AND THE BAND PLAYED ON (1993)

Scene Analysis

The Tension Rises and Explodes

Selection

[1]     One of the most dramatic scenes in my opinion in And the Band Played On  is the one where the CDC holds an information conference for everyone involved in the blood industry to discuss the CDC’s findings that linked the disease known as GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) to blood (1:28:00). The head of the task force in Atlanta, the CDC’s headquarters, Dr. James Curran, leads the meeting, while the other participating doctors sit on either side of him.  Aside from the heated discussion and the rising tempers, this scene is incredibly talented in a directorial sense.  Director Roger Spottiswoode is able to portray the intensity of the emotions and discussions of the scene through camera placement and rushed shots.  The camera follows the rapid-fire discussion format, meanwhile giving the viewers a chance to see the multi-faceted make-up of the issue.  The sudden switch of shots from one frustrated and yelling character to another gives the viewers ample understanding of the complexity and seriousness of the issue at hand.

Background

[2]     Leading up to this scene, Dr. Jaffe and Selma Dritz follow lead after lead and finally, through Dritz’s incredible clout in the gay community, they are able to find hard evidence to prove that GRID is a blood-born disease. This link is established through connecting patients who have died of the disease and have given blood to other patients who are not gay.  These non-gay patients could have received contaminated blood either through infected needles with drug use, receiving blood transfusions because of either hemophilia or surgery, or women who have simply had unprotected sex with a man.  These cases progressively popped up and alerted the CDC to try to connect the infected donors to the infected patients.  The blood banks, however, were not releasing the names of their donors, claiming it to be a violation of their donors’ privacy.  Finally Dritz and Jaffe broke the blood banks’ code, and with the new information Jaffe threatens, “Let the blood banks stonewall this one.”

Beginning

[3]      Dr. Curran introduces the purpose of the meeting in an organized and calm tone and tries to portray an image of control and knowledge.  He loses control, however, almost immediately as doctors begin arguing and carrying on.  As frustration builds in the scene, the things to most pay attention to are the tone of the voices, the faces of the characters, and the angle that the director takes for the shot.  Although these things may seem technical and therefore trivial, indeed they are quite the opposite.  Jim’s face is shown to be tired and weary; he is attempting to maintain control over a subject that is medically uncontrollable.  This has chipped away at his morale and patience.  The others involved are equally as stressed but less patient.  One man relates the prevention of homosexuals from donating blood for fear of contaminating other patients with the disease with blacks being prevented from donating blood because of the original connection made between blacks and syphilis.  While another doctor, as a mother of a hemophiliac, argues that the hemophiliac population has rights too, and if that requires the homosexual population from being prevented to donate blood, then so be it.  Dr. Bellar lets his personal involvement in the issue get the better of him as a gay man and voices or rather yells his opinion.  He argues that the name GRID is inappropriate, “We have enough people hating gays without having the entire stigma of this disease placed on us.”  Bellar then proposes to refer to the disease as AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), which is a motion that carries.  The arguments continue to persist as do the tempers.  The actors yell at one another and cut each other off mid-sentence.  The camera obsessively follows the characters and the action as the drama unfolds, running from one face to another as the conversations jump.  The confusion of the room is displayed on the camera as well as between the characters.  The temperature in the room, both in the dialogue and in the atmosphere, rises progressively until Dr. Don Francis clenches the scene.

Scene Clencher

[4]     Throughout this scene, it is necessary to pay close attention to the body language of Dr. Don Francis, the central character in Band.  While everyone in the room offers his or her own opinion of the situation at hand, Francis remains verbally resistant, but physically he appears agitated and annoyed.  The camera is careful to capture Francis’ responses to all of the debates, switching to his profile every now and then.  The representatives of the blood field get more and more resilient in accepting that AIDS is a blood-born disease.  Francis loses all patience by responding to a representative’s remark asking how the blood industry is expected to dole out 100 million dollars to change the testing of blood procedure all for “a handful of transfusion victims and eight dead hemophiliacs?”  Francis’ explosion, leading with the question, “How many dead hemophiliacs do you need?” is evidence that Francis has reached the end of his string. The calmness and the controlled exhaustion that Dr. Curran is able to portray is something that Francis obviously cannot duplicate.  The director’s portrayal of this moment in particular is what makes this scene so powerful and so indicative of the tone of the whole movie.

Directional Techniques

[5]     The directional decisions when it comes to shooting a scene can make or break the scene.  Throughout this scene Spottiswoode follows the conversation around the room, shooting people at different angles, trying to portray to the viewers the confusion and the chaos of the meeting.  When Francis bursts out in anger and frustration, the camera remains on him, it does not move other than for a brief moment to show the reactions of the people at whom he is yelling.  We can literally see and feel the veins popping out of Francis’ neck.  We can hear his cry for help in an atmosphere where help seems to be the last thing on anyone’s agenda. His voice is strained from the exhaustion and endless effort he has put into trying relentlessly to convince everyone and anyone of the gravity of this disease.  We, as viewers, see and feel exactly what Francis is seeing and feeling.  We have been included in this meeting and have been fidgeting in our seats as little progress is made and more resistance seems to appear among the administration that is needed most for its support.
 
 

Copyright (c) 1999 by Victoria Douglass Hatch, Undergraduate at Lehigh University.

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