By Jeff Walsh
"The Boys in the Band" is an impressive movie if only for the fact that it exists. The play came out in 1968, the same year as the Stonewall Riots in New York City, which is considered the birth of the modern day gay rights movement. The movie followed two years later, using the off-Broadway cast, and is now celebrating its 40-year anniversary.
I have to say, this movie holds up really well, and there is good reason to watch this to see where we've made progress as a community and possibly where we haven't. But that's for viewers to decide. I'm more interested in the narrative itself.
The movie starts out with Michael preparing to host a birthday party for his friend Harold. While Michael is preparing for the party, his old college roommate Alan calls. Alan is in New York City on business and urgently needs to see Michael. Michael is caught between worlds, with a bunch of loud gay friends set to arrive, and his former roommate (who doesn't know he's gay) needing to talk. Michael also assumes that Alan is gay, and wonders if he's finally going to admit it. They make plans to quickly get together, but then switch to lunch the following day.
The party guests are over the top and represent different aspects of the community. One is the queen, one wants love with his partner, his partner wants love with him and sex with others, etc. When Harold finally arrives, the bitchiness factor increases further, and Michael and Harold certainly like following what everyone says with some cutting remark. For safe measure, another party guest is a young hustler who is one of Harold's birthday gifts.
Since you've seen movies before, you'd rightfully expect Alan to show up at the party, causing Michael further turmoil. Then the sarcasm and digs start digging further, revealing the venom contained within. What was a patio party gets rained out, forcing them into closer quarters where they are each pushed further throughout the night.
There is an awful lot of self-loathing on display in this movie, and watching this to better understand and appreciate gay life would be like watching 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' for marriage tips. But I do think they are still talking about important issues, and strangely enough, I think it is an interesting movie for today's gay youth to watch.
While the characters in this movie are in their 30s, a lot of the themes they are dealing with is actually what many gay youth face today. What does it mean to be gay? Why do we need to put down effeminate guys to boost ourselves higher? What kind of relationships do we want to have? What does it mean to be gay? How do you balance sexuality in your life? How to we interact with one another? And how can we improve that?
After 40 years, a lot of the issues they are talking about as older men have worked their way down to be youth issues today. That said, it is a somewhat nasty, biting movie that won't be everyone's thing. But every so often, I certainly like watching it. And the new DVD includes featurettes giving you the history of the play, the movie, and a retrospective of the movie's four-decade lifespan. There is also a commentary track with writer Mart Crowley and director William Friedkin.
I think this movie is part of gay history and film history. It's no feel-good movie, but you certainly go on a journey and get to know the characters. So, if you get the chance, this is a history lesson worth watching.