THE BRESSAN PROJECT
Devoted to the preservation and promotion of the films of Arthur J. Bressan, Jr.
Launched in 2018 by Arthur’s sister Roe Bressan and LGBT film historian Jenni Olson, The Bressan Project is devoted to the preservation and promotion of the films of Arthur J. Bressan, Jr.
The first film to be released by The Bressan Project — in collaboration with acclaimed Blu-ray label, Vinegar Syndrome and Frameline Distribution — is a new 2K digital restoration of Bressan's 1985 independent drama, Buddies which premiered at Frameline: The San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival on June 21st 2018 followed by a one-week theatrical run in New York City at the Quad Cinema. Buddies is now available on Blu-ray/DVD via Vinegar Syndrome, Amazon and other retailers. It is also available on VOD from Vimeo On Demand and via Kanopy.com. And can be purchased on DVD and digital in the UK via Peccadillo Pictures and in Germany via Salzgeber.
Arthur's rousing 1977 film, Gay USA is now available to watch via Vimeo On Demand; it was restored in 2019 by the UCLA Film & Television Archive in collaboration with Frameline and Outfest. Gay USA documents the national Gay Freedom Day marches in June of 1977 and is the first American feature-length documentary by and about LGBTQ+ people.
The newest digital re-releases are Arthur's two early classic gay adult dramas, Passing Strangers (1974) and Forbidden Letters (1979) — both beautifully restored and available now exclusively from PinkLabel.tv.
ARTHUR J. BRESSAN, JR.
(May 27, 1943 - July 29, 1987)
One of the pioneers of independent gay cinema in the 1970s and ‘80s, Arthur J. Bressan, Jr. is best known for his devastating 1985 drama, Buddies (the first feature film about AIDS). Working across multiple genres including documentary, narrative, adult and short form filmmaking, Bressan’s boldness and artistry as a writer-director earned him both acclaim and controversy over the course of his decade-long filmmaking career.
In addition to Buddies, Bressan’s best known films include: the ambitious 1977 documentary Gay USA which showcased LGBT Pride celebrations across the country during the time of Anita Bryant’s anti-gay crusade; Passing Strangers, Bressan’s lyrical hard-core coming out drama which earned him the Best Director Prize at the 1974 San Francisco Erotic Film Festival; his second acclaimed gay adult drama, Forbidden Letters (1979) and Abuse (hailed by Rex Reed as “a film of astonishing power and emotional impact”). Other films include: Family Affair (1982), Thank You, Mr. President (1983), Pleasure Beach (1983), Juice (1984) and Daddy Dearest (1984). As well as the poignant short documentary, Coming Out (1972).
Bressan died of AIDS in 1987. The majority of his films have long been unavailable. The Bressan Project is currently undertaking efforts to preserve and make them available once again.
GAY USA (1977)
Newly preserved by UCLA Film & Television Archive from a 16mm internegative and a 35mm print. Preservation funding provided by The Andrew J. Kuehn Jr. Foundation, Frameline and Outfest.
Implementing his vision to create an uplifting nationwide portrait of the gay and lesbian community, Arthur J. Bressan Jr. enlisted film crews in multiple cities across the country to shoot footage and interviews at the gay pride celebrations of June 26, 1977. Having produced the majority of the footage with his own crew at San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day Parade, Bressan swiftly edited together the other location footage with his own and released Gay USA before the year was out. His sense of urgency arose out of a desire to combat the virulent homophobia of Anita Bryant’s June 1977 “Save Our Children” campaign. Look for Gay USA coming to a film festival near you. To book the film contact Frameline Distribution.
Released in 1985, Arthur J. Bressan, Jr.'s Buddies was the first feature length drama about AIDS. When gay yuppie New Yorker David (David Schachter) volunteers to be a “buddy” to an AIDS patient, the gay community center assigns him to California gay activist, Robert (Geoff Edholm). In the simplicity of the story and the elegance of its unfolding, Buddies achieves a rare perfection. It's a timeless portrayal of an entire era in gay history.
Buddies is available on Blu-ray/DVD via Vinegar Syndrome, Amazon and other retailers. It is also available on VOD from Vimeo On Demand. The film can be purchased on DVD and digital in the UK via Peccadillo Pictures and in Germany via Salzgeber.
To book Buddies for exhibition at film festivals, colleges or other venues via Frameline Distribution — click here for more info.
The restored Buddies has been presented at prestigious venues around the world including: The Museum of Modern Art, the Berlin Film Festival, Outfest, Frameline and many more.
Reflections and appreciations of pioneering gay filmmaker Arthur J. Bressan, Jr. from his friends and colleagues on the anniversary of his death (July 29, 1987).
Included below is a personal remembrance from acclaimed author and documentarian Arthur Dong. Immediately underneath this are five additional briefer reflections — by Jim Fall, Robert Adams, F. Allen Sawyer, Carl Teitelbaum, and Jeff Olmsted. We were also fortunate to receive two other wonderful longer appreciations of Arthur, which have been published by other websites: A powerful remembrance of Arthur at Talkhouse from Emmy Award –winning filmmaker Greta Schiller; and a thoughtful reflection at BoyCulture.com from LGBT historian Michael Bronski.
MEETING ARTIE, 1970
By Arthur Dong
San Francisco: 1970 was a heady year for me. The '67 Summer of Love, followed by the '69 Stonewall Riots, led to a new kind of freedom and I was high. Public, my animated film that skewered the normalization of violence and oppression, won the California High School Film Festival. Takahashi, a trendy gift shop notorious for its young gay clerks, hired me at $2.16 an hour. I moved into my first apartment, living amid low-income families, trans people, sex workers, drug addicts and the homeless in a shared $125 per month Tenderloin studio. I was 16. And I met Artie Bressan.
September 14 (or it might have been the 15th or 16th since I clustered dates in my diary): Artie was introduced to me by a Takahashi co-worker who was dating both Artie and myself. He had long hair then, perhaps tied in a ponytail, but maybe I'm thinking of Harvey Milk — the two had similar looks.
Artie (we called him "Artie," not "Arthur") and I shared ambitions for independence in filmmaking. Hearing that I was a high school senior, Artie decisively said I should contact Van Halsey, director of admissions at Hampshire College in Amherst; surely I'd be scholarship material. Newly opened, Hampshire was a progressive, even experimental college that bucked traditions and allowed students to shape their own curriculum. That sounded good to me, so I sent Halsey a print of Public with a cover letter.
September 27 (or the 24th, 25th or 26th): I don't recall who exactly was there, but a group of us got together for a movie night. I showed Public and Artie showed his films, all Super-8. Among his was Boys, a film about two boys, one sexually free and the other bookish, who meet while cruising in a park and then have sex. I wrote in my diary: "I really dug Artie's films — especially Boys because it's so much like how I feel and how much I'd like to — and he really dug mine."
I don't remember meeting Artie again, and I never heard back from Hampshire College. In 1971, I enrolled into the Film School at San Francisco State University but then dropped out; I tuned in to other desires, but made a self-promise to return to film someday. Meanwhile, Artie's career flourished, and watching his films gave me a vicarious connection to filmmaking. Looking back, I can see now that Artie's encouragement and his choice of stories to tell on screen had an indelible impact on me, a young gay filmmaker, at a time when such mentors were absent. Thanks, Artie, for shining a beacon in my heady 1970.
© 2020 Arthur Dong, DeepFocus Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Single-use, one-time permission granted to The Bressan Project.
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“Artie was the first out gay filmmaker I ever met. In 1983 I was going to NYU film school and working at the 8th Street Playhouse movie theater when Artie's film Abuse played there. I was blown away by the film. I met him at one of the screenings, we became friends and luckily for me Artie was preparing to make his next feature Buddies. He hired me as a production assistant and I was beyond thrilled to be working on my first feature film. He upgraded me to "Production Coordinator," giving me my first feature film credit. Artie's big hearted fearlessness as a storyteller, and his mix of the romantic and the political has been an inspiration to me as a filmmaker. It thrills me that his work is being restored and rediscovered by a new audience.”
— Jim Fall, Director of Trick, The Lizzie McGuire Movie
"I met Artie standing in front of the St. Francis Hotel at Geary and Powell on Union Square in San Francisco. He just walked up to me. I believe I thought at first he was someone offering me money for sex, but instead he told me about a movie he wanted to make and that I looked like one of the characters he envisioned. As a huge movie fan, I didn’t need to be talked into it. Soon after, we started filming what would become Passing Strangers. While I didn’t mind doing a film that would be marketed as a porno, it was really the story and what was clearly his sense of artistry that attracted me to the project. I remember Artie as gregarious and always enthusiastic. He never seemed to let things get him down, even when he was sick with hepatitis. I never saw him lose his temper, not even in frustrating situations during the filming. People were naturally drawn to him so he was able to enroll his friends in supporting the film. I remember that his influences were Frank Capra and Preston Sturgess, and it showed in the way he framed and chose his shots. I think those influences were why he loved using black and white. Although physically very tall and a looming figure, he was gentle and a romantic. It showed in the films I did with him. Both characters I portrayed represented innocence and the experience of falling and being in love. Richard, the darker character in Forbidden Letters, was overcome by it, as was the older man in Passing Strangers. Artie believed that love could conquer violence and cynicism. That’s who he was. He was on his way to becoming a major filmmaker, and I’ve no doubt he would have had he not lost his life so young.”
— Robert Adams, star of Passing Strangers (1974) and Forbidden Letters (1979)
Artie loved classic Hollywood films and every election year he'd put a BLACKIE NORTON FOR SUPERVISOR sign in his window. Blackie Norton was the character Clark Gable played in the 1936 movie San Francisco. Artie discovered that he and I both shared a fondness for Jeanette MacDonald films. At the time I was working at the Castro Theatre; I often worked in the ticket booth which stood alone on the sidewalk separated from the theatre. If Artie came walking down Castro Street and saw me in the booth he'd stop and serenade me the Nelson Eddy half of various operetta duets, crowds would gather, I'd be mortified, but I was a captive audience. Another SF cinema-related anecdote: I remember Artie taking Luann Rank and me to the Nob Hill Cinema to see Forbidden Letters. To get around the legalities of showing erotic movies, the Nob Hill was a private club and you had to get a "membership" to enter. I remember the name Luann put on her membership card was Frank Capra. The films were shown on 16 millimeter and there was an arcade behind the screen where audience members could "get to know" each other. Throughout the film many gentlemen got up from their seats and ventured to the arcade. Luann leaned over to Artie and said, "This film is so beautiful, I can't believe people are walking out." "They're not walking out," Artie replied "The film has inspired them!"
— F. Allen Sawyer, Founder and Director of The Hot Pants Homo Players
Artie called me about shooting the remaining scenes for his feature film Abuse. We met and just hit it off immediately. Artie had a radiant personality, a beaming smile and a passion about what he was doing. This carried over to his film-making. Working with him was such a pleasure. While he had firm ideas about what he wanted in a scene, he was always open to suggestion and appreciative of the crew’s efforts. His positivity was necessary under the circumstances. This wasn’t low-budget shooting….it was no-budget shooting. A couple of years later, I shot Buddies. I think we shot it in ten days. I recently attended a screening… hadn’t seen it in many years and the film held up beautifully. I was struck by how creatively it was edited. Aside from film, Artie’s other passion was music and that was put to good use in Buddies. The use of music and sound in the editing of Buddies helped so much in the flow of the film and the transitions between scenes. The film was put together masterfully. It was so enjoyable to watch and brought back a lot memories about making the film. I think about Artie quite a bit. I’m sure that’s true of all who knew him. Just a delightful person, a very talented film-maker and a good friend. I’m glad to see he is finally getting the recognition he deserves.
— Carl Teitelbaum, Cinematographer of Abuse (1983) and Buddies (1985)
Our concluding remembrance of Arthur J. Bressan, Jr. comes from his longtime composing collaborator Jeff Olmsted who was kind enough to share the text of the wonderful introductory comments he gave in 2019 at the Amherst Cinema premiere of the restored Buddies (1985): “Artie could quote at length from dozens of movies. From The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie — The dangerous and irresistible Scottish school-teacher says to her new students: 'Little girls! I am in the business of putting old heads on young shoulders, and all my students are the crème de la crème. Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life!'
I met Artie at an impressionable age, and he was a better mentor and friend to me than Miss Jean Brodie. In a sense though, I was, and still am, his for life; I can’t help thinking the way he taught me to think. We met in 1968, when I was an 8th grader at Hawley Junior High School in Northampton. He was 26. He taught American history there for 2 years, and during that time he gathered a group of devotees, young people who were attracted by his charisma, his large energy, his enthusiasms, his surprising and strongly-held opinions about everything, and his too-loud singing. He directed the first two plays I was ever in, and he taught an informal seminar on the history of film during one summer to a gang of us who brought our lunches to watch silent films in the classroom including The Great Train Robbery, Dream of A Welsh Rarebit Fiend and Birth of A Nation. Sound films too. Of course, we watched Citizen Kane. There’s a famous jump-cut to a shrieking cockatoo in Citizen Kane, and Artie sat by the projector and turned the volume way up at just the right moment to jolt us all out of our seats. He loaded the 16mm. films on to the school projector himself, and I presume he paid whatever it cost to rent these films himself.
He decided to make an 8mm. film starring this group of kids. For some reason, he asked me to write some music for the film. I don’t know why he thought I could write music, I had not written any music before, but the force of Artie’s personality was such that if he thought you could do something, you thought you could too. We had a cellist, a flutist and a guitarist in our gang, so I stole an idea from the Moody Blues, and wrote a piece of music. So our collaboration began.
Artie once said that The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie convinced him to stop teaching. He left Northampton and soon moved to San Francisco, came way out of the closet and began making films, documentary and pornographic. I had stayed connected to Artie through my high school and college years, and I continued to contribute music to those films.
About Artie’s pornography: You’ll see a clip from one of his porn flicks, (as he called them) Passing Strangers, in tonight’s film [Buddies]. I heard David Schachter, the actor who plays the young buddy in the film, say that Artie liked to introduce himself at NYU parties as a pornographer, when he could just as easily and truthfully have said he was an independent film-maker or a documentarian. That sounds like Artie, who liked to unbalance people.
Artie’s porn films had stories and characters. I thought this was an odd pretense at the time, because I thought people didn’t go to pornographic films to see stories and characters, so what was the point? I was half-right, but now I see it differently. Artie was up to something more idealistic and inventive than I understood. He wanted to make movies like the melodramas and screwball comedies that he loved, about real relationships, in which the characters were shown doing what real people do in real relationships, especially new relationships: they have sex. A lot. We should be able to SEE that.
Without the sex scenes, these films are tender, provocative, funny and romantic.
Along with Freud, and especially Wilhelm Reich, Artie believed that sex drives history; that sexual relationships, sexual oppression and dysfunction, misogyny, homophobia, dramas of dominance and submission are what history is. This is a theory with a lot of explanatory power.
As a corollary, he believed that sexual liberation was possible for all people, and that the free expression of sexuality might undo history’s horrors. He was a utopian in that way, and it is the agonizing death of that optimism that is the subject of Buddies.
In the film, the hospitalized character tells his life story. The way he tells it is the way Artie would tell his: his sex life, also known as his romantic life, IS his life. His sexual identity IS his identity. By sexual identity I don’t refer only to the language we use to refer to ourselves, but to our bodily experience, who we love, who we touch with our bodies, and how. It’s a philosophy of incarnation, and I use that word to amuse Artie, who would roll his eyes and be secretly pleased that I use a religious word to describe his thinking. Artie’s insistence, through the way he writes the character, that the body stays sexual, even through disease and to the door of death, will make some of us uncomfortable, but that’s part of what he came to say. And even though the character dies along with the dream of any soon-to-be-achieved sexual liberation, the final moments of the film urge a politics of sexually-informed engagement, and that’s the other thing he came to say: find your people, get with your community, and make some noise.”