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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

All About the Boys in the Band

Young'uns today have no idea how shocking this poster was in 1970.

The other day I stumbled upon this short feature on the making of The Boys in the Band, the play and the movie, which is a fascinating piece.  I well recall hearing about the movie, somewhere around the summer of 1970, at the time when I had just realized a few months earlier, to my horror, that I was gay.  Lots of sensational movies had come out in the late sixties, but this one seemed like the most shocking of all - though in truth, as one of the participants in this documentary says, there is nothing pornographic to be seen in the film.    It was just the very idea of a whole movie about those - those - ugh, those nasty, ugly, filthy degenerates - those h o m o s e x u a l s ! - that was enough to fill everybody with disgust. 

Including me.  As a young, frightened, totally isolated gay teen living way to hell down in the provinces, I was nowhere near ready to embrace my gayness - or, God forbid, let anyone else think I was gay.  I used to pray every night for years that God would never, ever let me even meet a homosexual, lest I be tempted to, um, do something with that kind of wicked sinner.   It took a long time to get over that brainwashing, and in fact, it was another ten whole years before I came out, my senior year in college.  I don't recall whether the movie actually played at any of the theaters in my small city, but I would have just as soon signed a pact with the Devil as go see it, if it had.

Still, as Leslie Jordan says about some other things in his growing-up-gay autobiography, I was totally repulsed at the thought of this movie . . . but fascinated by it at the same time.   Many years later, somewhere around 1986, I happened to find a paperback edition of the script in a used-book store - and was captivated by it.  Not only is it very funny in places, and a well-crafted story, but I was also struck by its verisimilitude:  the dialogue, the sayings, the bitchy attitudes, the personalities, all are so true to life, and still very much with us.  Which helped me realize that gay people in earlier times probably talked and acted much as we do today - there is a gay personality that runs through us all, though we may emphasize one facet or another of it individually.

One amazing thing I learned from this feature is that four of the actors were straight men - can you believe?  If you haven't seen the film in a while, go watch it on YouTube, or get the disc from Netflix, and see if you can guess which ones aren't really gay.  You may be very surprised with some of them.  Sadly, most of the gay guys died later, in the AIDS epidemic.  But the film lives on, preserving a slice of pre-Stonewall gay life for the ages.  Thank God we now have happier endings to look forward to, especially the younger generation.


Davis said...

Oddly enough I found the film very empowering when I saw it in 1970 - a kid in college at the time. PArtly because I knew and cared for people like almost all the characters in the film. Strange, perhaps, but my experience.

Russ Manley said...

I don't doubt that you did - but that's the difference between being college age, with gay friends already, and being only 14 and completely isolated and alone with one's fears.

Theaterdog said...

I was the same then...craving for something like this film, but running away from anything remotely connected to the subject. I believe we all have that in common wether from smallsville or not. My partner is a native San Franciscan, ditto.
Anyway, Happy Holiday Russ, I am here thinking of you in the Loire!

Russ Manley said...

How nice to be thought of in the middle of la belle France. I wonder if you all are having turkey today - or do they even have turkeys in France? Whatever, have a glass of wine while you think of me - bon appetit!

FDeF said...

I was a late bloomer, compared to you, Russ. While I enjoyed the movie "Boys in the Band", I really couldn't relate too closely. Have you seen the documentary "Before Stonewall"? I found it most inspiring.

Stan said...

I was one year out of HS in NJ when "Boys in the Band" came out but I wasn't quite "out" myself just yet. I went to see it by myself in NYC and felt so much better about myself afterwards.

Russ Manley said...

Frank - yes I have seen "Before Stonewall," excellent documentary. Should be required viewing.

Stan - did you get to see the actual play or just the movie?

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