The Boys in the Band

(Dir. William Friedkin) (1970)

In 1968/1970, gays were still (perforce) tortured.  In this claustrophobic classic, we see a cavalcade of torture.  A bunch of lads (‘closet queens’) are having a birthday party for pal Harold (a male Mae West, crossed with Lou Reed), but host Michael’s college buddy drops in, quite inconveniently, on the 8 chaps who prefer sex with men.


‘Thanks for the nifty party’

In a sensational ensemble, the stand-outs are Harold (Leonard Frey, in a performance to die for) and Michael (Kenneth Nelson, all ‘countercharm’, in his greatest role till Edge of Darkness) who clearly have a deep dark history.  Also, note Peter White, as the stout fellow who drops in and is the inverse of the band’s prejudices and the object of his host’s prejudice.

It’s a kind of Gay Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and near the conclusion, after a venal telephone game during which Michael, full of piss and vinegar, warns Harold, Harold rounds on Michael in concise, subdued, and devastating fashion: “We tread very softly with each other because we both play each other’s game too well. I know this game you’re playing, I know it very well and I play it very well.  You play it very well too but you know what? I’m the only one who’s better at it than you are.  I can beat you at it, so don’t push me. I’m warning you.”  and then, as a catharsis: “You’re a sad and pathetic man.  You’re a homosexual and you don’t want to be…You may very well one day be able to know a heterosexual life, if you want it desperately enough, if you pursue it with the fervour with which you annihilate – but you’ll always be homosexual as well – always Michael – Always – until the day you die.”


THE BOYS IN THE BAND (2020) (Dir. Joe Mantello) (Netflix)

Mart Crowley’s great play is remade (not updated; still set in 1968) but we had trouble working out why.  It is a reprise of William Friedkin’s claustrophobic 1970 film, and while it is re-done well, the script and mise-en-scène are virtually identical.  We couldn’t see a point of difference, and hence, a point.  All the performances are fine (Zachary Quinto as Harold is less theatrical, but still quite intense, in a misty way) and there is some tacked-on nudity that would probably be disallowed in the earlier film, if you like that sort of thing.  And a coda both unnecessary and harmless.  If you haven’t seen the 1970 film, it is well worth checking out.  We’ll take the 50 year-old version, thanks.

Almost frame for frame [see main image (1970)]

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