This is the story of the first years of the A.I.D.S. epidemic in the United States and focuses on three key elements. Dr. Don Francis, an immunologist with experience in eradicating smallpox and containing the Ebola virus, joins the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to try and understand just what this disease is. They also have deal with bureaucracy and a government that doesn't seem to care. The gay community in San Francisco is divided on the nature of the disease, but also what should be done about it. Finally, this movie deals with the rivalry between Dr. Robert Gallo, the American virologist who previously discovered the first retrovirus and his French counterpart at the Pasteur Institute, Dr. Luc Montagnier, that led to disputed claims about who was first to identify the A.I.D.S. virus.Written by
The HD version available to stream on HBO has been cut in a few places compared to the earlier DVD release. Timecodes are for the Webversion.
@ 00:41:50 When Max Essex calls and asks Dr Gallo "Are you working on the new gay disease yet?" he just replies "No, Max." where originally he replies "No. To tell you the truth Max, that really doesn't interest me."
@ 01:41:13 After Dr. Gallo asks Dr. Popovic to call the French institute to get another sample of their virus he originally also says "And while you're at it, find out how they keep the cells alive." which has been cut.
@ 01:49:36 When Dr. Francis speaks to Dr. Gallo about the French scientists having the virus since a year and a half and can prove it in court the following dialog has been cut:
Dr. Gallo: What do they pay you? The French. Dr. Francis: The gift of time and the smile of healthy children. Dr. Gallo: Don't laugh. I've used that line 50 times and I still believe it. Dr. Francis: Who wrote it for you? Dr. Gallo: Well, of course the French are claiming they wrote it for me. A year and a half ago no less.
@ 01:51:10 Just before Dr Gallo enters the room for the meeting with the French scientists in Paris, a short sequence of the scientists waiting and a line that Dr. Luc Montagnier says; "25 minutes is quite long enough to wait." has been cut.
@ 02:03:00 When Dr. Luc Montagnier has finished his press conference a question from a reporter, and the reply, has been cut:
Reporter: Are you suggesting, sir, that Dr. Gallo stole the virus from the French? Dr. Montagnier: I think that question would best be answered by someone else. See more »
Much has been made about the "good guys" and "bad guys" portrayed in "And The Band Played On". And with good reason. I can't help wonder what personal agendas are being followed when a prominent 'real-life' scientist like Dr. Robert Gallo (Alan Alda) is portrayed in such a shallow way. But simultaneously, the filmmakers coyly hide the fact from us that Richard Gere's choreographer is "A Chorus Line" creator Michael Bennett. They withhold that information like "The Simpsons" hide which state Springfield is in. With a wink of an eye.
While these imperfections in the film can be distracting, they are also quite trivial. What many overlook is that "And The Band Plays On" is first...and foremost...a story of DENIAL.
Throughout the first act, there is a reluctance to accept the seriousness of "GRID" ("Gay Related Immune Deficiency"). Once there is no escaping the growing horror, the film accurately describes how all parties (The C-D-C, Bill Krause, gay groups, Jerry Falwell, blood banks, Gallo, The Reagan Administration, etc.) react to preserve their own best interests. And while those special interests clash on how to proceed next, thousands of helpless people keep dying. (There's your tie-in to the Titanic-inspired title).
In the spirit of Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper, Matthew Modine is best-suited to playing an 'everyman'. Modine's 'everyman' in this film (Dr. Don Francis)understands the growing, deadly consequences of H-I-V, but has his own ghosts to exorcise (an Ebola plague victim who grabs his wrist, covering it in blood). While Modine's character is the voice of reason, he is not immune from reacting irrationally to this plague. It is only at the end of the film, as he comforts the dying Bill Krause, that Francis begins to overcome his own fears.
The message of this film is simple: We must be "pro-active" in addressing our problems. For if we wait for a "reactive" response, the resulting panic and confusion will only make things worse. In that respect,"And The Band Plays On" is one of the most important films to be made during the 1990s. For even with it's minor distractions, inaccuracies and agendas -- it truly is "MUST SEE T-V".
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