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Modine lets fly in letter on ‘Band’

As HBO Pictures readies “And the Band Played On” for a tony East Hampton premiere Aug. 14 and a cable rollout Sept. 11, the Time Warner division is still putting out behind-the-scenes fires on the project.

A discreet public-relations campaign to build support for the film among leaders of major AIDS organizations and gay political groups is already in overdrive.

But there’s a new wrinkle in the “Band” saga. Variety has learned that late last month the film’s leading man, Matthew Modine, fired off a letter to HBO Pictures arguing that the cabler shouldn’t engage in revisionist history by changing certain images of gay life as presented in director Roger Spottiswoode’s cut of the film.

The changes between the director’s cut and the current version of the $ 7 million-plus production are twofold. One was the insertion of damning documentary footage of President Ronald Reagan. The other set of changes dealt with a barrage of images early on in the film stereotyping all gay men as promiscuous, drug-abusing, bath-house habitues. Scenes to temper these segments were added earlier this summer at the behest of “And the Band Played On” author Randy Shilts.

HBO chairman/CEO Michael Fuchs says Modine “felt that we were letting gays escape any blame for avoiding responsible behavior. That was not the case. What we did do was respond to Randy’s point, which is that every gay person in America is not a drag queen in extremisMDUL…MDULAnd if I had to listen to someone (on this subject) I would sooner listen to the creator of the story (Shilts) rather than a director (Spottiswoode) who came in for hire late in the project.”

The intention of Modine’s letter, sources suggest, was to argue that in creating a more sympathetic, monogamous portrait of gay life in San Francisco circa 1982, HBO should not engage in revisionist history. He reportedly felt the licentiousness of the gay community in the 1980s should not be edited to accommodate 1990s political correctness. Modine declined to comment for this article.

Shilts’ intention when he asked for the changes to the Spottiswoode version was not to whitewash the image of gay men in the film; he says he wanted “Band” to represent the panoply of gay life as he had done in his book. The author also defends Modine, stating that the star penned his missive without knowing that the changes were made at Shilts’ behest.

Since Shilts brought Modine up to speed, the film’s star has withdrawn his protest, taking an active role in promoting the film.

Meanwhile, the Modine contretemps occurs at a time when HBO Pictures is winning over the hearts and minds of key players in major gay orgs across the country. Reps from 17 major AIDS and gay rights groups, including the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and AmFAR, have seen the most recent version of the film.

Over the past month, HBO has hosted a handful of screenings in San Francisco, L.A. and Washington. Many viewers came away impressed. Among members of the gay community who saw the film are B.J. Stiles, National Leadership Coalition on AIDS prez, and GLAAD/LA exec director Lee Werbel. Both give the pic a thumbs-up.

HBO supremo Fuchs sums up the feedback the cabler has gotten from the gay community by saying, “The people who are most concerned with this issue are generally pleased with the product.”

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