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THE BOYS IN THE BAND, 1970
Movie Review

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THE BOYS IN THE BAND MOVIE POSTER
THE BOYS IN THE BAND, 1986
Movie Reviews

Directed by William Friedkin
Starring: Kenneth Nelson, Frederick Combs, Cliff Gorman, Laurence Luckinbill
Review by Thomas Marchese



SYNOPSIS:

Tempers fray and true selves are revealed when a heterosexual is accidentally invited to a homosexual party.

OSCAR winner for Best Makeup

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REVIEW:

The term “sacred cow” is one that is tossed about quite frequently in art. The term has its origins in the Hindu religion where cows are considered sacred animals, hence why Hindus are not supposed to eat beef and cows roam freely in India. A work of art and/or the artist who creates it are deemed sacred cows because they were the first of their kind and initiated a whole new direction in the medium of art that they are a part of. Pablo Picasso with cubist painting, Ernest Hemmingway with minimalist prose, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie with bebop jazz, etc.

The 1970 William Friedkin directed film adaptation of Mart Crowley’s groundbreaking and highly successful off-Broadway play, The Boys in the Band, is considered a “sacred cow” in the genre of gay cinema. The film portrays a birthday party being celebrated by eight gay men in honour of one in the group of friends, and as the evening progresses, the festivities turn sour when an old heterosexual acquaintance of the party’s host arrives unannounced, and devastating behaviour and revelations begin to surface.

TBITB was the first film that featured openly homosexual characters, homosexual themes and where homosexuality wasn’t mocked and treated as the butt of a joke, as it had been quite frequently up to that point in Hollywood. The film paved the way for such landmarks in gay cinema as My Beautiful Laundrette, Prick Up Your Ears and Longtime Companion, and its influence is still prevalent today.

However, if a work of art has become a sacred cow because it was the first, does that necessarily mean that the piece is good and stands the test of time? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. In the case of The Boys in the Band, I say no. As a political statement, the film has lost its bite and by today’s standards is rather tame. The classic films mentioned previously, which were made in the eighties, maintain their political edge to this day.

The detrimental flaw of the film is that, basically, it’s a filmed stage play, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Here, it doesn’t. While the performances are superb (the original stage cast was used) and Friedkin (who a year later would make his towering achievement, The French Connection) does try to make the piece as cinematic as possible (the best example being the opening montage set to Cole Porter’s classic song Anything Goes, which is the best part of the film) by utilizing multiple group shots, wide shots and edits, and creative cinematic lighting techniques, TBITB ultimately is claustrophobic and abrasive. Perhaps that is the feel and tone Friedkin was trying to achieve, but it just doesn’t work and is off-putting.

I have not seen the play on stage; however, I think that it would be a much more entertaining and fulfilling experience theatrically than it is cinematically, as it does contain interesting characters, some very funny dialogue and situations, and rather moving and profound moments. I would recommend The Boys in the Band for those who are curious to see the film that was the catalyst for gay cinema.

The newly released Special Edition DVD contains a beautifully restored print of the film, three documentaries on the making of the play and the film and their legacy featuring Mart Crowley, William Friedkin and surviving cast members, and audio commentary with Crowley and Friedkin.

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