Roughly four years ago I posted a little riff about Crayton Robey‘s Making The Boys, a longish but absorbing history of the impact of Mart Cowley‘s The Boys in the Band. It focused on Crowley’s life, the writing of the 1968 play and the huge off-Broadway success it became, the making of the William Freidkin-directed 1970 feature, and how Crowley’s life went afterwards. It reminded me of what a singular accomplishment Boys was in its day, and that the play, at least, really was a kind of gay earthquake…before anyone called anyone “gay.” I know I’m not supposed to admire the Friedkin today but it’s always been amusing and well-written, and each character is tart, particular and dimensional. I’m sorry but it’s a first-rate piece.
There was at least a little oxygen left in the room after the Robey doc. It created a little bit of a stir, and it persuaded me to re-sample the Friedkin film. I figured a Bluray would pop soon after and that would be that. But it never appeared.
The gay community, of course, turned its back on The Boys in the Band almost immediately after it opened in March 1970. That was nine months after the June 1969 Stonewall rebellion, and the sea-change in gay consciousness and values that happened in its wake — pride, solidarity, political militancy — had no room for a rather acidic drama about a group of Manhattan gays, gathered at a friend’s birthday party in the West Village, who were consumed by frustration, loneliness, misery and self-loathing.
Mart Crowley‘s revolutionary stage play, which opened off Broadway in April 1968, was a culmination of decades of frustration with straight society’s suppression and/or intolerance of gays mixed with the up-the-establishment freedoms of the late ’60s, but the film didn’t fit the post-Stonewall mold. Obviously. And of course it hasn’t “aged well.”
When Boys was re-released in San Francisco 16 years ago, Chronicle critic Edward Guthmann wrote that “by the time Boys was released in 1970…it had already earned among gays the stain of Uncle Tomism…[it’s] a genuine period piece but one that still has the power to sting. In one sense it’s aged surprisingly little — the language and physical gestures of camp are largely the same — but in the attitudes of its characters, and their self-lacerating vision of themselves, it belongs to another time. And that’s a good thing.”
But Boys deserves respect as a revolutionary play of its time, and, as a film, as a kind of landmark presentation for its candid, amusing, sad and occasionally startling presentations of Manhattan gays and their lifestyles during those psychedelic downswirl, end-of-the-Johnnson-era, dawn-of-the Nixon-era days, made all the more entertaining and memorable by several bottled-lightning performances (particularly Cliff Gorman‘s as “Emory”).
In March ’11 I listed my favorite gay-themed films, in this order:
(1) Brokeback Mountain, (2) The Times of Harvey Milk, (3) Angels in America, (4) The Opposite of Sex, (5) Prick Up Your Ears, (6) A Single Man, (7) Gods and Monsters, (8) The Kids Are All Right, (9) Milk, (19) Longtime Companion, (11) Kiss of the Spider Woman, (12) The Boys in the Band, (13) Priest, (14) Maurice, (15) The Hours and Times, (16) The Crying Game and (17) Philadelphia.
What films should I add to the list today, and in what order should they appear? I’m going for a bike ride.