Tag: the boys in the band

Making the Boys

Making the Boys (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

“To be a dumb gay person is a luxury that was won for you by gay people who came before when being gay was so complicated and so difficult that dumb gay people didn’t last.” — Dan Savage

What did I think of the film “The Boys in the Band”? I enjoyed it because it does not bother with political correctness. The plot is simple: a group of gay men from different backgrounds, most of them friends but sometimes they cannot stand one another, gather for a friend’s birthday party. Over the course of drinking and partying, deepest insecurities are exhumed. The characters are allowed to be ugly in action, thought, and emotion. They are allowed to be honest, to hurt. Upon the play’s release, it showed that homosexuals—ceaselessly painted in the media as monsters to be feared, disgusted, and are deserving of damnation or as villains who are weak, deplorable, often psychotic—are human beings, too.

“Making the Boys,” directed by Crayton Robey, does a solid job in providing a canvass of the historical climate of the mid- to late-‘60s and connecting the time to Mart Crowley’s inspiration to write the game-changing play. It is interesting how the picture focuses on the dead ends he encountered. For instance, although he was around important Hollywood stars at the time, he felt out of place because somewhere in the back of his mind he had not done anything of value to deserve being in that circle. For those who have seen the play or the movie, understanding the playwright’s mindset holds importance because characters in “The Boys in the Band” have raging in insecurities that are kept hidden just underneath a thin veil of camaraderie.

Furthermore, the documentary paints a vivid picture of how difficult it was to gain support of gay-anything. Financial support was important but the more fascinating angle related to some gay men who were opposed to embracing the play—the very same individuals who wanted homosexual stories to become visible in mainstream media. There were riots and boycotting of the play. The argument was that it showed gay men under a negative light more often than a positive one. Maybe it is impossible for me to appreciate the argument fully now because I did not live through that tumultuous era. Personally, when it comes to the issue of visibility, seeing the good and the bad outweighs showing just the good or just the bad. That way, what is shown is one step beyond one’s expectation or fantasy.

There is not enough information about some of the cast. Appropriate time is given to Cliff Gorman (who gave a highly entertaining performance), Robert La Tourneaux, and Laurence Luckinbill, but the others are mentioned only sporadically. There are questions worth answering: Did the cast get along? Were a few of them difficult to work with? How did they get along with William Friedkin, the movie’s director who also happens to have a habit of firing people? What were their reactions to the play’s success? To the movie’s failure to garner the majority of the support of the gay community? When we are provided information about what had happened to their careers, it comes off too abrupt.

Having Crowley describe his recollections feels exactly right. I enjoyed how he paints a picture in our heads. Notice how he describes the difference in the number of audience, between opening night and the following night, who came out to see his play. He details how long the lines were, the atmosphere of being out there in the streets, what the audience carried with them. One can tell he is born a storyteller. He made me wish I was there to experience it all first hand.

The Boys in the Band

The Boys in the Band (1970)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Michael (Kenneth Nelson) was the host for Harold’s (Leonard Frey) birthday party and all of their friends were invited. Donald (Frederick Combs) arrived early and we learned that despite Michael’s lavish way of living, he was essentially a kid with little regards to money. He got tired of things easily which could be seen by the many times he changed his clothes before and during the party. All of them considered themselves as homosexual but they ranged from the masculine, like Hank (Laurence Luckinbill), to the feminine, personified with great energy by Cliff Gorman as Emory. Some of the invited friends attended with their lovers (Reuben Greene, Keith Prentice). Another was a birthday present (Robert La Tourneaux), a “midnight cowboy” for the birthday boy. “The Boys in the Band,” based on Mart Crowley’s play, is known as the first movie that tackled homosexuality directly. I was mesmerized by the script and the performances. There were many stereotypes but even I can admit that some of them were true. I found qualities of myself and my gay friends in most of the characters; its goal was not to reinforce the stereotype but use it as a template that beneath it all, every type of gay man is different from one another despite society forcing the ridiculous idea that we belong to one category. Instead of putting homosexuals under only a positive light, I admired the film’s audacity to tackle many negative thoughts and emotions. I may not agree with some of the decisions that certain characters made, particularly Michael’s cruel game, but I was able to relate to the isolation they felt despite being surrounded by others, the anger and sadness they experienced when love wasn’t reciprocal, and the fear of wanting to belong with anyone, homosexual group of not, for a stamp of approval. The person I found most fascinating, and the one who I believe as the heart of the picture, was Hank. He was married to a woman for years, had kids, and had the painful experience of coming out to them. The addition of Michael’s former roommate in the university, a self-proclaimed heterosexual, named Alan (Peter White) made the party’s dynamic more complex. Was there an attraction between Hank and Alan or were the two just friendly? After all, Alan was very uncomfortable being surrounded by gay men. Despite Hank being gay, Alan took comfort in the fact that Hank acted straight. I thought that was very honest because I’ve met straight guys (and some of them I consider friends) who would make remarks about someone from afar being a “queer” or a “fag” while in front of me yet they fully know where my attractions lie. The heavy subject matter in the second half was balanced by funny and witty tête-à-têtes and one-liners when the party was just beginning. “The Boys in the Band,” directed by William Friedkin, was released over forty years ago but it still has relevance in today’s more accepting time because the LGBT community still faces similar issues today.