"The Boys in the Band" (1970)

Just watched this again yesterday. Not as depressing as I remembered it but still pretty depressing. Adapted by Mart Crowley from his stage play, TBITB is routinely hailed as the first “honest” portrayal of gay men in American cinema. Which, debatable, but OK. I haven’t seen or read the play so some of my observations may be answered (or contradicted) by the original source material. So, some thoughts:

What was the deal with Alan? Gay? Straight? Bisexual? “Bi-curious,” to use a term that didn’t exist in 1970? If I had to label him, I’d put him down as bisexual, with a decided preference for women. I think he knew about Michael’s being gay but denied it to himself. His crying jag and calling Michael probably didn’t have anything to do with Alan’s interest in men. What was the deal with his fixation on Hank? Love at first sight, lust at first sight, seeing an image of himself as he might have been had he made different choices? I believe him when he says that he never slept with Justin, but he was lying about the reasons for dropping the friendship. He wanted to sleep with Justin but never would have. If he hadn’t met Michael’s friends at the party, would Alan have gone back to his wife? I have my doubts.

Why would anyone be friends with Harold? I’m assuming that he and Michael were, at some point, lovers, and despite Harold’s thorough unpleasantness has remained friends with him. Several of the others may have come to the party because they’re Michael’s friends, but I can’t imagine Hank or Larry wanting to spend a minute with him.

Spaking of Michael…who would he have called during the game? Donald? Justin? Alan? None of the above?

When the play was on Broadway, my drama teacher went gaga over it and came back with the cast double-album and played it in class (gee, think my teacher was Gay?).

Then I saw it when the film came out, and saw it again about 10 years later and once again about 10 years after that. I remember in my last viewing thinking how the film hadn’t aged well. There really wasn’t a single person I would have wanted to associate with in that film. All of them a bit shrill - but that is probably an unfair criticism. It was a different time, and when I think back to how deeply it affected my drama teacher, it was probably an accurate portrayal of at least a certain group of men back then.

I guess it is time for my regularly-scheduled-every-10-years viewing.

Really? None of them? Harold and Alan I wouldn’t be seen with, and Michael while drunk is pretty wretched, but the rest of them seem decent enough to hang out with.



I saw this movie a couple of years ago, but I don’t remember it in enough to detail to get into an in-depth discussion of the characters. Sorry! I remember being impressed with it though. I imagine it’s probably a decent time capsule of that time in that community.

My dad was a senior in high school in 1970, here in Texas. He hung out with the drama kids and knew a number of gay guys at the time, but he always said they seemed like the saddest, most depressed and isolated people he knew. My dad also thinks homosexuality is either an illness or a deviant lifestyle choice, so I don’t think it’s ever occurred to him that if you were a gay teenager in 1970 Texas, you’d probably feel pretty damn depressed and isolated. When I watched The Boys in the Band, it made me think about how difficult it must have been for them. If those guys felt like that in NYC, Houston must have been awful.

Just wanted to chime in that I selected this movie in my listing of The 50 most important Hollywood films. It was number 38, just above Rocky at 39 and just below The Learning Tree at 37.

I haven’t seen this flick in several years so my memory is a bit spotty, but I’ll chime in with a few comments:

  1. I was born in 1969 (two months before the Stonewall riot) and, consequently, the movie has always been a period piece to me. But even as late as the mid-1980s, when I was a very closeted teenager, I was astounded by this film just for showing gay guys who associate with each other. The only time I’d ever seen gay people on TV or movies (and believe me, I looked for them), they were single solitary folks defending themselves to the rest of the (straight) world. Perhaps it sounds silly, but I did appreciate the idea that gay guys could associate with each other, even be friends and not just quickee one-night hook-ups, and not be just isolated individuals in a herde of straight folks.

  2. What’s more, not all of them were mincing, wrist-limping queens, which was surprising to me. Some of them were even pretty good looking guys. I don’t know if it was deliberate, but it always seemed to me that the few gay guys who ever did appear in t.v. shows or movies tended to be nebbishy, greasy-looking weasels. I do wonder if casting producers went out of their way to find unattractive men to play the ‘gay guy’ whenever the role had to be filled. It was something of a relief to me to realize that maybe being gay did not automatically mean I’d grow up to be a troll.

  3. Harold is a creepy dude, but he has a way of cutting through the B.S. His last speech to Michael is cutting, but actually quite progressive: Essentially he tells Michael that he’s gay, and nothing’s ever going to cure him of it. He can possibly fake being straight, but that won’t change who he is - and he’ll always know it. Given that even today there’s a considerable industry of quacks getting rich by selling snakeoil cures for ‘deviant sexuality’, it’s still a very timely message.

There’s an awful lot of self-loathing in this movie, but that might very understandably have been an emotionally honest thing for Crowley to write about at that time. (He’s since said he wishes he’d written it differently; less wallowy, more empowery. [Paraphrasing here. :cool: ]) Though I’d hardly hold it up as a movie to show to someone just peeking out of the closet–it’s mighty discouraging–I think it’s valuable as a document of its time.

And, “cast double-album”? There was a musical version?

Straight female here, and I love this film!

Otto, I think the deal with Alan was much like what some people were talking about in the Clay Aiken Marine Tryst thread a while back. Alan, being very conservative (“His family looks down on people in the theater, for god’s sake!”), couldn’t imagine a life for himself that didn’t include marriage and children, so he found a woman he liked, maybe even loved in a sense, and who was gentle enough to let her make love to him in his own way, and that was that…as long as he avoided any triggers. As for whether he slept with Justin, it was probably a very near encounter that drove them apart.

DMark, I agree with you that in many respects it hasn’t aged well, particularly the amount of grief Michael and Emory give to our brother Bernard, and Larry’s pre-AIDS insistence that fidelity is not an option for him. Although the first point is redeemed somewhat when Bernard tells Michael, “I let him do it because it’s the only thing that to hm makes him my equal!” True enough: Bernard can pass for straight, but Emory couldn’t possibly do so, unless he could do a complete and agonizing personality overhaul.

—I feel pretty bad for Cowboy. He probably came to NYC to be an actor or something.

—I’d give a lot to know what kind of “just…something personal” was inscribed on the photo Michael gave to Harold. Not word for word, of course, since Crowley probably never spelled it out, but just the nature of it.

—One thing I liked about it is that of the three mean-spirited ones, Emory is the nelliest of all of them, and Harold is rather camp himself (Michael being the third). The scene where Emory provokes Alan beyond bearing…whoo. Good counterpoint to the then-prevalent emotionally-fragile-homosexual stereotype.

—Also, the pacing of the movie is brilliant. I’ve read reviews which claim that it suffered from the stage-to-screen transition, but I’ve never seen a stage production, so I can’t judge. At any rate, I’ve read the play, and the only change that I think was detrimental was a speech from Donald, early on when it’s just him and Michael, in which he talks about his family. Without that, Donald is just kind of hanging in space, and Michael really looks like an SOB when he says later, “I hope you will yourself over an embankment.”

—Beyond that, the first act is just darn funny! Recently, I was at a hair salon, getting a rather time-consuming treatment, and I started telling the stylist about some appropriate dialogue. “[Your therapist] works late on Saturdays and takes Mondays off. What is he, a psychiatrist or a hairdresser?” “Actually he’s both. He shrinks my head, then combs me out.” And “Well, it’s still hair spray – no matter if they call it ‘Balls’!” He was busting a gut, and may have followed up on my suggestion to check out the film. (Of course, if it was upsetting to him, then we never had that converation. ;))

Art: Word to your third point.

Yeah - seems strange, but there was a double album (back in the days of vinyl) recording of the entire play that my drama teacher bought…had totally forgotten about it until reading this thread. I have never really looked, but wonder if there are any other full-length recordings of original cast, non-musical Broadway shows?

Let him make love to her, I meant. :smack: As Emory would say, I have such a problem with pronouns.