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January 14, 1994 - Image 9

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1994-01-14

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The Michigan Daily - Friday, January 14, 1994 - 9
'Philadelphia' takes the first step toward understanding

Jonathan Demme's film arrives
approximately 10yearsafterthe AIDS
phenomenon began raging across the
world. Since its first diagnosis, AIDS
has been accumulating more miscon-
ceptions and myths than any other
Directed by Jonathan Demme; written
by Ron Nyswaner; with Tom Hanks
and Denzel Washington.
disease in history. But that's not the
only thing it has been amassing: it has
claimed hundreds of thousands of vic-
tims, thousands of them belonging to
the arts. Why this delay?
Demme states that he does not
want his film to be viewed as politi-
cal. However, Hollywood's 10 years
of silence on this topic weigh heavily
upon this movie. It is necessarily, if
perhaps unfairly, going to be viewed
as the first mainstream film about
AIDS, and it will set a precedent that
perhaps the big studios will wish to
pursue, and perhaps not. Throughout
all the controversy, however, Demme
constructs a surprisingly traditional
Hollywoodesque film, with absurdly
heightened dialogue and all the ele-
ments of court drama.
What saves this film is an eerie
honesty that peers through in several
of its scenes. At times, one can feel
the struggle that some scenes are wag-

ing against the self-censure that
Demme imposed on himself, censure
that would sustain the mass appeal of
"Philadelphia." The film is somewhat
angry, not angry enough in some ways,
but too angry by others' standards.
One can suppose that Demme has
reached middle ground. He wants to
be listened to by all, and that, Jonathan,
is intrinsically political.
But he is forgiven, mainly thanks
to his cast and to the taut script (whose
end should be mercilessly snipped
off). In short, Andrew Beckett (Tom
Hanks) is fired from the law firm he
serves despite having been recently
promoted, supposedly due to ineffi-
ciency. He takes the firm to court,
claiming that he was fired because he
has AIDS. The only lawyer willing to
defend him is Joe Miller, a small
claims attorney who is decidedly
homophobic. Beckett's demeanor will
bewilder some and allow others to
heave a sigh of relief. It's actually a
gay man in an executive suit! It shat-
ters a widespread stereotype to hear
him speak with no particular inflexion
in his voice. And after five minutes of
screen time, he hasn't rolled his eyes
even once. Impressive portrayal, es-
pecially since it doesn't appear un-
natural; Hanks seems to be perfectly
comfortable in his role as a lawyer
who additionally happens to be gay.
If Beckett is not defined by his
sexuality, neither is the rest of the
film. Beckett's relationship with
Miguel (Antonio Banderas), his lover,

is tender but never sexual. It is frus-
trating. on the one hand, that the two
men do not even kiss on screen. On
the other hand, it undermines another
huge misconception: that all gay men
think about is sex. One of the most
daring moments in the film is that in
which the prosecuting attorney (Mary
Steenburgen) accuses Beckett of hav-
ing had a sexual encounter at a porno-
graphic movie theatre. It is perhaps
presented as a mistake in the dark
past, but Beckett confesses it out-
right. He does not look ashamed. He
attains, finally, an active sexual iden-
tity, but only after the rest of him has
been defined. Thank you, Mr. Demme.
There is even the possibility of an
attraction between Beckett and Joe
Miller (Denzel Washington),
Beckett's lawyer, in an astounding
and rather blood-chilling scene in
which Beckett waltzes around the
room carrying his IV-bottle stand
along with him. A recording of Maria
Callas belts out "La Mamma Morta"
on his stereo and Andrew translates
the impassioned lyrics to Joe, who
becomes progressively more caught
up in Andrew's pained outburst of
emotion. Although this comes to noth-
ing, the scene is well-filmed and enor-
mously affecting, and unquestionably
Hanks' highest peak of brilliancy.

Nyswaner and Demme do not fall
into the trap of converting M iller into
a homophile by the end of the film,
although he does gain a slightly better
understanding of the unfairness in
Beckett's daily life. Nyswaner and
Demme never overtly use the fact that
Miller is Black to create either con-
flict or mutual understanding, but the
undertone of a common discrimina-
tion permeates his relationship to
Beckett. However, he makes it very
clear throughout that he is only there
because a law was broken, and not
because of any sympathy he feels for
homosexuals. This grounds the movie
and keeps it from becoming an ab-
surdly idealistic fantasy. Banderas'
character also contributes to this;
Beckett's partner is angry, frustrated,
but also determined, and loving.
The film is never raw, not even
when Beckett reveals his KS lesions
to the Jury. But it's driven by a good
heart, is never boring and doesn't
have an absolutely happy ending. It's
tame enough for the conservative au-
dience member and it's the radical
that will be most frustrated. How-
ever, it's a first step, extremely tenta-
tive, and should be regarded and ap-
plauded in this respect.
PHILADELPHIA starts today at

Tom Hanks breaks stereotypes and avoids cliches in "Philadelphia."

George Clinton's funk grabs hold of the 190s

With the exception of Neil Young,
no other artist had such a complete
hold on popular music in 1993 than
George Clinton. Thanks to Dr. Dre,
hip-hop's most successful music, both
commercially and artistically, was
grounded in the deep funk ofClinton's
two '70s bands, Parliament and
Funkadelic. Not only did other artists
expand and copy his innovations, but
Clinton released a terrific new solo
record and saw his best, most influen-
tial work reissued on CD.
Although he started his career per-
forming relatively straight R&B,
Clinton's music has seldom been
about songwriting - the focus has
always been the groove, with adven-
turous instrumental explorations
winding around the funk. In that sense,
the best of Clinton's music has been
likejazz, where themes are introduced
and reinterpreted through solos and
chord vamps. Since the beat is the
center of Clinton's funk, he helped
pave the way for hip-hop's rise
throughout the last decade. Countless
rappers have used the seminal Parlia-
ment records of the '70s both as a
basis and an inspiration for their mu-
sic. With both Parliament and
Funkadelic, Clinton tried to achieve a
fusion of R&B with the conceptual
art-rock of Frank Zappa, the Beatles
and the Who's rock opera, "Tommy."
All of his albums were afro-centric
with vague political themes but they
were also filled with a goofy humor
and surrealistic sci-fi fantasies. As
albums, most of his records are slightly
disjointed but the music is often
breathtaking, making such indul-
gences tolerable.
However, Clinton did manage to
a record one album that has no weak
spots, a perfect statement of his musi-
cal purpose - Funkadelic's "One
Nation Under A Groove," recently
reissued by Priority Records. "One
Weekend etc.

Nation" has all of his stylistic trade-
marks - long, loosely structured
songs with an abundance of sex, poli-
tics, racial pride and hedonistic good
times - but, for some inexplicable
reason, it all ties together somehow.
Priority has also reissued three other
records that Funkadelic recorded for
Warner Brothers in the late '70s -
"Hardcore Jollies," "The Electric
Spanking of War Babies" and "Uncle
Jam Wants You." "Hardcore Jollies"
was their first album for a major label,
a refinement of the territory they were
starting to explore with "Cosmic
Slop," with stronger, tighter grooves
and better melodic hooks. These traits
were honed to perfection on "One
Nation" and its follow-up, "Uncle Jam
Wants You." "Uncle Jam" is not as
consistently brilliant as its predeces-
sor but it does contain "(Not Just)
Knee Deep," a startlingly fluid funk
workout that seems too short at 15
minutes. Funkadelic's last proper al-
bum before they dissolved into a haze
of lawsuits, "The Electric Spanking
of War Babies," is not a bad record by
any means but it is weaker than their
two previous albums and the band
sounds a bit tired.
Last year, Clinton was also the
subject of two stellar two-CD
retrospectives: Funkadelic's "Music
for Your Mother" and Parliament's
"Tear the Roof Off." Funkadelic's
sporadic earlier work is concisely pre-
sented on Westbound's release of
"Music for Your Mother," which con-
tains several rare 12" mixes as well as
all of the best songs from their numer-
ous releases for the label. The Parlia-
ment anthology is even better, featur-

ing all of their biggest hits in either
the original album version or in ex-
tended dance remixes. Parliament was
more funk-oriented than Funkadelic
- Dr. Dre has crafted his G-Funk
from the music available on "Tear the
Roof Off." Along with "One Nation
Under A Groove," these two-disc
collections are simply essential; the
impact that this music has made on
not only popular music but popular
culture can not be calculated.
Happily, Clinton's newest album,
"Hey Man ... Smell My Finger," finds
him on the top of his form. There's
nothing new on any of these 14 tracks,
but there doesn't need to be -
Clinton's music is the soundtrack of
the '90s. "Hey Man" is sloppy and too
long, but all of his albums are sloppy
and too long. The album falters when
it moves into ballad territory but when
it sticks to the pure, uncut funk of
"Martial Law" and "Paint the White
House Black," it is intoxicating. When
it comes right down to it, there is no
better funk around today than "Hey
Man." It serves his legacy proud.
GEORGE CLINTON will be making
a rare in-store appearance at
New Age Hair & Tanning Salon
*Walk-In's Welcome!
769-0765 f
347 Maynard (Next to McDonaid's)
2- 1$ .001'
S of I i10 visits
Reg $9 Reg. $35 $ 2395

Schoolkid's Records this Sunday.
He'll be there at 2p.m., but you
better get there early because the
place will be packed.

Extrcw9om *.StudyLowyge eTV Lou~gt
Comt m" arac it s I
I24 horttnidLobo " G am om
k{at and Watei- I ncfu&4

University Musical Society
Choral Union
Thomas Sheets, conductor
Join the 200 voice Choral Union in performances with
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Neeme Jarvi, conductor
"Great Opera Choruses
April 14-17
The Orchestra of St. Lukes
Ann Arbor May Festival
May 13
Auditions at U-M Burton Memorial Tower:
Tuesday, January 18, 6-10 p.m.
Saturday, January 22, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
U-M students may register for Choral Union for course credit
To schedule an audition or for more information call
(313) 763-8997



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