In 1985 the U.S. centre for disease control reported an 89% increase in new AIDS cases from 1984, the epidemic was so suddenly at a new terrifying height. 1985 is the same year the first films dealing with the horrific disease were filmed and released with the very first being a small low budget film by the name of “Buddies”. There is so much tragedy revolving around this film, the director, Arthur J. Bressan Jr. and one of the leads, Geoff Edholm both died of AIDS within 4 years of the films initial limited release. The rest of the tragedy comes from the film itself.
Buddies follows the heart-wrenching tale of Robert Willow (Edholm) a 33-year-old AIDS patient left in a hospital bed to face what was essentially a death sentence. That is until David Bennett (David Schachter) comes to his lonesome bedside and proclaims that he is Roberts buddy, a member of a volunteer group sent out to befriend and ease gay men dying of AIDS. The two initially fail to click before quickly forming a connection as David begins to learn about the storied and sombre love life of Roberts past. Time goes by, and the ending gets more and more apparent to everyone but David leading to devastating and lasting impact.
Realism or naturalism weren’t the goals of this picture, making clear that being gay wasn’t the problem was. Nothing ever quite feels like it’s something anyone would actually do or say. Whether it’s how instantly open the two men are with one another or just the slightly off ways they speak and react to each other, like they know the camera is in the room; the experience is never quite right. Yet the importance of the narrative, and how firmly based its consequences are in reality, elevate everything above the nagging issues. This is a film that could only be created by men on the forefront of death who had seen and were seeing so many men around them die and be vilified for it. Buddies is the ultimate product of its time and is immeasurably powerful as a result.
Two performers are all the movie needs in Edholm and Schachter and despite this being each of their second films they produce some profoundly moving work. Yes at times the fact they are acting is far too apparent, but they each produce moments purely born of copious amounts of raw emotion. From Robert reaction to the writing David brings him from his book about the thinking of groups surrounding AIDS, to David in the closing moments of the film on a payphone teary-eyed, they both shine exactly when they need too, and most importantly, they represent a scared group of people so essential to remember.
It’s hard to put into words how much this film must have meant to Arthur J. Bressan Jr. He made Buddies in 9 days; everything seems as if all the effort was to get the message out there as quickly as possible. To tell people that this is happening and not to be afraid, but to empathise, and call for help from a Regan government refusing even to comment.
This small resurgence the film is having is a silver lining on what is otherwise a sobering project. He made something historical with this film no matter how many people see it, it’s important, and that is quite an achievement.
Despite its flaws, Buddies is an incomparably powerful public service announcement designed to let the world know not to be afraid in the face of a deadly pandemic.
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