Monday, October 27, 2008

"What I Am, Michael, Is A 32 Year Old, Ugly, Pockmarked, Jew Fairy"

Over the last few weeks, I've had several run-ins with The Boys in the Band - - the 1970 film version of the landmark, 1968 off-Broadway play of the same name

An email from a new blog buddy Larry (Douglas). The final scene of Philip's new play. Even one of my Fratboy Friday posts.

Maybe it's because the film is finally being released on dvd this November 11th.

Or maybe it's because, no matter what anyone says about how much gay men have evolved, if you put a bunch of gay men into a room - - birthday party, hustler and old college chum optional - - you will get The Boys in the Band

It's still with us. It's still us.

Some see the film as a best-forgotten piece of gay history - - an embarrassing reminder of who we used to be. They complain that the characters are too caustic, too bitchy, too hateful to themselves and each other. 

As if gay men in 2008 are rarely caustic or bitchy and are never hateful to themselves or each other. Apparently, we modern queer boys are all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows being blown out of Debbie Boone's ass. And it smells fresh, like a mountain breeze. Not so much...


The Boys in the Band - - those thought-to-be-extinct, caustic, bitchy, hateful homos - - can be found today. You just have to walk into a twink bar and not be a twink. Or have a few, extra pounds on you when you join the hot, new gym. Or be stopped after your set in the piano bar by the hottest guy in the room who tells you how much he loved your performance, then looks you up and down and says...



"Yeah, to look at you, 
you wouldn't think you were anything special."

Yep, that's what the hot guy said to me. Yes, I still remember it, word for word. Yes, the therapy was very long and very expensive.

But that's not to say that gay men are always hateful to themselves and each other. Not at all. I actually think the beauty of The Boys in the Band is the strong friendships these characters have, how deeply they care about their friends. Emory and Bernard. Michael and Donald. Especially Michael and Harold.

To me Harold isn't the villain, he's the voice of... Reason? Truth? Gay liberation? Deep down, Michael is ashamed of being gay, which is perhaps why he lashes out at Alan so violently. But Harold doesn't question why he is a homosexual, he simply is one. He knows that his gayness isn't a mental illness or a sin against God. It's who he is. And that, in 1968, was a bold stance for a character and a playwright.

You may find the film dated...

...that word always makes me laugh, because what is negatively considered "dated" now, will soon be called a "period piece" and then move into the highly regarded category of "classic"...

...but the play opened off-Broadway BEFORE Stonewall. And the film opened after Stonewall. And you may think that the characters are gay Uncle Toms, but let's give that name to the homos who really deserve it - - The Queer Eyes for the Straight Guys - - and remember that both the play and the movie were bold and ahead of their time.

And yes, "ahead of its time" does imply that gay men have changed. And we have. We have more rights, more freedoms. We publicly and proudly celebrate our gayness. But beneath all of that, at our core...

Well, just put a bunch of gay men in a room for an hour or so. You'll see...

12 comments:

ggymeta said...

Posting again, don't think my comment went through:

What I Am, Michael, Is A 32 Year Old, Ugly, Pockmarked, Jew Fairy

No, that would be F Murry Abraham, who--BTW, I fell in love with when I first saw him in The Ritz.

Funny, I never considered the anger at the heart of BitB to be queer-angst; perhaps it's the New Yorker in me: put any of us in a room with each other for over an hour...

:)

McCool said...

AMEN!

Anatomicsd said...

I'd have a difficult time putting together a room full of gay men in South Dakota.

Project Christopher said...

I've never seen this movie fully, but damn well will be waiting for the DVD! Going to see if Netflix has a rent-before-release option :)

How can anyone say they're a best forgotten stereotype? Actually I would agree... I wish I could forget them, but as with the examples you shared, we can't forget, because it happened last night, it will happen tonight, it will happen this Saturday.....

And we don't need a whole bunch in a room, just put you and I on stage and BAM!

Java said...

I have heard much praise for this movie/show, but have never seen it. I look forward to watching the movie.

I just finished reading a history of the Stonewall Riots. Very interesting. I had been vaguely aware of the event and a bit familiar with its significance, but the book put a lot of things into perspective. Things were really bad before Stonewall! While there is still a lot of room for improvement, gay rights has come a long way since the pre-Stonewall days.

Polt said...

Excellent review, Stephen, not only of the movie, but on the state of gay America.

I've never seen this movie in its entirety. I will have to correct that very soon.

HUGS...

Dustin Ashley Beam said...

First and foremost, I appreciate your candor and wit.
Secondly, I have never seen the film but shall g and rent it.
Thirdly, I am going to follow this blog and feel free to read mine as well...

http://d-ash-beams-kaleidoscope-of-musings.blogspot.com/

Dustin

Doug said...

My favorite quote from the film (although there are many I love):

"Now there's the pot calling the kettle beige."

A line made brilliant by the genius performance of Leonard Frey. His pronunciation of the word "beige" is hilarious.

Clark Bell said...

I actually loved that movie and was amused that the lead actor became Lucille Ball's son-in-law...

Cliff Gorman (the Little Nelly Queen Who Made the Lasagna) gave probably the most poignant performance of the whole movie--and was straight.

philip said...

My favorite quote:
"You remember Life,Michael. It's a goddamned laugh riot."

Oh, and I'm so glad the movie goes to dvd in time for you to give it to me for Christmas.
!!!

Mark in DE said...

THANK YOU for letting me know this film is finally coming out on DVD. I'd looked for it (in vain)on Netflix awhile back, but after reading your post I checked again and added it to the #1 spot in my queue. I've never seen it, but have seen a few clips in The Celluloid Closet. I can not wait to see the whole thing.

Trying to generalize gay men is just as futile as trying to generalize white women or Latino teens. There's simply too much variation to be accurate for the majority.

Mark :-)

Dirky-Do said...

For distraction on the cheap, my family went every Saturday to the Tacoma Public Library's Main Branch in 'downtown' Tacoma. They had a vinyl lending library and you can just imagine my junior high, babyfag astonishment when Miss Serendipity presented to me the Full.Broadway.Soundtrack.Recording!
I have no idea how I got it home without my parents seeing but, needless to say, after a couple of clandestine listenings, I had the entire dialogue memorized. Despite the self-hating elements of the play, it was actually a great affirmation of ME. Thank you, Mart Crowley, from the bottom of my little gay heart...