I was thinking about crashing around 11 pm last night, or about 90 minutes earlier than usual, but then I decided to watch a little bit of Jonathan Demme‘s Philadelphia (’93), which is streaming in high-def for Amazon Prime subscribers. I hadn’t watched it in 21 and 1/3 years, and I’d forgotten many of the excellent scenes and the unforced, mild-mannered way in which they sink in and connect. I wound up watching the whole thing and staying up until 1:15 am.
I remember that soon after Philadelphia opened in December 1993 (when Hillary was in the White House!) it fell out of favor in foo-foo circles for what was regarded as a too-chaste portrayal of the relationship between Tom Hanks and Antonio Banderas. But the widespread affection for Hanks’ performance as Andy, the gradually dying AIDS victim, was overwhelming. It was a dignified, carefully measured performance with the weight loss and the vulnerability and the make-up, and sad as hell. Everyone knew he’d win the Best Actor Oscar, and of course he did.
But you know who really kills it? Denzel Washington as Joe Miller, the homophobic attorney who defends Hanks in his wrongful termination suit. About a half-hour into the film I began to say to myself, “Wow, Washington is really the lead here…it’s his arc, his story. Miller’s the one who’s taking the audience through it, exploring the undercurrent, bearing the moral burden. Hanks’s Andy is delivering the saddest moments, dealing with the hate and fear and disdain, but he’s almost too good, too noble, too strong. While Hanks is almost a kind of rock, Miller is flawed and conflicted and increasingly susceptible to the changing currents.”
Philadelphia is about Denzel’s struggle, which is to say (or was to say back in ’93) ours.
As long as I’m mentioning Philadelphia here’s a story that I posted on 2.10.13:
As a freelance reporter in the early ’90s I was obliged to deliver the tart, punchy, sometimes adversarial attitude that my Entertainment Weekly, N.Y Daily News and L.A. Times employers wanted in their Hollywood news and trend stories. Everything that I felt and knew about the film industry deep down — all the personal quirky passion stuff that I try to put into Hollywood Elsewhere — was not what sold, and so out of necessity I had to occasionally deliver hardcore “gotcha” stories.
This made me less than radiantly popular with some of the publicists at the time, and one result was that I occasionally had problems in getting one-on-one interviews with movie stars. This became a major problem in late 1993 when, as a weekly Sunday columnist for the N.Y. Daily News, I tried to arrange a Tom Hanks interview during the Philadelphia junket. The always-friendly Tristar publicists said they couldn’t fit me in — nothing personal, strictly a scheduling issue — but I knew I’d been zotzed, probably by the publicist who represented Hanks directly.
I tried again with the publicists, assuring them that my piece would be fair and respectful and non-gotcha and that I just wanted to deliver a nice Hanks piece for my Daily News bosses. “Jeffrey, it’s not you,” they repeated. “It’s Tom’s crazy schedule. We’ve had to tell a lot of people no. Please don’t take it personally.”
So I went to Tristar chairman Mike Medavoy, whom I’d spoken to on background for two or three stories and whom I knew slightly in a social context. I told him my situation and asked if he could help. “I’ll get back to you,” he said. A day or two later he called and said, “You’re off the shit list.” I thanked him profusely. “But do the right thing,” he added. I never intended to do the “wrong” thing but I said “yeah, of course, I get it….and thanks very much, Mike.” And so I was allowed to speak to Hanks at the junket and the piece I ran was fine. No big deal.
All to say that knowing and liking the big guys and being liked or at least respected by them helps enormously in this town. I’ve never published this story before, but I’m figuring it’s okay to tell tales after 19 years. And thank you again, Mr. Medavoy. It meant a lot.