In 1989, playwright and screenwriter Craig Lucas and director Norman René set their sights on creating a movie that would chronicle the first years of the AIDS crisis. The project would face an uphill battle getting made and finding distribution since Hollywood wasn’t very keen on bringing a story about gay men dealing with AIDS to the big screen at that time. Taking its title from the term used by The New York Times‘ obituaries section to reference the surviving partner of a deceased gay man, Longtime Companion premiered in May of 1990. The film follows a group of friends over an eight-year period from 1981 to 1989, with the movie beginning on the day The New York Times published the first article about what would go on to become the AIDS epidemic.
Yahoo! Movies interviewed the film’s screenwriter Lucas and several other people involved in Longtime Companion including actors Dermot Mulroney, Campbell Scott, Mary-Louise Parker, and Bruce Davison (who won a Golden Globe and received an Oscar nomination for his work in the film) to discuss the making of the film and its impact. Among the many difficulties the project faced, Lucas shared that the property association of the Pines in Fire Island was initially resistant to allowing them to shoot scenes there. It wasn’t until he threatened to tell the press that a place run by gays didn’t want to be associated with a movie about AIDS that the cast and crew were given the green light to film.
Casting also proved to be tough. Hollywood actors weren’t jumping at the chance to play gay like they are nowadays. Interestingly enough, Alec Baldwin had agreed to be in the movie at one point, but had to back out because of scheduling conflicts.
Watch the original theatrical trailer for Longtime Companion below:
Many of the film’s main characters pass away as the movie progresses, but to counterbalance the sadness of those moments, Lucas and director Norman René incorporated humor as much as possible. “Norman felt very strongly that when people are under duress, they survive by laughing and seeing the absurdity in the situation they’re in,” Lucas explained.
Sadly, Norman René passed away in 1996. He discovered he was HIV-positive shortly before filming on Longtime Companion began. René did not disclose his medical condition at the time since it would have prevented him from getting the required insurance for the shoot.
The film was a critical and commercial success upon its release; however, it still faced some backlash from activists within the LGBT community who felt the movie wasn’t political enough and lacked diversity in its representation of people with AIDS. Nevertheless, Longtime Companion remains an important part of queer cinema.
Unfortunately, the movie has become hard to find these days. It is not available in DVD or digital format, nor can it be found on streaming websites such as Netflix. Ira Sachs, assistant to the director, stated, “What’s interesting to me is the disappearance of the film. I feel like it hasn’t been canonized in a way that I would like it to be. It is a really accurate depiction of a time and a group of people and a crisis.”
Watch the final scene of Longtime Companion in which three of the characters wonder if a cure for AIDS will ever be found. In a time when advances in HIV medication are being made, it is a poignant scene that still resonates.