Saturday, 9 April 2011

"That's the pot calling the kettle beige..."

We trotted off to the twee Conway Hall again last night for a free showing of the original "gay movie" The Boys in the Band, courtesy of GALHA (The Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association). [To be followed by a discussion. It would have helped if - particularly on a Friday night - they could have started the shebang on time, but I digress...]

Written for the theatre in 1967 by Mart Crowley, The Boys in the Band just about pre-dated the Stonewall Riots, yet was equally as ground-breaking in its uncompromising subject matter - the lives, loves, friendships and bitchiness of a group of gay men in New York. With its (shocking at the time) scenes of man-on-man kissing, loving relationships, sex, swearing and matter-of-fact discussion of gay matters, it was controversial - to say the least - particularly when it became more widely known thanks to its 1970 film adaptation.

Needless to say, the timing of the release of such an excoriatingly bitter and twisted black comedy met with vocal opposition from within the gay world as well as from the usual suspects (the god-botherers, moralists and bigots, particularly in America). Gay rights activists tore into the self-loathing and bitterness of some of the characters, vilifying the play as concentrating on the "negative" rather than the "positive" aspects of gay life, and internalising the hatred rather than tackling society's homophobia.

All very worthy sentiments. However, this is only to be expected when people who are fighting for their rights encounter a situationist portrayal of what, in fact, was actually "real life" for many better-off urban gays.

In my opinion, much as in other comparable set-piece bitch-fests as The Women or Abigail's Party, the joy is not in its attempts to "represent reality" but to explore the interplay between the characters and their ultimate attempts to destroy each other as part of some self-revealing "game".

Unpleasant secrets and spiteful comments are bandied about by all the characters in turn, as alcohol, marijuana and the unwelcome presence of a mysterious character from our host Michael's past all have an impact on what might otherwise have been a simple (read "camp") celebration of the birthday of the group's Queen Bee, Harold.

Yet in doing so, the brilliance of the writer's creations comes to the fore - the dialogue is superb, the one-liners are eminently quotable, and despite several sharp intakes of breath, as a whole this is a fabulous (and genuinely "classic") masterpiece of theatre, writ large. I loved it - yes, to my shame, this was the first time I had seen it!
Michael: "What is he - a psychiatrist or a hairdresser?"
Donald: "Actually he's both. He shrinks my head and then combs me out."

Emory: "Who do you have to fuck to get a drink around here?"

Michael: "There's one thing to be said about masturbation: you certainly don't have to look your best."

Harold: "Your lips are turning blue. You look like you've been rimming a snowman."

Michael: [about Emory's falling down] "A falling down drunk nellie queen."
Harold: "Well, THAT'S the pot calling the kettle 'beige'."
Michael: [loud, drunken] "I AM NOT DRUNK!"

Tex: "I lost my grip doing my chin ups and fell on my heels and twisted my back."
Emory: "You shouldn't wear heels when you do chin ups!"

Michael: "You're stoned and you're late. You were supposed to arrive at this location at eight thirty dash nine o'clock."
Harold: "What I am Michael is a 32 year-old, ugly, pock marked Jew fairy, and if it takes me a little while to pull myself together, and if I smoke a little grass before I get up the nerve to show my face to the world, it's nobody's god damned business but my own. And how are you this evening?"
Enjoy some of the movie's fab scenes:

If you have yet to experience The Boys in the Band it is available on a region 1 DVD from Amazon.

In a footnote to the film, it is a sad reflection on what happened to a generation of talented gay men after the fight for legality was dissipated, when we find that the play's original director Robert Moore, Kenneth Nelson (Michael), Frederick Combs (Donald), Keith Prentice (Larry) and Robert La Tourneaux (Cowboy/"Tex") were all lost to AIDS. Of the original cast, only Laurence Luckinbill (Hank), Peter White (Alan) and Reuben Greene (Bernard) are still with us.

The film's director William Friedkin, however, went on to bigger things - genre-breaking movies such as The Exorcist, The French Connection and even Cruising - before moving to television, where he still works on top series such as CSI today.

The Boys in the Band on IMDB

PS The play's author Mart Crowley is also still alive, was best friends with Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner, worked on the series Hart to Hart and wrote and produced a sequel to Boys in the Band called The Men From the Boys in 2002.


  1. amazing film.

    one can only hope that it'll be ancient history, soon.

    wishful thinking.

  2. It is still as much an exposé of how gay men are as it was in 1970! Jx

  3. It sounds great - I never seen it although I came close to seeing it once years ago.

    I was out drinking with my friend Rick and we met a friend of his called Kevin who said he was off to see The Boys in the Band at some theatre in Aldwych I believe, that was about 97-ish … he spent the best part of an hour convincing Rick to come to the theatre - I'm always up for any show - anyway after much persuading we all set off to get tickets only to be told when we got to the theatre that the show started in a month's time - typical queens x

  4. it was on at the Aldwych Theatre from Oct - Dec 97 - my memory scares me at times - lol

  5. it must have been Sept 97 that I was drinking with Rick & Kevin ...

  6. As is so true with many plays or films with gay content, Tha Boys in the Band was always better accepted over here in the UK than it was in America. Shame you never got to see the revival; let's hope for another! Jx


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