|And the Band Played On|
|Based on||And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic|
by Randy Shilts
|Screenplay by||Arnold Schulman|
|Directed by||Roger Spottiswoode|
|Theme music composer||Carter Burwell|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Running time||141 minutes|
|Audio format||Dolby stereo|
|Original release||September 11, 1993|
And the Band Played On is a 1993 American television film docudrama directed by Roger Spottiswoode. The teleplay by Arnold Schulman is based on the best-selling 1987 non-fiction book And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts.
The film premiered at the Montreal World Film Festival before being broadcast by HBO on September 11, 1993. It later was released in the United Kingdom, Canada, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Austria, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Denmark, New Zealand, and Australia. The HBO movie was later aired on NBC in 1994. NBC (as well as ABC) were some of the networks considered to make a miniseries based on the book in the late 1980s, but the networks turned it down because they could not find a way to structure it as a two-night, four-hour miniseries. In 1994, NBC finally aired the movie with a parental discretion warning due to its sensitive subject matter.
In prologue set in 1976, American epidemiologist Don Francis arrives in a village on the banks of the Ebola River in Zaire and discovers many of the residents and the doctor working with them have died from a mysterious illness later identified as Ebola hemorrhagic fever. It is his first exposure to such an epidemic, and the images of the dead he helps cremate will haunt him when he later becomes involved with HIV/AIDS research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 1981, Francis becomes aware of a growing number of deaths from unexplained sources among gay men in Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco, and is prompted to begin an in-depth investigation of the possible causes. Working with no money, limited space, and outdated equipment, he comes in contact with politicians, numerous members of the medical community (many of whom resent his involvement because of their personal agendas), and gay activists. Of the latter, some such as Bill Kraus support him, while others express resentment at what they see as unwanted interference in their lives, especially in his attempts to close the local bathhouses. One day, when exercising at a local gym, Kraus notices a spot at the base of his leg, worrying that it might be Kaposi's sarcoma. After a series of blood tests, Kraus is horrified that his worst fears have been confirmed when he learns that he has been diagnosed with AIDS. While Francis pursues his theory that AIDS is caused by a sexually transmitted virus on the model of feline leukemia, he finds his efforts are stonewalled by the CDC, which is unwilling to prove the disease is transmitted through blood, and competing French and American scientists, particularly Dr. Robert Gallo. These medical researchers squabble about who should receive credit for discovering the virus. Meanwhile, the death toll climbs rapidly. In November 1985, Kraus and his lover, Kico Govantes, are attending the candlelight parade in San Francisco when Kraus suddenly starts coughing and becomes too weak to stand. He is taken to a local hospital where he appears to be suffering from dementia as he doesn't recognize anyone in front of him and speaks gibberish. Don Francis arrives, and within a few minutes, the condition passes. Francis and Kraus talk for a bit and Kraus encourages Francis to continue his research and fight for the truth. The film ends with a playing of Elton John's "The Last Song" showing a photo and video montage of many celebrities and activists who had contracted AIDS.
The film closes with footage of a candlelight vigil and march in San Francisco, followed by a montage of images of numerous celebrities who have died of AIDS or were involved with HIV/AIDS education and research, accompanied by Elton John singing his "The Last Song." The montage includes:
Most reviewers agreed that the filmmakers had a daunting task in adapting Shilts's massive, fact-filled text into a dramatically coherent film. Many critics praised the results. Film review website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 100% "Fresh" rating based on eight reviews.
Tony Scott of Variety stated that "if there are lapses, director Spottiswoode's engrossing, powerful work still accomplishes its mission: Shilts's book, with all its shock, sorrow and anger, has been transferred decisively to the screen."
John O'Connor of The New York Times agreed that the adaptation "adds up to tough and uncommonly courageous television. Excessive tinkering has left the pacing of the film sluggish in spots, but the story is never less than compelling."
Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly graded the film B+ and called it an "intriguing, sometimes awkward, always earnest combination of docudrama, medical melodrama, and mystery story. The stars lend warmth to a movie necessarily preoccupied with cold research and politics, and they lend prestige: The movie must be important, since actors of this stature agreed to appear. The result of the stars' generosity, however, works against the movie by halting the flow of the drama every time a familiar face pops up on screen. The emotions and agony involved in this subject give Band an irresistible power, yet the movie's rhythm is choppy and the dialogue frequently stiff and clichéd. The best compliment one can pay this TV movie is to say that unlike so many fact-based films, it does not exploit or diminish the tragedy of its subject."
In a review from Time Out New York, the writing team thought "so keen were the makers of this adaptation of Randy Shilts's best-seller to bombard us with the facts and figures of the history of AIDS that they forgot to offer a properly dramatic human framework to make us care fully about the characters." The review also says that the multiple issues the film attempts to cover "make for a disjointed, clichéd narrative."
Richard Zoglin of Time magazine wrote "Shilts's prodigiously researched 600-page book has been boiled down to a fact-filled, dramatically coherent, occasionally moving 2 hours and 20 minutes. At a time when most made-for-TV movies have gone tabloid crazy, here is a rare one that tackles a big subject, raises the right issues, fights the good fight."
The team from Channel 4 believed the film "is stifled by good intentions and a distractingly generous cast of stars in leads and cameos."