For those of us (queer or straight) who weren't around when Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band opened Off Broadway in 1968, it's hard to grasp how revolutionary it was. The homo-paranoia of the '60s and a closet-culture mentality held sway; despite the Times declaring that New York theater was ruled by a triumverate of gay playwrights (that'd be Williams, Albee and Inge, for those of you playing along at home), there were no stage works expressing the pleasures and pitfalls of being "that way" at the time. So when Crowley finally mounted his landmark play about gay life, he assumed it would do modest business. By the second performance, the line to see this funny, poignant portrayal of friends-of-Dorothy celebrating a pal's birthday party was already around the block.
It's the emphasis on what was happening to the gay community before, during and after the production's first run (and movie version) that prevents Crayton Robey's documentary from being the equivalent of a DVD extra writ large, and why even folks who aren't die-hard Band fans should see it. The historical context is key in tracing how Crowley's chronicle of modern homosexuals was first viewed as liberating, then as a quaint relic during the post-Stonewall days of rage and, finally, as an affectionate reminder of the pre-AIDS era. (That much of the cast would die from the disease only makes the time-capsule elements more poignant.) Ignore the doc's regrettable low-rent look and that kitschy Love, American Style soundtrack, and just focus on how this portrait turns a work of art into a sociological flash point.
Watch the trailer