Times have changed. As a gay community, we’ve evolved. Slowly, very slowly, the non-LGBT community is evolving too. Things are very, very different for us now than they were in 1960. For one thing, lesbians like me are visible where in the ’60s, gay men WERE the gay community, period.
In the 1960s being gay was to be diseased. Psychiatry and medicine had not yet come to the conclusion that homosexuality was not a disorder or an illness. There was far more stigma attached to be an out or known gay. It was in this environment that the off Broadway play by Mart Crowley, The Boys in the Band, began its run of 1,001 performances in 1968. It was followed by a full length film in 1970 starring most of the original stage actors. It was finally released on DVD in 2008.
The Amazon.com film synopsis:
“A sensitive yet humorous adaptation of the stage play, this 1970 film directed by William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist) is one of the first films to openly address gay issues in a matter-of-fact style that largely avoids stereotyping. Shot on one set and featuring a birthday party as the festive setting, a group of friends assemble to celebrate, reminisce, and discuss their lives and the travails of being gay, even as one friend insists he’s straight. The night turns from a light celebration to a sometimes-vindictive ordeal of revelation and betrayal, as each man in turn must confess his true feelings. Performed by the original cast of the stage production, the film may feel dated to some, but it still manages to be truthful and entertaining as it explores a subject that to this day is not often addressed. –Robert Lane”
And a review from someone who was affected by it, Christopher Sullivan:
“Mart Crowley’s ‘The Boys in the Band’ is a minor masterpiece of American cinema that was also instrumental in thrusting gay life and issues into the American mainstream.
Based upon the 1968 Off-Broadway play, this 1970 film adaption by William Friedkin retains all of the stage cast and most of the dialogue. The story is simple enough, Michael Connelly is throwing a party for his friend Harold when an old college roommate, who is presumably straight, arrives and throws the party into turmoil. Michael, who clearly has had a drinking problem, hits the bottle again as a result of the conflict. Kenneth Nelson gives a brilliant performance as Michael who is quickly unravelling with every drink and who begins to tear down his friends one by one. The party climaxes in a ‘truth’ game which proves oddly cathartic to everyone but Michael.
Many issues have arisen over the years with ‘The Boys in the Band’. Were these men mostly stereotypes? Is this work still relevant to gay life? What does it say about where we are in light of where we’ve been?
Your answers to these questions may well depend on your age. For myself, when first viewing this as a 22 year old in 1987, I found it amusing but ultimately sad and upsetting. A dozen years later of being out in gay life, I have come to learn how masterful this work is and that while times have changed in many ways for the better, many of the issues that the ‘boys’ were dealing with back then are still being dealt with today. Issues of religious and societal intolerance and the attempt to forge a positive gay identity in an often hostile world are still very much with us today.
I believe the reason ‘The Boys in the Band’ is so humorous is that the camp humor of that time was largely a coping mechanism of sorts. This is black humor at its best, showing us the brutal honesty of a situation while exposing the many absurdities in it at the same time.
In the end Michael states ‘I don’t understand any of it, I never did.’… food for thought…”