It’s the “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?” for American Queer Cinema.
I find it absolutely spellbinding that this and “Cruising” were made by the same person. Seriously. William Friedkin fascinates me. His filmography is a Freudian wonderland of homosexual panic and macho bluster. This is a (pardon the pun) straight adaptation of the smash hit Broadway play. Cast and all. And Mart Crowley was the only credited writer, on stage and on screen. I’ve worked in theater, and your relationship with a director on stage is verrrrrrrrry different than it is on a film. The writer has all the power on stage, and “Boys” was a sensation when it opened. Crowley was the one who insisted that any adaptation of the play had to star the original cast. That’s his cast. Half of Friedkin’s job was done by the time he got hired.
And, to be fair, Crowley was right. His cast deserved to make that film. All of them were told that it would end their careers to do that play. It was 1968 when it opened, and this is a blatantly, flamboyantly gay piece of material. Openly flamingly queer. Inside lingo as theater, a subculture made palatable. It’s catty, clever writing, and yeah, it deals in some pretty big stereotypes at times. I think maybe they’re stereotypes now, though, precisely because of their appearance here. For a lot of gay artists waiting for a voice, “Boys” was permission granted.
For a simple Paramount release, “Boys” is a solid, informative overall package that does a great job of putting the film into context, both socially and in terms of Friedkin’s career. It also addresses the controversy of the source material head on. I think “Boys In The Band” is a very smartly constructed dramatic mousetrap, three distinct movements that gradually peel back layers of the way these men deal with and present their sexuality. Or protect it, in some cases. Queens. Butch. Nellies. Closet cases. Much of the drama comes from each of these types challenging each other over the course of this long evening spent together.. By putting all of these types together in this good a dramatic engine (a birthday party loaded with lots of surprises), what results is like alchem, and I think the film gets at some real truth about that generation’s struggle to come out. Just that one term, “coming out,” casts a huge shadow over the whole play. That push, that “dare to live honestly,” is what I think makes the anger that underscores the whole piece feel so righteous, even after all these years.