would be noted. And mourned.
In the 1985 film Buddies, writer-director Arthur J. Bressan Jr. did a simple yet radical thing: He told the story of one such friendship and, in the process, made the first feature-length drama about AIDS. Shot in nine days, Buddies earned respectful reviews and a few festival prizes, but has faded from view over the years. Bressan died of AIDS in July 1987; now, thanks to the efforts of his sister Roe Bressan and film historian Jenni Olson, Buddies has been received a 2K digital restoration. It remains as affecting as ever.
In a New York hospital, 25-year-old David (David Schachter) dons a surgical gown, mask and gloves to visit Robert (Geoff Edholm), 32, who is sick, alone and filled with fury at a society that's turned its back on dying gay men. In a painfully resonant scene, Robert tells David of a visit by his first and greatest love, and weeps at his failure to express his deepest feelings. The chance will never come again, and Robert knows it. Buddies was made from fury -- Bressan was outraged by the Reagan administration's murderous apathy. But also, I suspect, by the filmmaker's longing to have himself and all queers be seen by the larger world as fully human.