Mart Crowley's Off-Broadway play The Boys In The Band drew standing-room-only crowds when it opened in 1968, as the curious and the savvy alike peeked in on Crowley's then-novel examination of New York's gay subculture. Prior to Boys, homosexuality in theatre and film had been merely hinted at, exoticized, or marginalized, but Crowley depicted queerness from the inside out, introducing a range of characters from flaming to tepid, all talking openly about their jobs, their desires, and their fears over the course of the worst party since Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? In the decades since, The Boys In The Band has often been criticized for being such a downer, because it starts light, then curdles into accusations and self-loathing. But Crowley believed he was being true to his time and place. Regardless, the play was revolutionary in its acknowledgment of the gay community's unique set of signifiers and worries. To a whole closeted generation, it was as much a hopeful portrait of camaraderie as an indictment of homosexual insecurity.
Whatever a person's opinion of the play's accuracy, William Friedkin's 1970 film adaptation remains gripping, translating a story that takes place in a cramped apartment into a movie that rarely feels stagey. Friedkin was 35 when he made Boys, and he'd been building a reputation for helming films with an authentic "New York feel," like 1968's The Night They Raided Minsky's. (1971's The French Connection would follow.) Though Minsky's is a musical comedy, French Connection is a cop thriller, and Boys is a chamber drama, all three have a lived-in quality, marked by subtle camera moves that treat city streets and cluttered living rooms with the same casual sense of belonging. That approach is key to the enduring power of The Boys In The Band, which features a lot of unknown faces, most of whom went on to have relatively minor careers—some because they died young of AIDS, and some because they were stereotyped as gay even though they were actually straight. Friedkin, like Crowley, presented these characters as though they needed no introduction, as though we should already know them. And thanks to The Boys In The Band, a lot of people did.
Key features: A thoughtful commentary track by Friedkin and Crowley, and a typically thorough three-part Laurent Bouzereau documentary on the play and the film.