MiniReview: "And the Band Played On" (film)

Those scary days before AIDS even had a name.

What is it?

A television film, first shown in 1993, based on the 1987 book of the same name by Randy Shilts. 


What is it about?

It’s the story of the early years of the AIDS epidemic, focusing on the scientific attempts to understand what the illness actually was. It covers the years from the first cases of AIDS in the late 1970s to the isolation and identification of the HIV virus in 1986.


Sounds pretty dry. Not to say depressing.

It is rather dry. The thing is, it’s based on a non-fiction book, and it’s attempting to dramatize something that isn’t inherently dramatic: scientific research. I think the scriptwriters did an amazing job of synthesizing a whole lot of material, and the actors give heartfelt performances.


Oh, actors! Anyone we know?

Oh yes! At the time the film was made, of course, the AIDS epidemic was raging, and I expect many actors wanted to participate in a film that was shedding some light on the subject. So, we’ve got Richard Gere as a gay Broadway director, Phil Collins as the nasty owner of a San Francisco bathhouse, Lily Tomlin as a doctor with the San Fran medical board, Alan Alda as an egocentric scientist, even the lovely Nathalie Baye as a French researcher. Not to forget Matthew Modine in the main role (if there is a main role in such a sprawling film) as a nice doctor (with great hair) at the Centers for Disease Control. I could go on … Ian McKellen, Anjelica Huston …


Sounds as though it should be great!

Well, it isn’t great. But it is very interesting and watchable, and even moving at times. But it really is a fictionalized documentary. It’s worthy.


So what rating would you give it (using the Michelin-guide 3-star system)?:


I can’t really give it any stars, as it isn’t an outstanding film on any level. That said, it is definitely worth watching. Of course, it’s a period piece now, as so much has changed with respect to HIV/AIDS since 1993. And, tragically, the montage at the end showing famous people who have died of the disease would have to be much longer now.


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