Forgotten

I was surprised by the results of a 3.24 poll, published by Awards Daily‘s Ryan Adams, revealing his readers’ favorite gay-themed films. It’s a respectable list, but the absence of William Friedkin and Mart Crowley‘s The Boys in the Band (’70) — arguably the most groundbreaking-in-its-time gay film ever made — tells me Adams’ voters weren’t interested in films that weren’t about them, or which failed to provide comfortable and/or stirring self-images.

It’s common knowledge, of course, that the gay community 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 satiric and rather acidic drama about a group of Manhattan gay guys, gathered at a friend’s birthday party in the West Village, grappling with various forms of frustration, misery and self-loathing due to their sexuality.

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 it hasn’t aged well at all.

When Boys was re-released in San Francisco 12 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 urban gay men 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).

And it’s just not right on some level that gays (whom I’m presuming represent most of Adams’ respondents) haven’t included Boys on their list at all…not even down near the bottom, for Chrissake. That’s uncaring, disrespectful, short-sighted, shallow.

I guess I’m extra-mindful of Crowley’s play/film because a couple of months ago I saw Crayton Robey‘s Making The Boys, a longish but mostly absorbing account of (a) Crowley’s life, (b) the writing of the play and (c) the making of the film. 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 else “gay.”

My favorite gay-themed (partially or completely) 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.

33 thoughts on “Forgotten

  1. Mgmax, le Corbeau on said:

    How come nobody ever includes The Odd Couple on that list?

    Yeah, I know, they moved in together to chase British stewardesses. Sure they did. A play about that would be called “Boeing Boeing,” not “The Odd Couple.” Tell me Felix wasn’t a gay icon from day one.

  2. Can’t argue with Jeffrey’s list, even though it omits Bound and Top Gun. The website list has problems; X-Men, e.g., contains more gay themes than American Beauty, which really only contributes that beneath every militant rightie, lies a queen ready to party.

  3. Read the fine print. It’s “30 Years of LGBT Cinema”; BOYS is 41. And a film/play that’s being reassessed and reclaimed.

  4. Fuck 30 years and Ryan Adams’ decision to draw that stupid line. Mainstream gay cinema of an out-ish nature began with The Boys in the Band, dammit, and you can’t assemble a list of admired/ liked/satisfying/ exceptional gay-themed films reaching back into the late 20th Century and exclude it.

  5. The Kids Are Alright that high, Jeff? The thing just came out. It was good, but not THAT good, and certainly not superior to Cholodenko’s own High Art. And I’m surprised that someone who ranks the Harvey Milk documentary that high would also give such weight to the biopic, which was okay as primer for the masses but really wasn’t great cinema.

    It also would have been nice to see some Gregg Araki on here. And if The Crying Game is considered “gay-themed” because of one gay supporting character, then let’s also consider Joel Schumacher’s underrated Flawless.

  6. Lazarus, as for Gregg Araki, in scores of films he has made one good one — Mysterious Skin — and that’s simply because it was not an original of his and instead based on good source material. With this one exception, Araki’s universe is too shallow, to preening, too self-conscious, too depressingly unfunny in all of his other pictures. Only The Living End managed to be OK. The rest are just scantily clad young B-actors acting out Araki’s fantasies of sexual fluidity amidst manufactured alienation. The guy has no view of anything in the world except sexy young people taking off their clothes, broadly acted with arch and often embarrassing dialogue. I’ll give him Mysterious Skin and the terrific performances of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbett, but nothing else.

  7. How come nobody ever includes The Odd Couple on that list?

    Yeah, I know, they moved in together to chase British stewardesses. Sure they did. A play about that would be called “Boeing Boeing,” not “The Odd Couple.” Tell me Felix wasn’t a gay icon from day one.

  8. no idea why anyone compiling a list of “favorites” should include stuff for historical significance alone — god knows there’s plenty of “significant” films I have no liking for and will never watch again

  9. I was hoping Happy Together would make the readers’ votes, too, because Brokeback Mountain was clearly stylistically inspired by it and WKW in general. Plus, if it makes you feel better about omits, Jeff, the Utena movie should clearly be on the list, too. And while we’re at it, what about The Rocky Horror Picture Show?

    Mark: “contains more gay themes than American Beauty, which really only contributes that beneath every militant rightie, lies a queen ready to party.”

    Actually, my problem with American Beauty is it implied the opposite message.

  10. I just cant stop reading this. Its so cool, so full of information that I just didnt know. Im glad to see that people are actually writing about this issue in such a smart way, showing us all different sides to it. Youre a great blogger. Please keep it up. I cant wait to read whats next.

  11. And The Crying Game is considered “gay-themed” because of one gay supporting character

    Forest Whitaker’s character isn’t straight

    Ralph Brown’s character isn’t straight

  12. No votes for that oddball thing where Campbell Scott and Jamey Sheridan play two old he-men military guys who rekindle their forbidden relationship in late middle-age? (Harry Handsome? Handsome Harry?)

    You haven’t seen awkward till you’ve seen those two old hams unconvincingly making eyes at each other over pastrami sandwiches, with Sheridan exclaiming, “You DOG!”

    “Mala Noche” probably isn’t very ‘good,” or at least much of a “movie” by the high standards of Van Sant’s later work, but saw that not too long ago and thought it was impressively energetic and matter-of-fact for 1985. And whoever that Keanu-meets-James Duval* main guy was should have DEFINITELY had a better movie career, or any career at all. Guy was great.

    *Interesting that THAT type seems to be the go-to muse-like lead for so many modern gay directors. The mop-topped, slacker-voiced matter-of-fact jean-jacket kid is like the gay indie equivalent of the baby-doll Kewpie fetish chick in heels and miniskirts that JW was outlining the other day.

  13. Also funny nobody’s noted that Friedkin also made CRUISING, reviled in its time, somewhat rehabilitated in reputation by now, subject of an awesome essay by the late. brilliant and very gay film-school syllabus staple Robin Wood. That’s one of the queasiest, grim and most narratively elliptical and troubling movies ever made, in a lot of ways a work of genius on par with his other big guns.

    I should check out Boys in the Band, as well as Night They Raided Minsky’s; In some ways Friedkin’s like Coppola in that geeks and scholars really only consider and revisit their work STARTING with the first big heavy hitter (French Connection, Godfather), and tend to ignore or never have seen the four or five probably interesting movies they did before.

  14. The fact that no film before 1992 made the final list tells me that the most voters were no older than 35 – and had no sense of history.

  15. Would take every Fassbinder film over nearly all of these. Screw “mainstream,” which usually means pleading agitprop made primarily for straights.

  16. Right on bill weber, because most gay people are avant-garde! Why isn’t Sex and the City 2 on that list?

    Friedkin should be commended for taking a play that takes place in one apartment and making a real interesting movie out of it.

  17. Wow, this “Fuck 30 years” thing is embarrassing, huh? It’s not even like it’s fine print, it’s in the headline, and yeah, it DOES disqualify “Sister George.” AND “The Fox.” AND “The Sergeant.” AND “Reflections in a Golden Eye.” AND “VIctim.” Etcetera. Jeff doesn’t like it, he should start his own poll instead of pissing on poor Ryan Adams, who must feel bad enough to have fallen from the heights of Billboard’s alternative top 100 to blogging for Awards Daily. I mean really.

    That aside, what Lex said about “Crusing,” and what Prager said about “Band.”

  18. The Top Gun gay thing is a bit overblown. It’s more homoerotic than actually gay-themed. Lots of shots of sweaty young dudes without their shirts on. But the story itself is pretty standard Hollywood romance. Every fucker who’s seen Reservoir Dogs will tell you that Iceman and Maverick theory, but it’s not really there. It’s the volleyball and locker room scenes really.

  19. And the original list on Awards Daily seems to classify any film with a gay character as worthy of consideration. Easy A? Really?

  20. Eloi’s right. The “Top Gun is gay” reading had been way overplayed (for easy laughs, IMO). It’s merely homoerotic. Although he’s wrong about Res Dogs. The Tarantino Top Gun stuff is from Sleep With Me. And Wells is an idiot for wanting a list of people’s favourite gay-themed films to conform to his list of important ones. Ridiculous.

  21. BOYS and PRIME CUT! Haha…They should make all 15 year-old boys sit through that double bill as a requirement to go on to the next grade.

    Here’s an alternate double bill: 3 WOMEN and THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN.

  22. Nice to see Hedwig & the Angry Inch on the longer list; I always thought that was underrated. Bombastic, powerhouse, culty filmmaking on the level of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (which oddly enough didn’t make the cut…I realize transvestite =/= transgender, but doesn’t that movie have a HUUUUUGE gay/counterculture following/aesthetic?).

    Films that I’d probably take off: Mulholland Dr. (it’s just Lynch, that’s its own separate genre), Let Me In (redundant with the original already on the list…doesn’t everyone agree the remake tones down the gay subtext heavily?), Capote (I get why it’s on there, but it’s primarily a film about the true events of In Cold Blood — and secondarily, writing).

    Films that I’d add: Cruising (huge snub), Kissing Jessica Stein (Chasing Amy without the dick or fart jokes), and Bound (at the time of release I think it was viewed as a straight guy portrayal of lesbians, but I’d submit that recent events make it due for a reappraisal).

    Easy A?? That really seems to be on the very mainstream fringe of what “GLBT” encapsulates. Seems like an example of a flick that’s mainly on there because it’s “new.”

  23. Anyone mention “Sunday Bloody Sunday”. Oh right, it was released in old-timey times.

    Glad nobody said “Deliverance”.

  24. The Naked Civil Servant, Wild Reeds, Fucking Amal, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Beautiful Thing, Carrington, The Conformist, Cabaret, Mysterious Skin.

    And The L Word! I’m only half kidding. It was pure soap trash of the shiniest kind for the first 2 or 3 seasons, and Jennifer Beals remains one of the most beautiful women in the world.

  25. Jeff and/or Danny is Always Wrong is Right. To elaborate on his point, La Cage aux Folles was a cause celebre back when film companies would actually seek out good foreign flicks and roll them out stateside. Birdcage is good too, although a bit too Mainstream Hollywood and Nathan Lane is grating in it.

    Also, if the Times of Harvey Milk is a candidate for the list, where the hell is Silverlake Life: the View from Here, which is not only the best LGBT doc ever made but probably the most devastating account of AIDS illness ever put on tape?

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