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HBO and HIV And the Band Played On

Op Arts

By W. TATE Dougherty

"...now THIS is good! Whaddayathink? An AIDS drama based on that bestseller, And the Band Played On. Drama! Ya' know, tears and deathbeds, good guys and bad guys, hope and despair ...now gimme a minute...I know that CBS Rock Hudson movie flopped bigtime, and I know the gaything can be bad PR, but look, the book sold millions, and we all know the gaything is VERY profitable these days. With the gaysinthemilitarything and all the talk of rightsandshit, everyone and their mom's into the gaything. It's a goldmine, if ya' ask me. Hold on. Here's the scoop...

"We'll focus on a young, hand-some doctor--straight--kinda like Magnum, but cuter. Maybe we can get Alec Baldwin, or somethin' similar. Now this young doc' REALLY knows what's happening, and the drama'll revolve around his efforts to get people to listen to him. We got your classic good guys against bad guys: on one side, we got the good doctor who tries to stop the epidemic, the good gays who believe him, and the good politicians who care, and on the other side, we got the evil doctors who won't touch the gaything, the evil gays who care more about getting laid than finding out what's really happening, and the evil politicians who only care about keepingthestatusquo under Reagan.

"I'm tellin ya', it's a goldmine. Classic little guy against the world. Kinda like the LoneRanger and Tonto taking on the eighties establishment in the name of healthcare. Sound familiar? And with Clinton's healthcare shit and with gayrights stuff all over the place, it ain't too risky. Besides, think of the names we can get. Ya' know the Industry--in all its Hollywoodagain-stAIDS glamour--will support us bigtime: I'm sure we can get RichardGere, AnjelicaHuston, Lily-Tomlin, and BDWong. Oh yeah, and what about that Brit?....ya' know, the gay one...McKellen. And I'm sure MatthewModine, AlanAlda, PhilCollins, SwoosieKurtz, and SteveMartin will atleast be interested. I'm tellin' ya'. I smellahit. It'll be a smash. Whuddayathink?"

We all have a different story of the AIDS epidemic. I have my own version of the story, which differs slightly from Shilts's and radically from HBO's[Home Box Office's]. The World Health Organization has its version, ACT UP [AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power] its, and Pat Robertson his. There are perhaps as many versions of the story as there are people with AIDS, and the stories, both personal and multifaceted, carry with them the power of drama. The reality of AIDS itself is much simpler: It is caused by HIV, and HIV is transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids.

"And the Band Played On," ostensibly the subject of this review, is a good drama. Ian McKellen (playing Bill Kraus, a gay San Francisco political aide) and Lily Tomlin (playing Selma Dritz, a San Francis-co Health worker torn between her conflicting concerns for the heath and the freedom of the gay community) display exceptional talent. Matthew Modine plays the "young, handsome doctor" passionately, although he probably won't win an Oscar.

The cinemetography is good, direction OK. The closing scenes (namely McKellen's acting) make me cry. I shiver as the cold numbers (the "Butcher's Bill"), like ticker tape, flash periodically at the bottom of the screen. Elton John's "The Last Song" haunts me. Reagan's inglorious ascent parallels perfectly the disease's inaugural progress. Gays are bestowed some sympathetic representation. Best line: "I'm not afraid of dying anymore. I'm afraid for the people who live."

The screenwriter, Arnold Schulman, is about as faithful to the book as some of the Shilts's characters to their lovers. Many liberties are taken, and many unsettling ommisions (namely the entire New York saga) give pause. Where's Larry Kramer?

As entertainment, HBO's "And the Band Played On" deserves due credit. Unfortunately, AIDS is not a fairy tale with a sad ending. It's a nightmarish reality that gets worse the longer people do nothing to prevent, treat, and cure it.

My advice: go watch "And the Band Played On." If you feel something--and I suspect you will--then do something.

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