One would think that a movie first released on a cable network channel would get very little to no attention from the press. In the case of HBO director Roger Spottiswoode’s screen adaptation of Randy Shilt’s chronicle And the Band Played On, the movie was not only a success among viewers but the critics loved it too. Being the first full-scale docudrama to document the first ten years of what was later to be named the AIDS virus, HBO was brave in taking on such a project. In order for the movie to receive the attention and credit it deserved, a cable company with the respect and the loyal viewing audience such as HBO was crucial in the film’s success. With a star-studded cast bringing in a bit of criticism, claiming that the gravity of the topic was somewhat lost in all of the glamor, the overall consensus was fairly unanimous in the film being a one-of-a-kind documentary. It was risky, and some said cable suicide, but HBO took Shilt’s book and honored his words, his claim, and his story; the critics collectively agree on this one point regardless of their respective opinions towards the film. The movie opened many people’s eyes to a whole country -- the gay community, the government, the medical community all included -- that basically turned their back on an epidemic that could have possibly been stopped. The critics find And the Band Played On to be a credible and true tale of the early stages of the AIDS virus and the lives of the people who fought to stop its all-encompassing destruction.
Antulov, Dragan. IMdB homepage. 16 May 1999. http://us.imdb.com/Reviews/184/18456
Antulov points out that in one-way cable TV movies have more leeway because they do not have as much censorship as most films must undergo, but, on the other hand, they are restricted because of the commercial breaks. This helps explain why And the Band Played On was a bit over 2 ½ hours, which is rarely noted due to the involvement of the audience in the serious topic. The movie is “informative and compelling,” and the star-studded cast helps give the film star power and credibility. The one part of the film lacking is the ending with the sappy Elton John song and the screen text. Antulov claims that it is overkill on the information side, seeing how the movie, for 2 ½ hours, brings as much information as the viewer can swallow at one time. He also points out that the song is overly sentimental and weakens the serious tone of the movie. Other than that, Antulov thinks this film to be deserving of the highest recognition.
Garner, Jack. Rev. of And the Band Played On by HBO Productions. Gannett News Service 11 Sept. 1993.
Garner applauds director Roger Spottiswoode for actually taking on such risky programming. He also condemns other cable networks for not touching the issue for over six years. He too notes the all-star cast, but rather than seeing it as a negative aspect to the otherwise strong film, Garner views the celebrities' involvement in such a controversial film as being a positive one, bringing the film to a higher, more credible level. And the Band Played On was an “informative and well-made” film.
Koller, Brian. Homepage. 1993.
Koller’s review notes the good guy/bad guy theme to this film. The American Red Cross and Reagan both clearly being the villains, not seeming interested at all in even recognizing the rise in the death toll due to AIDS. He commends the film for actually portraying the Gay community as people with real stories rather than simply as stereotypes. Koller mentions the clips at the end and how confusing they tended to get, noting that if one didn’t pay close attention, one might assume that Liz Taylor either had AIDS or had died from it. He later catches himself complaining about minor details as he feels strongly that regardless of the small things, the overall movie was “intelligently written and socially aware.”
Leeper, Mark R. ImdB Homepage. 1993.
Starting the review off with the claim that And the Band Played On is the “most important film of the year and also one of the most compelling,” it is hard not to recognize this critic’s enthusiasm for this film. He describes the movie as being a chronicle of prejudice, courage, heroism, and politics. He sees it as being “something of an event and actors want to be a part of the statement it makes regardless of what they can be paid and what billing they can be given. Leeper’s only complaint about the film is the beauty of some of the actors. With such high profile actors playing little-man roles, the actors, in all their beauty and glamor somehow do not portray the real life characters. Leeper points out that it would be difficult for a viewer to imagine the real Dr. Mary Guinan, played by the attractive Glenne Headly, as being anywhere nearly as beautiful as Headly is. With that his only drawback, the movie is a phenomenal success.
Rabinowitz, Dorothy. “TV: Sherlock Holmes in the 90’s; A History of AIDS.” Rev. of And the Band Played On, by HBO Productions. Wall Street Journal 9 Sept 1993, eastern ed.: A18.
Rabinowitz describes this film as a “star-studded, neat, softly elegiac film,” while still targeting the typical red tape abusers: the government, the President, the egotistical bureaucrats, and the money-conscious medical businessmen. She points to a few of the high profile actors as performing beautifully and adding to the wholeness of the film; meanwhile, the majority of the other celebrities only added a recognizable face instead of substance. As a result there was overkill on the cast portrayal. Throughout the film Rabinowitz thought there to be relentless documentation, which she says created an “undramatic if not downright bloodless” feeling inside the audience. Overall she sees the film as not being a victim of high standards but rather overkill in all areas.
Roush, Matt. “ ‘Band’: Noble, but slightly out of sync.” Rev. of And the Band Played On, by HBO Productions. USA Today 10 Sept 1993, LIFE sec.: D1.
Roush’s first and foremost problem with And the Band Played On is his claim that the star cameos were overdone and unnecessary. He later admits, however, that possibly the stars' involvement in the film’s production helped rather than hurt its success since a movie addressing such controversial issues needs as much credibility as possible. Due to the controversy surrounding the film, Roush commends HBO for taking such a risky project under their wing. He notes that the film has “uneven success translating its good intentions into great drama.” He sees the story line as being unorganized and erratic, since the scenes jump quickly and abruptly. The constant statistics shown every few scenes he feels “cheapen the harsh reality” of AIDS. Although aesthetically not a powerful film, the message and the topic overshadow any shortcoming he as a critic notices.
Weintraub, Bernard. “Stars Flock to Be in HBO Film About the Early Years of AIDS.” Rev of And the Band Played On, by HBO Productions. New York Times 11 Jan 1993, Current Events ed.: C11.
Weintraub, rather than writing a review of the good and the bad of the movie, concentrates more on the overwhelming celebrity participation in this cable TV movie. When director Roger Spottiswoode adapted Shilts’ medical and social chronicle to the screen, there was at first little to no response from the Hollywood community. It took Richard Gere to sign onto the movie in a small, insignificant part for other high profile actors to follow. Weintraub points out the unique quality of this film in that it is the first of its kind to attack the early stages of a disease that so many people wanted to totally ignore (as they still do). HBO, with its “appetite for risky programming” turned over a new leaf in taking on such a high scale project, and he credits the cable company for taking such a bold step.
Copyright (c) 1999 by Victoria Douglass Hatch, Undergraduate at Lehigh University.
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