Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Back to Philadelphia ...

I suppose one had to go back there eventually. PHILADELPHIA was a key movie in 1993, a skillfully crafted drama bringing Aids into the mainstream, maybe the first popular multiplex movie on the subject - LONGTIME COMPANION, PARTING GLANCES etc were more specialised fare. The early '90s was that time when people were losing friends and companions to the disease and still trying to protect themselves. Lots of people did not want to come into contact with Aids sufferers, it was still seen as a terminal disease then. (Putting it in context of my own life, I lost not only my then partner, but also most of that South London crowd I used to know, including my best friend since we were teenagers), 

Remember when Tom Hanks played daft comedy role such as those in SPLASH and BIG, and had big success with SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, as well as a lot of other movies of varied quality (we won't mention BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES or those DA VINCI CODE films!). His role here won him his first Best Actor Oscar, marking his crossover into serious drama, and he is quite extraordindary here as Andrew Beckett - not just losing weight but portraying each stage of his decline. In this worthy, if manipulative, tale from director Jonathan Demme, Hanks is just right as the lawyer with Aids who takes the law firm he works for to court after they fire him when they learn of his condition. Jason Robards is splendidly loathsome as the head of the firm, while Mary Steenburgen is surprising in an uncharacteristic villain role as the company's defence barrister. Joanne Woodward is of course terrific as Beckett's loving mother - one can hardly watch her later scenes without tears. 

Hanks' co-star Denzel Washington strikes the right notes as the initially homophobic lawyer reluctant to take on the case, but his story too ticks all the boxes. One bugbear at the time was that they gave Hanks Antonio Banderas as his supportive partner, but we do not see much intimacy between them (while we see Denzel at home with his wife and child), though the boys look great dancing in their white navy uniforms, and Hanks has that marvellous scene with the Maria Callas opera track.
It is obviously a movie of good intentions, the first hollywood one to educate the public about Aids and discrimination, casting a popular actor being ravaged by the disease - they did in fact shoot a scene with Hanks and Banderas in bed (which is on YouTube: ), 
but this was removed from the final version presumably to make it more accessible to the straight audience. Some have said PHILADELPHIA's refusal to present an accurate picture of gay men onscreen, combined with its banal script, puts it on a par with a typical, if superior,  "disease of the week" television movie. 

Marvellous soundtrack too, I had it on cassette - those Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young tracks are just right here. Hanks of course also won the Best Actor Oscar next year but I simply did not want to see FORREST GUMP. After a varied career of hits and misses he scored twice last year with CAPTAIN PHILLIPS and as Walt Disney in SAVING MR BANKS. PHILADELPHIA though is a career highlight, and a worthy drama of its time. 

Soon: Revisiting other 'gay classics': MIDNIGHT COWBOY and TEA AND SYMPATHY


  1. When this film first came out, my own lover was dying of AIDS...and I thought this was a mainstream movie to educate a straight audience. Far, far better, in my opinion, were more indie efforts such as Parting Glances and Longtime Companion (still a big favorite). But I watched Philadelphia recently again and enjoyed it a lot more than i thought I would. Great acting, and a message that needed to get out there, back in the early 90s.

  2. Indeed. Mine was dying too but we did not realise until the next year 1994 (when my father was also dying). At least he had a year in remission, before departing in 1996, while I was perfectly ok. I love LONGTIME COMPANION and PARTING GLANCES but PHILADELPHIA had a place too, in educating the public. I am going to revisit OUR SONS too soon ....