Essential Movies to Remember on World AIDS Day
December 1st is World AIDS Day, and our sister sites Advocate.com and HIVPlusMag.com are offering wonderful coverage on the subject. In that same vein, we thought it would be appropriate to remember some of the best films, both theatrical and on television, that have treated this still-ongoing health crisis in a memorable way.
These aren't depressing tomes about death and sorrow for gay men. Indeed, as World AIDS Day reminds us, many of these stories show life moving forward, a journey of heroes who ultimately take control of their lives and community. Each of these films should be applauded, not only for entering risky commercial waters when they were put out, but for actually contributing to the understanding of— and fight against— the scourge of the 20th century.
Released in 1985, An Early Frost was the first TV movie to deal with AIDS. It stars Aidan Quinn as an HIV-positive gay lawyer who has to confront his family about both his sexualy (still a silent subject at that time) and his illness. The incredible Gena Rowlands plays his mother, John Glover offers a standout performance as a dying AIDS patient, and Sylvia Sydney as Quinn's grandmother won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries or a TV Movie.
Tom Shales of the Washington Post called An Early Frost "the most important TV movie of the year," as it conveyed the prejudices surrounding HIV/AIDS at the time, as well as the public's limited understanding of how the disease was transmitted. It also got such notice that it truly paved the way for future HIV and AIDS plotlines in television shows and movies.
This groundbreaking 1990 film is probably the best study of AIDS ever made. A great cast headed by Campbell Scott, Bruce Davison and Mary-Louise Parker chronicle the story of several gay men and one straight female over the course of 8 years as they learn about, and deal with, the start of the AIDS epidemic.
The performances are extraordinary, and the finest of all is Bruce Davison. The scene where his character sits by his dying lover, telling him that it's all right to let go and stop fighting to live, is among the most emotionally devastating scenes ever filmed. Davison was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and should have won, having given one the most nakedly honest performances in film history. Mary Louise Parker was also at her dizzy best, especially when she and the hunky Campbell Scott discover a slinky red dress in the dead man's closet. They consider giving it to the undertaker but decide against it because "It needs a hat."
Longtime Companion also ends with a life-affirming fantasy sequence in which all the characters meet one last time. It was a brilliant ending to a memorable film.