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HBO was beginning to choose projects other networks were afraid to
touch. And the Band Played On is one of their all time top ten. The
actors who participated in this film were only paid scale, and not a
lot of money was used, but the message is the strongest. I viewed this
on its premiere and couldn't sleep afterward. I view it more these days
since I've had many friends die of "red tape" of AIDS.
According to this film based in Randy's book, what bothers me the most was the opportunities that existed by several people to catch this disease at various stages and it just wasn't done. Sure the government played its part, but so did commerce, so did vanity and so did the need for humans to be sexual beings.
Since the film I've read about the deaths of many as well as experienced deaths myself. One thing that stands out is "Patient Zero". The family of this gentleman has fought long and hard for that stigma to be erased. As the character says in the film: "If I got it, then someone gave it to me". I do understand terms that mark things as "the beginning" of the identified problem but with this film you will know there was a beginning BEFORE THAT beginning. Where it lies is still a mystery.
On the other hand if America could have shared information with other countries and paid closer attention we could have fought this is a world problem before it got to the point of where it did. But America was too busy allocating more money to military defense than to the medical defense.
America had discoverable AIDS cases as far back as the 1950's, but it didn't reach total epidemic status until the late 1970's early 1980's. This film brings that information out. It also brings out the information that this disease, although concentrated in the gay community, had no specific target, anyone could/would get it. The people in my life were not all homosexual who contracted the disease but a few were just receivers of blood transfusions. At the time they received the blood, the test was not developed for screening. Just like the film points out, they too (family, friends, associates) suffered.
There is so much to grab in this film, one or two viewings isn't enough. One or two pointed fingers is not the answer. It is equally as sad that almost 10 years later, I am writing this review and the band is still playing. It was my prayer that this would not be so.
I read this book in high school in the late 80's just as it was
released. The book was excellent and gave a great educational lesson on
HIV and AIDS. The movie was just as good. I was really touched at the
end when "The last song" by Elton John was playing. The movie gave a
great time-line of the virus.
It is so terrifying to think AIDS has actually been around since probably 1959 when a blood sample from a man from the Congo had died of a mysterious illness, and tests run on the blood sample today showed he did indeed have AIDS. The movie was very touching, this whole topic leaves a lump in my throat. I was 13 when AIDS had started making the news and in 1985 or 1986 my dad had a blood transfusion. We spend months worrying if he had contracted HIV. Thank god he got clean blood and he dodged a bullet, unlike the 25,000 people in the 70 and 80's who received tainted blood.
I got teary eyed when an HIV+ guy in the movie says "This is not a political issue. This is a health issue. This is not a gay issue. This is a human issue. And I do not intend to be defeated by it. I came here today in the hope that my epitaph would not read that I died of red tape."
The predictions were accurate. The scientists predicted there would be 40 million people worldwide infected with HIV by the turn of the century and that number has proved to be pretty much dead on, literally.
And The Band Played On is an extremely powerful movie. This movie
should be required viewing in any high school. The fact that it took so
incredibly long for the then higher powers to admit to the existence of
AIDS is stunning and sad. The performances throughout the movie were
moving and effective. I thought that Sir Ian McKellan and Richard Gere
represented respectfully the signs of strength and fear.
I was also disheartened to learn that throughout this tragedy, there were individuals who might have been more concerned with helping and protecting their own reputation and agenda as well as accepting the credit for their work in breaking down point by point the disease known as AIDS. Alan Alda as Dr. Gallo was fascinating. In fact all of the performances from Matthew Modine and Richard Gere to Steve Martin and BD Wong were great. The most important thing here though is the history of this disease and the hope that we can learn from it.
I decided to watch this movie again tonight for the first time in
several years. I lived in San Francisco when the epidemic began and had
a first hand view of the fear, paranoia, and grief.
The movie brings back memories of worrying about my gay child and many of my friends. We attended more than a few memorial services. My son, praise be, is fine.
The best thing about watching it so many years later is to realize how far we've come since then. AIDS is no longer the death sentence it once was. The book and the film did a great deal to raise public awareness. HBO was courageous, the actors were all first class and I believe it was realistic in its portrayal of the heroes, the villains, and the public ignorance and apathy of the time.
I've read far too many reviews of this movie that just don't seem to
get it, even if they did enjoy the film. The purpose of the movie was
precisely to show how the AIDS epidemics reached the stages that it did
before anything was done, and how the Doctors, researchers and even the
federal government and the CDC contributed as much to the progression
of the disease as they did to discovering it. To state that this
presentation, while not quite showing as much regarding the suffering
of the early AIDS patients in some way makes "less of an impact" than
it may have otherwise, is to basically state that you have no concept
of what the purpose of the movie was! Anyone who actually WAS around
when the AIDS crisis began can remember getting blood tests for
Hepatitis, then something called HTLV III, then HIV, all with no
explanation or understanding as to why. And that was only if you were
giving blood! They misconceptions and fears passed on from scientists
themselves made it far more difficult to actually understand what it
was and how to be safe. This movie explained far better than any other
resource exactly what was going on during a time when those of us who
WERE alive were getting no answers at all.
So, if you're going to comment on a movie, make sure you have some idea of what the purpose of the film is before questioning the point of view of the film. This is quite possibly one of the most important films of the past twenty years BECAUSE of its point of view.
Unbelievable, wrenching film. This movie is told so thoughtfully and
well; the sequences are laid out thoughtfully, and this is one of those
rare movies literally told from the heart. The cast is just remarkable.
What a huge story to tell; this could easily have become garbled due to
the overwhelming subject matter. However, it is sequenced well, and
acted so well, that you sit there in astonishment that this could
happen in a world full of otherwise brilliant people.
I don't know what it will take to remove political considerations from life-and-death struggles...How about we work at saving lives, and worry about who gets credit later? If someone becomes injured due to gang warfare, we don't deny them care or drag our feet because we don't agree with the gangster "lifestyle".
Absorbing, heartbreaking and touching. A fantastic and, obviously, loving job by the entire cast.
A real-life story about the discovery and destructive nature of AIDS,
And the Band Played On is a gripping drama that not only takes you to
the front line and behind the scenes of the HIV virus. To the bath
houses in San Francisco to the research labs at the Center for Disease
Control, there is no area that is not shown in this film. An all-star
cast also creates the ambiance to this film. Powerful actors giving the
performances of a lifetime. Richard Gere, Angelica Houston, Ian
McKellan, Steve Martin, Alan Alda, Phil Collins, and even Matthew
Modine are just a few of the actors who deserved Academy Awards for
their work. While most of their parts were small, they were not
unforgettable segments. Each cameo actor had a crucial role in leading
us to the next segment and life of the HIV virus.
We are first introduced to Modine when he is trying to help a tribe with the destructible Ebola virus. Then, just as quickly, we are in mainstream San Francisco. The booming gay community and the political figureheads that were pushing for rights. It is the beginning of 1980, the Democrats are pushing for a more liberal stance, while Regan is being sworn into the White House for his first term. The world is happy, yet timid. The gay community is growing, and discovering that a dark fear is lurking behind them. While the United States is beating a dead horse about closing bath houses and stopping the gay community, the French are looking at it outside of a sexual disease. Possibly a blood disease. While they research their ideas, America begins to see the full effect of AIDS. These scientists are predicting that in the next several years the fatality rate will be 100% if you contract AIDS. Ronald Regan has just had his second term and has still not mentioned AIDS in public. While the French work day and night to stop their public from dying, we begin shunning the gay community. Creating a phobia due to lack of education. We even see a well respected doctor steal the discovery from the French just so that he can credit the monetary value of this disease. While the ending to this film is very sappy, it still was powerful enough to not only be enjoyable, but also educational. A film that if you have not seen yet, you should...and if you have seen it, see it again.
This powerful two and a half hour epic was the most entertaining informative film I have seen in ages. I rented it not knowing anything about it. I first picked it up for the actors to see what they could do in such small roles. Little did I know I was about to see everyone in the performances of their lifetime. Richard Gere proved once and again why he is an actor. It befuddles me why Modine has stopped working, because after seeing him in this film I would have liked to see him move further in the Hollywood community.
It is not everyday that you find a gem as this film. If I was a superintendent of schools and I just saw this film, I would push with every ounce of strength to get this film into my schools. I learned more about AIDS than I ever had in my education career. It not only brought out a text book style of education, but it also brought a very humanistic approach to the disease. It also brought out a very dark political side that perhaps the general public is not as familiar with. Not only that, but it also brought out the dark side of human nature. In times of plagues, we rely to heavily on science to be our savior. While it will be the backbone to our cause, we do need to have a feeling for those that already have the disease. We, as a nation, need to look past social standings, sexual preference, and color of our skin to realize that we are all humans. If this is a "human" disease, then we need to research every venue, not just the most obvious ones. If this film doesn't scare you, I don't think any horror film will.
Like all great films, it did have some horrible sides to it. McKellan's story was too cliché. The story of the homosexual politician who looses his lover because he is more involved with politics than his social life, who eventually reunite when it is discovered that McKellan has AIDS. Modine's flashbacks were unnecessary. I felt that we did not need to be reminded why he believed in human nature, and I don't think that we needed to be reminded by seeing a scene where he throws bodies into a fire. Something more substantial would have been nice. Finally, the ending was too much for me. I don't think it needed to have an Elton John (prominent homosexual figure in entertainment) singing one of his songs with flashing pictures of famous people, straight and gay, that we have lost to AIDS. Perhaps a more poignant picture would have been less famous people (every day Joes) who have died from the disease.
Overall, the good well out weigh the bad points that I just mentioned. I guarantee that you will be surprised, educated, and emotionally enthralled by this film.
Grade: **** out of *****
American doctors from the under-funded Center for Disease Control scramble to figure out the origin of--and the causes behind--the alarming rate of homosexual male deaths in the early 1980s; as a fatal strain of pneumonia and hepatitis B cases begin appearing, as Reagan-era Washington apparently vetoes the mysterious disease as non-newsworthy, and as the gay community (shown as not one radically adept at helping their own cause) label the early cases as products of the Gay Cancer, the CDC battles with the Blood Industry in coming up with an inexpensive way of filtering out contaminated blood. Adaptation of Randy Shilts' frightening, groundbreaking book was seemingly an impossible undertaking, yet HBO Films and co-producer Aaron Spelling manage to lay all Shilts' information out adroitly and adeptly, with some of the character interaction awkwardly interjected but with most of the principal players doing very well with technical roles. Alan Alda positively revels in the opportunity to play sniveling medical scientist Dr. Robert Gallo, who felt usurped when French scientists initially gained prestige for isolating the virus; as Dr. Mary Guinan, Glenne Headly does some of the best work of her career (while interviewing a sexually promiscuous airline steward, one of the earliest men to fall prey to the disease, Headly is remarkably natural and charming); and Saul Rubinek as Dr. Curran, who initiates the investigation and helps sort out all the jargon, is in masterful form. Some of the high-profile cameos aren't shaped for much satisfaction--they stick out as artifices--such as Richard Gere's bit as a stricken choreographer (it is commendable that Gere is here, yet his movie star aura looms larger than his part). The film isn't compact--it isn't a quick-fix wallow or a time-filler--it is a serious, frustrating, angry movie with no easy answers. And that's as it should be.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
See this film. If necessary, discard your personal religious/philosophical/political prejudices and see it for what it is: an incredibly heartwrenching account of a modern epidemic. Strong performances all-around, Modine, Gere, McKellan, et al. This movie makes me weep every single time I see it. Not tear up, WEEP. Some have stated that the political flavor is a bit too leftist for their tastes, or that the movie makes Don Francis out to be a hero, and villanizes the government. I find this amusing since the only mention of the government is that Reagan didn't say the word AIDS for years, which is a complete truism. And Don Francis, though he strives to help as much as possible, certainly is not the classic "hero" as he does not save the day (an impossibility since this particular day has yet to be saved). He merely works, like many others, as hard as he can while fighting a losing battle.
AND THE BAND PLAYED ON (MADE FOR CABLE TV/HBO-1993) ***1/2 Matthew Modine, Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, Charles Martin Smith, Richard Masur, Saul Rubinek, Richard Gere, Ian McKellen, Anjelica Huston, Swoosie Kurtz, Steve Martin, Phil Collins. Engrossing adaptation of Randy Shilts' landmark prize-winning document on the onset of AIDS and the fevered manhunt to find the cause and cure of the HIV virus. Compelling storytelling and a remarkable performance by Modine as the head for the Centers for Disease Control facing impossible odds and heartbreaking frustrations. Hallmark for cameo appearances and political correctness it may be but stirring and revelatory nonetheless. Dare not to be moved during Elton John's "The Last Song" as images and names of the disease's victims roll during the closing credits. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode for HBO.
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