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A Subdued Start to the Evening

September 02, 1993|BILL HIGGINS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The quietest exit from a movie screening any crowd made this summer was when 1,100 guests slowly walked from the Motion Picture Academy theater after Tuesday's L.A. premiere of HBO's "And the Band Played On."

The $9-million film dramatizes Randy Shilts' best seller about the early struggle against AIDS. It ends with a stunning four-minute montage of AIDS activists and victims, done to Elton John's "The Last Song." This was the final emotional blow that sent all of the crowd into silence and some into tears.

A small group of representatives from 19 local AIDS groups were waiting outside the theater. Holding candles, they led the guests two blocks to the reception--no one was using the word party-- at an enclosed lot on Wilshire and Doheny's northeast corner.

After the procession arrived, the reception started quietly. Before it began, caterer Mary Micucci had fretted that "nobody is going to want to eat after seeing this movie." But the crowd fanned out to the buffets and the evening evolved into a normal, if slightly restrained, premiere.

All premieres have one spot that's the core of activity. It's the natural magnetic pole where a star is standing. At the "Band" reception, the core was by the tall director-style chair where Shilts sat. The author, who has AIDS, said he thought HBO did a good job dramatizing his book. "I might have done some things differently," he said. "But they took my feedback, so I'd be petulant to complain."

Co-star Lily Tomlin was standing nearby and said she hoped the film might "angrify" people into action. Lauren Bacall was angry already. "I think it was outrageous the way Reagan acted," said Bacall. "The way he just ignored what was happening."

The film's star, Matthew Modine, said he wished "Band," "had been made 10 years ago." And co-star Ian McKellen said he abhorred the fact "that there is not a single famous actor of either sex in America who is openly gay."

McKellen said his favorite moment in making the film came when "there was a scene with nine characters: five of the actors were openly gay, two were inching toward the closet door and two were straight pretending to be gay--now they know what it feels like."

Besides the Academy screening, the film also played at the Writers Guild. This meant there were well over 1,600 guests at the reception. Among them were co-stars Anjelica Huston, Richard Masur and Bud Cort and HBO Pictures president Robert Cooper (who called the film "a prototype of what an HBO movie should be"), producer Midge Sanford, executive producer Aaron Spelling, Sandra Bernhard, Branford Marsalis, Luke Perry, Sharon Gless, councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, Lou Pitt and Dana Delaney.

There were myriad reactions to the film. One of the most common was voiced by guest Berta Pitt. "It was powerful and depressing," she said. "You keep hoping it will be like a movie of the week where they come up with a cure. But they don't."

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