Ryan Murphy's HBO adaptation of The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer's seminal play about the early days of the AIDS crisis, opens with a series of joyful scenes on Fire Island. These scenes are the calm before the storm, representing the moments before the disease ravages the gay community. These scenes were not in Kramer's play, which opens in a doctor's office, but they do recall what was deemed by the New York Times the "first mainstream American film about AIDS," the drama Longtime Companion, which was released in 1990. Longtime Companion, which was written by playwright Craig Lucas, both starts and ends at the beach. In the final, iconic scene three of the movie's protagonists—one of the central couples and their female friend—envision being joined by their friends who were lost to the disease. It's a moment, scored by the song "Postmortem Bar," that is bound to provoke tears.
The Normal Heart came before Longtime Companion, originally premiering at the Public Theater in 1985, but when Longtime Companion was released it was considered a cinematic first. Consider an article in Newsday from 1990: "Features about AIDS have had roughly the popularity in Hollywood that the Vietnam war had before 'Platoon.' Outside of TV, there has been none. That's changing May 11, when the Samuel Goldwyn Co. starts a limited release of 'Longtime Companion' in New York." The movie, as one might have expected, wasn't an easy sell. A 1990 article by Elaine Dutka in the Los Angeles Times explained that the budget of the film was cut in half because there was no one to co-finance it along with Lindsay Law of PBS's American Playhouse. "The film, which took six weeks to shoot, required twice as long to line up a distributor," Dutka wrote. "All of the majors took a look ('No one wanted to miss the next 'Crocodile Dundee,'' says [producer Stan] Wlodkowski, "but 10 minutes into the film, they knew there was no danger of that.'). All turned it down. The independents, despite lower overhead and greater experience in nurturing smaller films, also proved resistant." The movie got distribution from the Samuel Goldwyn Company and played at both Sundance, where it won the Audience Award, and Cannes, where it screened in the Un Certain Regard section.