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Saturday, July 19, 2014


Before I get into today's movie discussion, I just wanted to take some time to pay my respects to the 298 people who died when their plane (Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17) was shot down while flying over the Ukraine.  I honestly don't even know what to say to those family members who lost loved ones on that flight, except that my condolences are with you at this time. 

Among the victims of the plane crash were several doctors and researchers who were on their way to Melbourne, Australia to attend the International AIDS conference.  And as it so happens, (and believe me, I had chosen this topic before the tragic crash happened), today's film deals with the subject of AIDS.  In fact, many would consider it to be one of the very first instances of AIDS being referenced in modern day cinema.

Since the AIDS virus was discovered in the spring of 1981, millions of people have been diagnosed, and it is estimated that over thirty five million people all over the world have the virus in some form (whether they happen to be HIV positive, or whether they have the complete virus).  Now, there has been some incredible progress made in trying to find a cure for the disease, and certainly people who happen to become HIV positive are enjoying a higher quality of life thanks to new discoveries and treatments.  AIDS is no longer the instant death sentence that it was when it was first discovered.  That being said, while people who are diagnosed can now live life relatively symptom free for years, there is still no permanent cure for AIDS. 

It also seems as though the negative stigma that was long associated with AIDS is weakening over time.  Through research by doctors and people educating themselves more on the disease, we've discovered that AIDS is only able to be transmitted via heavy drug use, sharing used needles, sexual contact, and blood transfusions that were issued before 1990.  Unfortunately, back in the 1980s, the disease was fairly new, and not a whole lot was known about it.  With hundreds of people dying from the illness, it frightened a lot of people, who believed that they could catch it the same way that you could catch the common cold (you can't). 

And, sadly, the discovery of AIDS caused quite a lot of homophobic behaviour in a lot of people, due to the fact that a lot of the early victims of AIDS were gay males. 

Both the subjects of homophobia, and the initial fear of the AIDS virus are referenced in today's film.  A film that won two Academy Awards and made a total of $260 million at the box office. 

A film that takes place in one of the most recognizable cities in the state of Pennsylvania.

Today we're going to take a look at the movie "Philadelphia".  It debuted in theatres on Christmas Eve, 1993, and stars Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington in roles that certainly defined both of their careers.  Both men earned huge accolades for their fantastic performances, and in the case of Hanks, he was rewarded for his efforts with the Academy Award for Best Actor.

And this singer also took home an Academy Award for the theme song for this film.  Have a listen below.  I know the music post isn't until tomorrow, but what the's a good song.

ARTIST:  Bruce Springsteen
SONG:  Streets of Philadelphia
ALBUM:  Philadelphia Soundtrack
DATE RELEASED:  February 2, 1994

Unfortunately, the movie did not get the award for Best Original Screenplay, as Ron Nyswaner lost to Jane Campion for her work on "The Piano".  That being said, the film was still a huge success - even if there was a little bit of controversy behind it.  But we'll get to that a little bit later. 

As the film begins, we are quickly introduced to Andrew Beckett (Hanks).  Beckett is a senior associate at Philadelphia's largest law firm who happens to be carrying a huge secret.  Beckett is gay, and has been with his partner Miguel (Antonio Banderas) for quite some time, but he has kept that part of his life separate from his professional life, knowing full well of the repercussions that could come from outing himself in the early 1990s.

For years, Beckett managed to keep the secret without anybody discovering the truth.  But when Beckett found himself battling AIDS, he found that it would be harder to hide - especially when he began to suffer from skin lesions as a result of the disease.  One of the partners of the firm notices one of these lesions on Beckett's forehead on the very same day that he is assigned one of the most important cases of his life - a case that could make or break his law career.  Knowing full well that the lesions were one symptom of AIDS, he attempted to play damage control by taking a few work days away from the office to brainstorm ways in which he could hide them from public view.

While he is away from the office, he finishes the complaint that he plans to present to the court for his case, but before he can submit the paperwork to the courts he suffers a medical setback which has him hospitalized.  As a result, he is forced to relay the paperwork to his assistants at the firm as the statute of limitations would expire later that day.

But when the paperwork goes missing and there doesn't appear to be any copies located on any of the hard drives of the computers in the offices, the firm is panicking and Beckett is frustrated over what happened.  The document is found at the last minute, but the damage was done.  Beckett was fired from the firm and his colleagues and assistants who once supported him turned on him, claiming that the missing document showed a complete lack of professionalism.

Beckett, on the other hand, deduces that something far more sinister is going on at his former workplace.  He believes that somebody who he trusted deliberately misplaced the paperwork that he filed as an excuse to make him look bad at his firm, and he believes that the real reason he was fired was because he had AIDS.  And Beckett planned to fight back.

The problem was that not a lot of lawyers would take on a client who was wrongfully terminated because of AIDS, and Beckett faced the harsh reality that his profession seemed to be filled with people who either didn't understand the disease, or who were blatantly homophobic.  He even sought the legal aid of a personal injury lawyer named Joe Miller (Washington) - a lawyer whom Beckett had tangled with in the courtroom - but unfortunately for Beckett, Miller didn't initially sign on to represent him as he was rather ignorant about AIDS.  He even went to the doctor after meeting with Beckett and asked if he could contract the disease through a handshake.

(You can't, just so you know.)

But Miller had a change of heart when he saw just how badly people treated him when they discovered that he was living with AIDS in a public library, and he was so disgusted by it that he offered to represent Beckett in his case.  But the case would not be an easy one to fight.  The head of the firm, Charles Wheeler (Jason Robards) is determined to protect his firm and his reputation at all costs.  And with Beckett's health rapidly failing, can Miller step in and fight for the man who has a disease that he doesn't quite understand?

Of course, I can't tell you how this ends.  I don't reveal movie endings.  What I can tell you is that the film is absolutely worth watching, and I can absolutely understand why Hanks deserved the Academy Award that year.  The performances of all the actors and actresses are unbelievably good.  And even though the film did have a sensitive subject matter, I think "Philadelphia" did a wonderful job putting it all together.

Of course, the film did have some controversy to it.  Shortly after the film was released, the family of Geoffrey Bowers issued a lawsuit against the writers and producers of the film, stating that there were several scenes (allegedly fifty-four in all) that were inserted in the film that paralleled Bowers' life so much that they claimed that when they were interviewed by producer Scott Rudin who promised them compensation for using Bowers' story as the basis for "Philadelphia" (Beckett's character was sketched after Bowers, who was the subject of one of the first cases of AIDS discrimination ever brought to a court of law).  Bowers' family alleged that Rubin used their interview to completely use their son's memory to make a film, but Rudin had left the project after hiring a writer, and claimed that he never shared the information in his interview with anybody who worked on the film.  The lawsuit was settled five days later, and the filmmakers were forced to admit that the movie was inspired in part by Geoffrey Bowers.

Here's some more trivia for you.

1 - Jonathan Demme immediately jumped on the chance to direct the film after the death of his friend Juan Suarez Botas in 1992.

2 - Tom Hanks, in preparation for his role, lost close to thirty pounds in order to film the final scenes of the movie.

3 - Denzel Washington, on the other hand, had to gain weight for his role.  In fact, Washington used to eat candy bars in front of Hanks, who was fasting for his own role!  I wonder if the scenes in which Washington and Hanks first met were taped during this period...

4 - Jonathan Demme wanted actor Ron Vawter to play the role of Bob Seidman from the very beginning.  But because Vawter was HIV positive, the insurance company representing the film would not expand their coverage to accommodate Vawter's needs.  Demme fought TriStar Pictures to keep Vawter on the project because he wanted him, and because it would give negative publicity over the irony that would have been generated for a film about wrongful termination from a workplace to terminate someone who was HIV positive.

5 - Ron Vawter died in April 1994 - just four months after the film debuted.

6 - The movie is one of the rare ones to be filmed entirely in sequence.

7 - The protestors outside of the courthouse were loosely based on the Westboro Baptist Church congregation.

8 - The scene in which Andrew and Miguel are dressed in military uniforms at a costume party was making a statement about how at the time that the film was made, there were laws stating that gay and lesbians could not serve in the armed forces.  The same month the film was released, Bill Clinton issued the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" legislation.

9 - Denzel Washington's character states that he hopes that the Philadelphia Phillies win the pennant.  They did the year this film was released.

10 - The opera scene was filmed live.

11 - Michael Keaton, Andy Garcia, and Daniel Day-Lewis were initially offered the part of Andrew Beckett before Hanks was give the role.

12 - John Leguizamo turned down the part of Miguel.

13 - Denzel Washington's part of Joe Miller was originally written as an Italian named Joe Martino.

14 - Original titles for "Philadelphia" included "Probable Cause" and "People Like Us".

15 - Many of the cast members of the film worked with Demme on a previous film - "The Silence of the Lambs".

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