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.