Monday, March 14, 2011

'Making the Boys': A Look Behind the World's Most Famous 'Band' Fags

Michael and I saw "Making the Boys" at the Quad yesterday, Crayton Robey's insightful and intelligent documentary about Mart Crowley's landmark play and film, "The Boys in the Band." People familiar with the work will be endlessly fascinated by the behind-the-scenes details of the play's production and aftermath -- Crowley, whose youth was spent at parties at Roddy McDowall's beach house with Sal Mineo, Rock Hudson and Judy Garland, wrote it out of desperation after a "lesbian twin" film he penned for BFF Natalie Wood got scrapped by Darryl Zanuck and his TV pilot for Bette Davis didn't get picked up; Edward Albee appreciated the writing but thought it would be a disaster for the burgeoning gay-rights movement; Barbara Walters came backstage one night -- everyone came, even Jackie O! -- and pointed out that the photo used to "represent" the living room in the low-budget set was actually hers!; and cowboy Robert La Tourneaux wound up bitter, broke and turning tricks before his death from AIDS in 1986.

But it's the film's bigger message of how important "Boys" was to putting homosexuality on the cultural map -- finally, "we" were represented on the stage and on the screen, for better or worse -- that struck me the hardest. Hearing people like Larry Kramer -- who never has anything nice to say about anything -- and Michael Musto discuss how important this moment was in their lives was powerful, and while "The Boys in the Band" wasn't that moment for me --"Parting Glances" was (well, that and sneaking to watch a few minutes of "Making Love" in the middle of the night on cable!) -- it made me appreciate that there might not have been a "Parting Glances" if not for the bravery of "Boys." (I can't imagine "The Boys in the Band" was that film for Carson Kressley, Andy Cohen or "Real World" Norm either -- all of whom were included in the film -- but then again, how many of the film's luminary fans lived through what came next?)

With tons of rare footage and interviews with William Friedkin (who directed the film adaptation), Dominick Dunne (a producer), Robert Wagner, Tony Kushner, Terrence McNally, Paul Rudnick, Michael Cunningham and two of the three living cast members -- all of the gay ones were wiped out by AIDS and Reuben Greene, who played Bernard, has vanished -- I left feeling like I had learned an incredible amount about my own people, and that "Making the Boys" would be the perfect starting piece of a Gay History Month curriculum for high school students. (A pipe dream, I know. Pun intended.) That man-on-the-street interviews at a New York gay pride parade reveal that most younger people have never even heard of the film -- let alone recognize its cultural significance -- only bolstered my feeling.

Having a Hart-to-Hart with Mart Crowley

Afterward, director Crayton Robey and Mart Crowley chatted a bit about the documentary -- they had met when Robey made his history of Fire Island documentary, "When Ocean Meets Sky" (not available on Netflix -- WTF?) -- during which we learned that the play remains HUGE in Japan (only the African-American character is always played by a Korean). Natalie Wood's mom coldly told Crowley at the actress' funeral that Natalie would not have died if Mart had been on that boat; and that Mart's own mother never acknowledged -- let alone saw -- the play that made him (in)famous. Meanwhile, Robey revealed that getting the documentary made was extraordinarily difficult ("No one wanted this story told"), perhaps reflecting the still-ambivalent feelings the gay "community" has for a film that carried the weight of being THE gay play/film for so long, despite being culturally dated barely a year after its release when the Stonewall riots changed how gays perceived themselves. It was sweet hearing a half-dozen 50-something men spill their guts out to Crowley about what the play had meant to them. He was appreciative, but was clearly eating it up -- the "nice" royalty checks that continue to roll in may have been mentioned -- perhaps feeling more than a little vindicated that despite the bashing his "Boys in the Band" has taken all these years, his characters do indeed still ring true.


  • For more information, including upcoming cities and playdates, click HERE.
  • To put "Making the Boys" into your Netflix queue, click HERE.

    Matthew said...

    Can't believe I didn't go...we were going y'day, then got busy. No idea Q&As were happening. Cool!

    Anonymous said...

    Finally - a relevant article. Thank you for posting this.

    Kenneth M. Walsh said...

    @mattrett: We didn't know, either!

    @Anonymous: Relevant TO WHAT?

    ed said...

    Thanks for making me aware of this documentary! Boys is my FAVORITE film, one which I watch over and over again.

    Anonymous said...

    I cannot emphasize enough how much I detest The Boys In The Band, how traumatizing it was for me as a young gay man to watch it (that's what I am??????). I will hate, hate, hate it until the day I die.

    Anonymous said...

    Why isn't this iconic, gay film ever shown on, at least, Turner Classic Movies?

    BaileySEA said...

    I was 5 years old, and three days later was 6 when Boys premiered off Broadway. And I was 8 when the movie came out. So I was prepubescent and knew I thought boys were pretty, but I had no sexual proclivities. Not until 2008 did I see the groundbreaking film. And now I watch it at least once a month. I have heard all kinds of reviews, blogs, good and bad and I must say this film means a lot to me. I have elements of all seven main characters. Yet I most identify with Michael. Being a recovered Catholic I see the connection. Also I see a Neil Simon wit in the Mart Crowley screenplay. Most people who bash the movie talk about how dated it is, and how they don't understand the deep, depressive undertones. I as a gay man fully identify with the gay self loathing.I LOVE THIS FILM, it is a groundbreaking film that made it ok for all other good gay films to be made.