PHILADELPHIA : THE AIDS MOVIE
This is not a review of the film. I had always heard that this was a landmark film. I knew also that this was the role that won the much loved Hanks his first Oscar.
“Philadelphia” became one of the most successful dramatic films of 1993, earning an Oscar for Tom Hanks and $125 million at the box office worldwide before it was released on video
MOVIE INFO (from Rotten Tomatoes)
At the time of its release, Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia was the first big-budget Hollywood film to tackle the medical, political, and social issues of AIDS. Tom Hanks, in his first Academy Award-winning performance, plays Andrew Beckett, a talented lawyer at a stodgy Philadelphia law firm. The homosexual Andrew has contracted AIDS but fears informing his firm about the disease. The firm’s senior partner, Charles Wheeler (Jason Robards), assigns Andrew a case involving their most important client. Andrew begins diligently working on the case, but soon the lesions associated with AIDS are visible on his face. Wheeler abruptly removes Andrew from the case and fires him from the firm. Andrew believes he has been fired because of his illness and plans to fight the firm in court. But because of the firm’s reputation, no lawyer in Philadelphia will risk handling his case. In desperation, Andrew hires Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), a black lawyer who advertises on television, mainly handling personal injury cases. Miller dislikes homosexuals but agrees to take the case for the money and exposure. As Miller prepares for the courtroom battle against one of the law firm’s key litigators, Belinda Conine (Mary Steenburgen), Miller begins to realize the discrimination practiced against Andrew is no different from the discrimination Miller himself has to battle against. The cast also includes Antonio Banderas as Andrew’s partner, Joanne Woodward as Andrew’s mother, and Stephanie Roth as Joe’s wife.
Tom Hanks at the Oscars.
Please watch – his acceptance speech is electrifying.
Bruce Springsteen was awarded an Oscar for this song:
Tom Hanks said in one interview that he and Banderas were clothed all through the movie and did not even kiss. He says a Hanks-Banderas kiss may have sold more tickets, but would have detracted from the overall impact. In a different interview he said that some “intimate” scenes were shot, discarded in the movie, but included in the DVD version.
Tom Hanks had to lose a lot of weight to appear gaunt in the court scenes. It seems Denzel Washington used to taunt him and eat chocolate on the set.
Many of the supporting cast were dying of AIDS at the time of the shoot. The most famous was Ron Vawter. Here is an interview with him.
Ron Vawter finds himself in a disconcerting position. Featured in Jonathan Demme’s AIDS drama, Philadelphia, the HIV-positive actor says, ”I’ve had to make AIDS a cause—I wish I didn’t have to. I’d rather talk about acting.”
One of at least half a dozen openly gay actors in the film, Vawter, 45, plays a sympathetic partner in the law firm that fires AIDS-stricken associate Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks). With similar open-mindedness he defends the movie, though he admits, ”I’m sure some gays will have problems” with Philadelphia’s coy handling of Andrew and his lover (Antonio Banderas). He himself finds the film ”very moving.” Applauding Hanks’ portrayal, Vawter says, ”He accepted the fact that he could have been gay. He went deep, without any limp wrists.”
Vawter himself hardly fits the limp-wristed stereotype. A Green Beret officer who had also spent four years in a Franciscan seminary, Vawter dropped his guns in 1973 to join New York City’s Wooster Group theater company. ”It’s experimental theater,” he says. ”You have to take off your clothes.” Also provocative was his 1989 film debut as the psychiatrist in sex, lies and videotape, in which, he recalls, ”I had to ask Andie MacDowell if she masturbated.”
The Silence of the Lambs (1991) was Vawter’s first project with Jonathan Demme, who would later go to great lengths to cast him inPhiladelphia. Determined to feature an actor with AIDS, Demme interceded with TriStar to hire Vawter even though the actor was rejected by the film’s insurance company. And Vawter says that when he fell ill just before filming began, Demme changed the shooting schedule to accommodate his monthlong hospitalization.
But because few are as understanding as Demme, Vawter’s openness about his condition has become a risky career decision. ”I was amazed at the discrimination,” he says. ”(Industry people) would just like you to go off somewhere and not have to think about you. And other actors would say, ‘Keep your mouth shut.”’ But, he says, ”I wasn’t ashamed of having AIDS—I’m not.”
Vawter continues to choose projects that reflect his condition. His 1992 Obie-winning one-man show, Roy Cohn/Jack Smith, about two gay celebrities who died of AIDS, has been filmed and will soon be circulated to film festivals. In March, he’ll perform in a European production of Sophocles’ last play, Philotiles, in which a general is bitten by a snake and develops lesions. Like Philadelphia, says Vawter, these works serve as important reminders: ”AIDS is such a sensational subject, it can lose its human dimension.”
(Vawter died in 1994)
When the film begins, Denzel is uncomfortable even shaking hands, especially as he has a young baby at home. Just a decade earlier, it was not clear what caused the HIV Virus to spread. Maybe a cough, maybe a hand shake, there were situations where a straight person received tainted blood. Towards the end, as his information grows, he is far more normal.
At the costume party, Andrew and Miguel are both dressed in US military uniforms. This is a reference to the fact that when the movie was filmed, there was a total ban on gays and lesbians serving in the US Armed Forces, but Bill Clinton had made a campaign promise to dispense with that ban. Instead, in December 1993, Clinton passed a compromise legislation (popularly known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”) which allowed for gay and lesbian people to serve as long as they did not tell anyone their sexual orientation. This policy remained in place until September 2011.
Here is a song from that party:
According to an urban legend, 50+ actors with AIDS appeared in the movie and 40+ were dead in 3 years.
The two lawyers share a joke at the end.
Hanks: What do you call a thousand lawyers, chained to the bottom of the ocean?
Washington: A good start!