Blu-ray Review: Buddies

Once upon a time for most of the 20th Century there was the National Film Service. You might have never heard of them (and I might have the name wrong), but they’re the reason you got to see movies. They were in charge of the distribution of films to commercial theaters. The labs would send over the film prints, NFS workers would put them on reels, stash them in metal cans and ship them to multiplexes from Hollywood to around the country. They were a monopoly for decades with major, minor and indie studios using their service. But in the late ’90s, several studios rebelled and started their own distribution business. And very quickly NFS collapsed. Word leaked out that their warehouses around the country were just going to scrap all the unclaimed films that were on the shelves along with cans, reels and other items. My old boss at the film archive acted fast and used his connections to get NFS to “donate” everything to us. Over next month hundreds of freight trucks arrived and we unloaded them at a massive cigarette warehouse that filled up fast. The 35mm film prints were not the huge studio hits since they’d quickly grabbed them. Most of the titles in the piles were unclaimed because the independent distributor had either gone bust or didn’t want to pay the past due rental fees. Along with the 35mm prints were quite a few titles on 16mm. I had a projector in my kitchen so I’d take home a couple to check them out for content and quality. And that’s where I found Buddies.

This was the first film to deal with AIDS and doesn’t pull it’s punches on the morality. It opens with a computer print out of recent men who have died of AIDS. But very quickly it goes from names to a human when we meet Robert (Geoff Edholm) in a hospital bed. He’s alone in the world as both his family and those he considered friends have abandoned him. Into this lonely downward existence arrives David (David Schachter). He’s a Buddy that’s been trained to be a person to help a terminally ill patient who needs a friend while stuck in a hospital. Audiences would probably expect a kind of noble sadness between the two as Robert stares at the specter of death so close. But the ill man wants more than spiritual talk with his new Buddy. He still has a libido and wants to remember that there is carnality in the world. The film features long dialogue between the two men about AIDS and how it has impacted their community. It’s kinda like My Dinner with Andre except with larger check coming at the end of the meal.

Some may view the film as talky and rather stage bound, but it is extremely effective for the budget. Buddies was not going to lure in the audience that was in line for Back to the Future. This was not Philadelphia with Tom Hanks and Denzil Washington fighting back against society and a corporation to get the crowd to root at the end. This is about a man facing his death and another man questioning his own life choices. Writer-Director Arthur J. Bressan Jr. died of complications from AIDS a few years later so the film is more poignant than a project created by a concerned screenwriter staring at a few newspaper articles. This isn’t just a cancer film adapted to reflect the new deadly disease. Bressan made an extremely personal film that for decades was obscured by Hollywood product that had bigger stars, budgets and characters that didn’t talk so raw. Buddies deserved more.

We ran the print of Buddies for the students during an on campus film series. I’d mention the title to any visiting film professor or person connected to a festival that dropped by the archive. But there was so little we could do with the movie since the archive didn’t have the rights to show it off the property to an audience. We didn’t have the resources to track down those rights. But we made sure a few more folks knew about it even if it was just those visiting our small corner of Winston-Salem. The fact that Vinegar Syndrome has been able to bring this film out to the public is a relief. No longer when I think of the movie is it stuck on a shelf. Anyone can now order the Blu-ray and absorb the power of Buddies.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The film was shot in 16mm so we’re seeing what was in the camera lens. The audio is DTS-HD MA Mono. The levels and mix are fine for the talk and music. The movie is subtitled.

DVD with film and bonus features.

Making New Friends (32:29) interviews co-star David Schachter. He talks about his relationship with director Arthur J. Bressan Jr. He trusted Arthur on the movie without a script. He reflects how he eventually became a Buddy in real life.

The Importance of Buddies (20:28) gives the films context with film historian Thomas Waugh. He’s the author of the film book The Fruit Machine. He talks about how Bressan made both documentaries and adult features.

Theatrical Trailer (1:33) is from the world premiere at the Castro Theater in 1985. There’s no clips from the movie, but text and production stills.

Archival Production Still & Article Gallery (2:38) includes photos from the premiere at the Castro.

Vinegar Syndrome presents Buddies. Directed by Arthur J. Bressan Jr. Screenplay by: Arthur J. Bressan Jr. Starring: Geoff Edholm, David Schachter, Damon Hairston & Joyce Korn. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 79 minutes. Released: July 31, 2018.

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