The Boys in the Band
Time Out says
“Are you calling me a screaming queen or a tired fairy?” asks one pal to another, wryly, his voice eased with tenderness. It was exactly that sort of delivery that made Mart Crowley’s 1968 Off Broadway smash—about a group of Manhattanites throwing a birthday party for their 32-year-old alpha fag, Harold (Leonard Frey)—such a landmark. It didn’t reinvent gay men as cryptocloseted straights. Rather, it lays on the warm bitchiness and hopes its audience is a curious one. Since then, The Boys in the Band has gone through backlashes and re-evaluations, but its truthfulness remains, not as a coming-out drama but as a keyhole into the lives of already-confident outsiders.
Retaining the entire original cast, the superb 1970 movie version was directed by a young William Friedkin. (The surprise isn’t that Friedkin’s The French Connection lay just around the bend, but that his sensitivity would go completely AWOL ten years later with Cruising, rightly hated by gays.) Friedkin honors the play’s drama while opening up its interior space with smart camera moves. On a trio of DVD featurettes, Friedkin calls Boys one of his only films he can continue to enjoy; Angels in America’s Tony Kushner credits it as life-changing. Like many late-’60s stories, the plot is touched by slight self-excoriation. But it also swims in bittersweet emotions; more than half the cast would eventually die from AIDS. They leave behind a beautiful time capsule, collected at the dawning of a decade of change.