Article Title:Longtime Companion
Author or Credit:Chris Banks
Published on:13th January 2006 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:1077
Text:LONGTIME COMPANION Dir: Norman René US, 1990, 35mm, 100 mins Currently showing on Sky's MGM Channel It's a sad state of affairs that when Hollywood finally got around to making films about gay men, they all seemed to be about gay men dying. This phenomenon of AIDS films became so prevalent in the 1990's that it was even referenced humourously in the gay romantic comedy The Broken Hearts Club (2000), where the character Howie complains that the only films with gay men in them have them as "noble suffering AIDS victims or the friends of noble suffering AIDS victims." Longtime Companion is one of those films, but to dismiss it out of hand would be a big mistake. For a start, it doesn't follow the formula of the 'disease of the week' picture. It concentrates firmly on the human aspect of the impact of AIDS on a small group of friends, mainly couples, and follows their lives in a series of episodes – starting in 1981, when they first read about a strange new disease in the New York Times, and ending in 1989, when it seems no longer possible to remember what life was like before it. The interweaving stories of the film are also unique in that they concentrate largely on couples. One has been together for decades, another has just met. The performances are uniformly excellent, and the relationships are heartbreakingly real, unlike the emasculated pairs that still pass for same-sex couples on mainstream television and in films today. We're given just enough time to get to know each of them before their lives are torn apart. By concentrating on the lives of the characters rather than giving us a wider picture of the progress of AIDS, we're put firmly in their shoes, experiencing their denial, paranoia, and frustration. The episode format works wonderfully for this as well – as we move from year to year, we're never sure who's still going to be around, something that any gay man who lived through the 1980's will be able to relate to. Some heterosexual reviewers couldn't relate to the film on its release because it didn't make any concessions to "mainstream" life. According to PlanetOut, reviewer Ralph Novak wrote in People magazine that this was likely to distance straight audiences from the emotional upheaval the characters go through. This is rubbish. There's no political grandstanding in this film, no religious zealots, and no partners being shut out of the hospital. There's only human beings to be found here. There are few nods to the prejudice of the outside world. When the friends discuss with excitement the inclusion of an openly gay character on a daytime TV soap, the soap's writer Sean comments that visibility won't make any difference to people's prejudices, because they'll still hate gays. Howard, who plays the character in question, is terrified he won't be able to get any more acting work if he accepts the part. The phrase "longtime companion" is the best partners can hope for when being referenced in a newspaper obituary, but as Lisa points out, at least they can be mentioned at all. But Longtime Companion is not as relentlessly depressing as it sounds. While And The Band Played On (1993) gave us an apocalyptic tragedy where no gay man could survive, Longtime Companion is closer to the reality of how things played out. There are survivors, there is hope, and most importantly – in a very moving final scene – there is remembrance. Chris Banks - 13th January 2006    
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