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THE BOYS IN THE BAND (1970)

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Has anyone seen this milestone film? I have not (yet). And I'm wondering how it holds up. I would guess it's probably at this point a time capsule of attitudes from the late 60s/early 70s.

William Friedkin is the director and supposedly does audio commentary on the DVD...

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Has anyone seen this milestone film? I have not (yet). And I'm wondering how it holds up. I would guess it's probably at this point a time capsule of attitudes from the late 60s/early 70s.

 

William Friedkin is the director and supposedly does audio commentary on the DVD.

At the time of its release some gay people thought it was already a time capsule, of 1950's attitudes and values. In a way I can see why, with the self-loathing of some of the characters, but it was still light years ahead of previous treatments of gay characters. You could make a good case that this was the first truly gay-themed play and film, as we use the term today. It's really the first instance of a gay writer giving the general population a look inside "the life" in the field of theater (and film). James Baldwin was amazingly candid at an even earlier time in the field of literature, as were others, but popular entertainment has probably always lagged behind literature in that way.

 

I'm sure Crowley had to make concessions along the way, but to me it still seems pretty uncompromising. TCM showed it back in 2007 during gay pride month and I thought it stood up amazingly well, but I'm an old f*a*r*t. God only knows what you youngsters would think, seeing it for the first time. But it's always had my respect as a piece of writing. I think it actually looks way beyond the self-loathing in that we see some of its consequences, particularly in the fact that focus on self leads one of the main characters to miss the veiled need of a "questioning" friend who hoped for help from him but who got burned in the process by the kind of scattershot venom from this particular character. It was a missed opportunity the character was never even aware of, which is sort of what tragedy is all about.

 

Anyway, there's some sweetness and lots of silliness along the way and some of the smartest dialogue this side of "All About Eve." Definitely watch it and let us know what you think.

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On 5/11/2015 at 3:39 PM, DougieB said:

At the time of its release some gay people thought it was already a time capsule, of 1950's attitudes and values. In a way I can see why, with the self-loathing of some of the characters, but it was still light years ahead of previous treatments of gay characters. You could make a good case that this was the first truly gay-themed play and film, as we use the term today. It's really the first instance of a gay writer giving the general population a look inside "the life" in the field of theater (and film). James Baldwin was amazingly candid at an even earlier time in the field of literature, as were others, but popular entertainment has probably always lagged behind literature in that way...

 

...Anyway, there's some sweetness and lots of silliness along the way and some of the smartest dialogue this side of "All About Eve." Definitely watch it and let us know what you think.

Thanks Dougie. You exceeded my expectations in terms of any responses I thought my original post might have generated. Now you have me interested in locating a copy of the film and watching it. In one of the reviews I read, it contains a lot of what's called 'insult comedy' which seems like how some sitcoms are written with the endless zingers at a naive character's expense. 

I also am wondering how much this play/film is a forerunner for things like LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION! and Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City.

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I saw the film decades ago, in, of all places, Copenhagen, with Danish subtitles. This may interest you:

 

 

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A very interesting conversation in the Theater Talk segment. Michael Musto was right to compare it to "A Raisin in the Sun", another touchstone for a cultural minority.

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I also am wondering how much this play/film is a forerunner for things like LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION! and Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City.

Both "The Boys in the Band" and "LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION!" are essentially a look at gay men in their natural habitats and in their own company. The birthday party and the pastoral weekend both serve as means of getting together a cast with interwoven histories. It wasn't a new premise for either a play or a film, but the fact that these two featured gay men exclusively made them kindred in that way at least. Ironically, the men in "L!V!C!" were less the social pariahs that their "TBITB" counterparts were but, in the age of AIDS, were even more beseiged. 

 

"Tales of the City" seems to be more about the integration of straight and gay culture, though it's possible it wouldn't have had the same hold on popular consciousness, courtesy of PBS, if "TBITB" hadn't paved the way by removing some of the stigma.

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I just came across Making The Boys (2011) in my cable company's free movies. It's a good chronicle of Mart Crowley's career and the making of the play and film. Most interesting to me were the comments of playwrights Terrence McNally, Paul Rudnick and Tony Kushner, who talked about their fondness for and debt to the play. It does a good job of presenting both sides of the debate about the play's relevance and the "correctness" of the characters.

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The movie holds up surprisingly well- Friedkin's direction really makes it feel more like a movie than a play. Yes of it might seemed dated  but the performances and the dialogue is terrific

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I finally watched this film (tonight) many months after originating the thread. It was truly profound and makes me want to see a live performance on stage. Even the most 'dated' aspects of it still seemed relevant. A lot of the issues faced by men grappling with their sexual identity remain timeless. 

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"The Boys In The Band" must be judged as a product of its' time.  It is a perfect mirror image of what it meant to be gay before the Stonewall Uprising.  It is beautifully written,produced, directed and acted.  It will, always be/remain a landmark play and movie.  Only one unsettling fact for me - that Kenneth Nelson, as Michael, did not receive an Oscar nomination as Best Actor. 

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On 1/20/2016 at 9:54 AM, rayban said:

"The Boys In The Band" must be judged as a product of its' time.  It is a perfect mirror image of what it meant to be gay before the Stonewall Uprising.  It is beautifully written,produced, directed and acted.  It will, always be/remain a landmark play and movie.  Only one unsettling fact for me - that Kenneth Nelson, as Michael, did not receive an Oscar nomination as Best Actor. 

One of the tougher criticisms I read about the film on some other website was that it was drenched in stereotypes. I thought about that yesterday as I contemplated the way the individual plotlines were set up. First, I think any movie is going to present character 'types,' regardless of orientation.

But second, in this case, I think Crowley was trying to examine the different definitions of what it meant to be gay (then and now)...and the various repercussions that come through such people having those experiences. If he didn't have at least one character that was flaming, then people would have said he was not representing the whole spectrum of the experience. And if you look at Larry Luckinbill's character, we have a man who is not gay per se but is actively bisexual and still married. Plus Peter White's character, we are told, is (reaffirmed) heterosexual and very much in love with his wife. So Crowley is examining this from all conceivable angles and perspectives. 

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One of the tougher criticisms I read about the film on some other website was that it was drenched in stereotypes. I thought about that yesterday as I contemplated the way the individual plotlines were set up. First, I think any movie is going to present character 'types,' regardless of orientation.

 

But second, in this case, I think Crowley was trying to examine the different definitions of what it meant to be gay (then and now)...and the various repercussions that come through such people having those experiences. If he didn't have at least one character that was flaming, then people would have said he was not representing the whole spectrum of the experience. And if you look at Larry Luckinbill's character, we have a man who is not gay per se but is actively bisexual and still married. Plus Peter White's character, we are told, is (reaffirmed) heterosexual and very much in love with his wife. So Crowley is examining this from all conceivable angles and perspectives. 

 

Very interesting post and I really love the concepts you're exploring here.     Since movies lack the time it takes to show all the complexities of a character,  characters tend to be one or two dimensional.   Stereotypical behaviors are used so audiences can pick up in an instant the nature of a character (often just the superficial nature of the character but often that is all that is required to move the story forward).

 

Since most stereotypes are ground in reality (to various degrees of course,  and current ones not 'dated' ones),    you're right that if a fairly common one was left out people that relate to that stereotype would object, wondering why that type was dissed.

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He was exploring every type of gay experience from the most flamboyant to the possibly closeted- that it why the play still seems timeless

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On 1/20/2016 at 5:10 PM, jaragon said:

He was exploring every type of gay experience from the most flamboyant to the possibly closeted- that it why the play still seems timeless

Exactly. And another thing that really works here are the backstories created for each character. When Luckinbill tells everyone about the fantasies he had...how he was on a trip without his wife, and when he arrived at a train station, he picked up a guy for the first time, we learn what brought him to this point of his life. It opened up a new world of experience for that character. So not only are we getting the different shades of straight to gay (on the Kinsey scale) but we are getting confessions and explanations about how each one of them got to where they are now. They all had unique things happen in their lives that informed their sexual orientations.

Of course, the telephone game which takes up the last third of the story brings all of them to their ultimate conclusions. 

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I haven't seen it in a long time, but I remember, perhaps vaguely, a few bits and  pieces of the movie. For example, Harper's Bizarre's cover of Anything Goes, and Cliff Gorman's flamboyant Emory, who, correct me if I'm wrong, is the only one who truly knows how destructive the telephone game can be.

Alan is perhaps the most interesting character in the story, considering how his presence affects the other characters, and most interestingly, what the other characters see in him. Michael asks his friends the to tone down their gayness because Alan "doesn't know", and they comply. Later on, they reveal their homosexuality, perhaps to feel free to be gay again, perhaps to shock him. Alan is surprised that one Michael's friends is also gay because he doesn't look it. In the telephone game, Michael tries desperately to find out the homosexuality in Alan and drag him into his own world of frustration because, after all, Alan is one of them.

Alan represents not only how heterosexuals feel about homosexuals, an underwritten aspect of the story, but most importantly, how gay people feel, ashamed or intimidated, in an heterosexual society, dictating their behavior and rebellion; they must hide their homosexuality- appearances are everything in Alan's heterosexual world, or they rebel and flaunt their gayness. The uncertainty principle. At least in a late 1960s movie.

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On 1/20/2016 at 11:12 PM, Arsan404 said:

I haven't seen it in a long time, but I remember, perhaps vaguely, a few bits and  pieces of the movie. For example, Harper's Bizarre's cover of Anything Goes, and Cliff Gorman's flamboyant Emory, who, correct me if I'm wrong, is the only one who truly knows how destructive the telephone game can be.

Alan is perhaps the most interesting character in the story, considering how his presence affects the other characters, and most interestingly, what the other characters see in him. Michael asks his friends the to tone down their gayness because Alan "doesn't know", and they comply. Later on, they reveal their homosexuality, perhaps to feel free to be gay again, perhaps to shock him. Alan is surprised that one Michael's friends is also gay because he doesn't look it. In the telephone game, Michael tries desperately to find out the homosexuality in Alan and drag him into his own world of frustration because, after all, Alan is one of them.

Alan represents not only how heterosexuals feel about homosexuals, an underwritten aspect of the story, but most importantly, how gay people feel, ashamed or intimidated, in an heterosexual society, dictating their behavior and rebellion; they must hide their homosexuality- appearances are everything in Alan's heterosexual world, or they rebel and flaunt their gayness. The uncertainty principle. At least in a late 1960s movie.

Interesting comments. A few things I can add to it--

First, in no particular order-- the story also indicates how gay people feel about straight people, or at least about straight-identified people such as Alan. So in a way, as Michael's stance against Alan suggests, there is just as much distrust, skepticism and discrimination going on from a reverse perspective. This is where I feel Crowley nails it correctly, because it's almost a civil war that is going on, one side pitted against another, and while it is not the main theme, it is certainly an explicit component of the overall story. 

Next, I do think Alan staying for the game rings a slightly false note. Most ignorant heterosexuals would have figured out Michael's friends were all gay, even if MIchael had asked them to 'tone it down.' And such a person as Alan would have found an excuse earlier to remove himself from the setting. Nor would he have remained for the telephone game, knowing it is not something that would interest him. So unless Alan was rewritten as being a little sadistic, like if he wanted to stay and watch the game to get some sort of kick out of watching gays self-destruct, or if he was truly not as ignorant (and was technically curious, which is something this story does not fully suggest), then Alan's continued presence during the last part is a bit false and forced on the audience. Likely he remains present because Crowley needs the character for the twist at the end-- but Alan's motivation and reason for staying in the apartment that long should have been more clearly presented. 

As for Emory, I have to admit I checked all the actors' bios to see which ones were in real life gay and which ones were straight playing gay. Cliff Gorman who plays Emory was straight and married to the same woman for almost 40 years. So having that knowledge about him, and watching him play Emory, it seems apparent that he's really pouring it on thick as the flaming character of the story. It is like he is working overtime to be gay in this story, which works at cross-purposes and takes me out of his storyline. Of course, on some level, he can get away with this type of campiness because of how Crowley has defined the character, but unfortunately Gorman lacks a lot of subtlety and does not, in my estimation, make Emory as human or as a tragic as a sincerely gay actor might have done.

But Harold, as portrayed by Leonard Frey, has just the right edge. He is over-the-top but he is also infuriatingly real and angry. When he says that he is the only one who can win at the games Michael is playing with the others, we believe him. Not just because of how Crowley has written it, but because Frey brings his own real-life understanding to the character. Frey takes the stigma (pain) of being gay and turns it into a viciousness that makes Harold sound realistic and believable. And he doesn't go overboard, knowing that Harold must have some redeeming qualities, or else he wouldn't have friends or a party thrown in his honor.

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Alan remains the most intriguing character in the play- yes he is a plot device to introduce the straight audience into the gay world- that's why he is shocked when the seemingly masculine  school teacher turns out to be a homosexual too.  Alan sexuality is never revealed and you wonder what happens to him when he leaves the apartment- has he been changed by this encounter with the gay men?

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Alan is an intriguing character, and as I remember it, an underwritten one. He does feel at times like a plot device, and, as TopBilled noted, apparently doesn't notice that Michael and his friends are gay, and surprisingly stays and participates in the telephone game.

As I mentioned before, I haven't seen the movie in a long time. I found it online and I hope to watch it soon.

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Alan remains the most intriguing character in the play- yes he is a plot device to introduce the straight audience into the gay world- that's why he is shocked when the seemingly masculine  school teacher turns out to be a homosexual too.  Alan sexuality is never revealed and you wonder what happens to him when he leaves the apartment- has he been changed by this encounter with the gay men?

I think we're left to assume he is a confirmed heterosexual who goes back to his wife and lives happily ever after. We are not necessarily supposed to share Michael's conviction that Alan is a closet case. Are we?

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I think we're left to assume he is a confirmed heterosexual who goes back to his wife and lives happily ever after. We are not necessarily supposed to share Michael's conviction that Alan is a closet case. Are we?

I think we are. My reading of the play was always that Alan was at a critical point in his life and had turned to Michael for some kind of guidance and sympathy. Alan's initial phone call to Michael was urgent and pleading. Michael's gayness had always been unacknowledged and unspoken between them, but I think Alan knew where to turn with what was bothering him. (I seem to recall Alan calling him "Mikey" on the phone, indicating the intimacy of their friendship.) Just Alan's luck to approach Michael on the day of the party from hell. When he realized he could never have a one-on-one conversation with Michael under the circumstances, I think Alan resigned himself to being an observer at this gathering of gay men to gauge what his own future might hold for him. He was understandably unable to rise to the level of the energy around him so he came off like "the socialite nun" and appeared aloof and judgemental. I think Alan's surprise that Hank could be gay was really a realization that there could be room for someone like himself in gay life. But when Avery's taunts escalated, Alan lashed out in frustration and fear. When Michael completely missed the point of why Alan had approached him so urgently and also taunted him, about a college infatuation with their friend Justin, Alan was so unnerved that he resolved then and there to reconcile with his wife.

 

My reading is that Alan came there to be honest with Michael, only to be accused by Michael of hypocricy because of feelings Alan had never been able to express. It was also my sense that Alan may not have been the only one with feelings for Justin and that it may have been Michael who was the hypocrite, accusing Alan out of jealousy for feelings which were also Michael's own, making his insistence that Alan call Justin in the telephone game all the more sadistic. Instead of being the friend who could help Alan weather a crisis, which I believe was Alan's own urge to come out, Michael became his friend's tormenter, creating a horrific picture of what gay men are like. It's no wonder that Alan would fail to see a future for himself as a gay man. Michael gave Alan the opposite of what Alan had hoped from him (compassion), the tragedy being that Michael had never even bothered to ask what was on Alan's mind and therefore didn't know how badly he had failed his friend. As I said, that's just my reading of the story, but I think it fits the "known" facts of Alan's visit.

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Such an interesting discussion about the play and its' characters, but my take on Alan is that he might've been tempted to become a homosexual and was going to seek his friend Mikey's advice, but that Alan's unnerving experience at Michael's gathering turned him back quickly to "the heterosexual life".  There is a telling shot in the film in which Alan takes a much too interested look at the strangers at the gathering,who are certainly letting out "a gay vibe".

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It's also interesting that Mart Crowley has himself admitted that he was "a mean drunk", because the character of Michael and the performance by Kenneth Nelson is such a shattering one.

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On 1/22/2016 at 9:12 AM, rayban said:

Such an interesting discussion about the play and its' characters, but my take on Alan is that he might've been tempted to become a homosexual and was going to seek his friend Mikey's advice, but that Alan's unnerving experience at Michael's gathering turned him back quickly to "the heterosexual life".  There is a telling shot in the film in which Alan takes a much too interested look at the strangers at the gathering,who are certainly letting out "a gay vibe".

You are citing evidence which does support Alan was temporarily in limbo. But there are lots of straight men who for about two minutes of their life might be curious, but they suddenly realise it's just not them. The same can be said of some gay men who for a quick moment in time might contemplate sleeping with a female friend. 

I do not entirely agree with Dougie's earlier comment that the urgency with which Alan called Michael in the beginning can be read as anything related to one's sexuality. He might have just had a massive fight with his wife, he might be in incredible debt, he might be worried that his job is going to be cut, it could be any number of things that set him off. Crowley doesn't really go into any of that, instead playing up the mystery about Alan's need to see Michael, which of course Michael with his biases and blinders on will only interpret one way. 

I also don't think Alan, smart as he is, would ever confide in Michael about feelings for the same sex. Michael is too unstable of a personality, and Alan would know that about him. Alan would also know that Michael probably had feelings for Alan and this would just complicate matters. So if Alan really was questioning his sexuality, the conservative-minded side of him would have dealt with it by talking to a minister or a professional counselor. He would not go to Michael about it, and once there seeing how much Michael is in the "life" of being gay with all these friends of his, Alan would quickly nix the idea of ever talking to Michael about anything along these lines.

Furthermore, if Alan turned out to be a cad (which I don't think he is, at least not the way Peter White portrays him), he would have used Michael, sort of in a sadistic way, to toy with Michael. Alan could get his perverse kicks in a way that would require no elaboration or confession, instead placing it all on Michael. He'd just play it off as teasing and that it is all in Michael's mind. So again, if Alan was not on the up-and-up, he would manipulate it, if he really was interested in men, and he would never fully come out of the closet or directly acknowledge it. He doesn't have to come out as a straight-identified married man. His wife can go on being his beard (even if she doesn't know that's what she might be). 

Plus, in the very slim chance Alan acted on any of it in Michael's presence, he would make sure he was drinking and could blame it on the booze. I know guys like Alan and this is how they play it. They never confide in an openly gay friend about any mutual feelings or desires. In the off-chance they did, the alcohol is the scapegoat, or the gay buddy who took advantage...or if it was consensual, blame could still be put on the wife or girlfriend, saying she is refusing sex and what is he supposed to do, etc.

Any other acknowledgement would mean honesty, personal accountability and they are not going to do that when they don't have to. It's why many of them operate on the down-low, and get off on having dirty little secrets with other men, if they do in fact act on those impulses. But again, I just don't see Alan ultimately being that confused, manipulative or attracted to Michael to carry through on such a devious plot. Most of it is about Michael's on-going fantasy that Alan might bed him. 

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The more that I think about Alan, the more I think that Mart Crowley deliberately conceived him in a character depiction that would leave a lot of questions about him unresolved.

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The more that I think about Alan, the more I think that Mart Crowley deliberately conceived him in a character depiction that would leave a lot of questions about him unresolved.

Right. And he's definitely the cautious conservative type. If he did try to come out, even partially to Michael, it would be kind of twisted because of the guilt and self-loathing it would cause him. 

 

But my understanding of this story and Alan is that he's the "token straight" character here.

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