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Aids, Hollywood And The Law

January 23, 1994

I find myself in the highly unusual position of defending the movie industry's take on reality (which seems a little surreal in itself). As to Larry Kramer's assertion that "the very notion that a Main Line law firm would fire this guy (with AIDS) is ludicrously unbelievable," he should check out Cavagnuolo vs. Baker & McKenzie, recently settled in New York.

In this case, a Chicago-based law firm was ordered to pay the estate of one of its lawyers, who apparently was fired because he had AIDS, $500,000 for what was described as "mental anguish and humiliation," in addition to back pay. Officials described the law firm's behavior toward the lawyer as "devastatingly cruel." It was also noted that he had received a favorable job evaluation and overall positive performance marks just before his firing in May, 1986. Sound familiar?



I'm surprised by two of the reasons Kramer--as a former Columbia Pictures executive, if for no other reason--gives for disliking the film.

One, that it's "put together like a by-the-numbers painting." Surely the man knows that the overwhelming majority of "major" films made in this city are put together in a similar formulaic manner.

And two, his shock at the absence of any reference to Reagan, Bush and Clinton's inaction in the face of the AIDS epidemic. How many feature films can he name that take a living President or ex-President to task, by name, for anything significant?

For a screenwriter to do so in this city is to be labeled "political" (of the non-Rambo variety) and to be accused of being "preachy."


Los Angeles

Hollywood could have taken the budget for this boring disease-of-the-week courtroom drama and made six or seven good movies like "Longtime Companion" or even "Peter's Friends."

Instead, Hollywood debates in public how to cram this awful product down the public's throat. Here, take your medicine, it's good for you. Surely there is enough gay talent in Hollywood to make their own movies. Give the money to them! "Philadelphia" is like making "The Joy Luck Club" with white people. It just doesn't work.

Finally, Westerns are casting Native Americans in Native American roles. Occasionally, Latino actors get cast in movies. So if you are going to make a gay movie, it only makes sense to have more gay people involved in making it. Tom Hanks, Antonio Banderas, Joanne Woodward and Denzel Washington are all well-meaning liberals. Unfortunately, that alone does not guarantee a good movie. Like other roads to hell, the road leading to the multiplex in Hell's Mall is paved with good intentions.


Laguna Niguel

Memo to Larry Kramer: The Holocaust, Vietnam and Watergate are just now "having their films," by which I guess you mean "being told in a more honest light." This, after more than 20 years for Vietnam and Watergate and more than 50 for the Holocaust.

Remember that these were all "events" that had a beginning and a perceived end. So look for a film in general release that deals openly and honestly with AIDS a generation or three after AIDS has been eradicated or become an accepted part of our culture and history--which, at the earliest, will be sometime into the next century, if ever.

"Philadelphia" can only represent a knock on the door. Protest if you must, but don't get your hopes up too high. Welcome to America.


Newport Beach

Thank you for publishing Kramer's remarks on "Philadelphia." Said film is an embarrassing and shameful cop-out.

Now if only someone would stand up and admit that "Schindler's List" is corny and poorly crafted. . . .


Los Angeles

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