Boys in the Band: Yoda versus JudgeG

One hates it, one loves it....Boys In The Band

One hates it, one loves it....Boys In The Band

Yoda says: I can’t remember exactly when I saw “Boys In The Band” but I do know that it was the first gay film that I saw and that I didn’t like it at all. It left a really nasty taste in my mouth. Had I still been totally in the closet, this film could have kept me there or worse. Thankfully, I had started my coming out process and had already discovered that gay people were actually quite OK.

I guess that I can acknowledge that it was an important film in that it was probably the first mainstream film to depict homosexuals but what an ugly depiction it was. A group of self-loathing so-called friends who torture themselves and each other. There is not one redeeming feature between any of them. I would not want friends like these. The telephone game was particularly cruel.

The problem I have with the film is that at the time (and for quite a few years afterwards), this would have been the only template for young gay people coming to terms with their sexuality. I dread to think how some people may have reacted to this film. Young people need positive role models and there is not a single one in “Boys In The Band”. Not one. It reinforced the image of homosexuals as sad, pathetic and bitter and something to be ashamed of.

Of course, at the time, many gay people would have been like this. It wasn’t like it is today where there are many films featuring gay characters that are not stereotypical. Where being gay is more acceptable and there are a range of role models.

Although very much of its time, it’s worth remembering that the Stonewall riots had happened the year before release. Stonewall was the birth of gay pride and gay activism so really “Boys In The Band” was already dated when it was first released.

It seems no coincidence that the director of “Boys In The Band” also directed that other negative depiction of gay life, “Cruising” in 1980. By that time, gays were angry enough and organised enough to protest but this was not the case when “Boys In The Band” came out.

I suppose it is possible to watch these films today in their proper context – as historical pieces depicting a very narrow view of gay life. But I just don’t want to. “Boys In The Band” is still a story about really unlikeable people. The lines may be witty but they cannot make me laugh. It is just plain nasty with no redemption.

Go Harold!

Go Harold!

JudgeG says: I don’t see Boys In The Band as cruel or being full of unlikeable characters. I see it is a work of art, a story of a particular group of Gay men living in a particular city at a particular time – 1968.

I also don’t see that it has to be a ‘positive role model’ for young Gay people. The Killing of Sister George wasn’t and that’s another brilliant film. Boys In The Band just tells it like it is for particular group of Gay men in New York at that time. We might not like the way Gay people were treated and considered by society back then but that’s how it was.

Self loathing? Well, yes some of them were. But that’s because society had taught them that they were freaks, perverts, beneath contempt. That they were less than human. It’d be pretty hard not to succumb to a bit of self loathing when you’re getting that kind of negative reinforcement from your parents, your peers, the media, religion and society in general. That this group of men identified as ‘Gay’ at all is a miracle. I find their wicked wit and insecurities absolutely marvellous weapons against the world.

It’d be great if black people weren’t made to be slaves backin the olden days and it’d be great if women had equal rights and were treated equally from the dawn of time. Unfortunately, the world isn’t always the way we want to see it. Some times art – like a good movie – will reflect the unpleasantness. Perhaps seeing that reflection causes society to learn and move forward.

Every person in the movie – just like every person in real life – is flawed. We get to see their flaws magnified in the film because of the ‘hot house’ environment of Michael’s flat and the party. But my god, they do it with such incredible wit, bitchiness, cleverness and downright style that you can’t loathe them. You might feel a bit sorry for them but I’ve always thought ‘hell, I’d love to be at that party, what a blast!’

I didn’t want to slash my wrists about being Gay the first time I saw Boys In The Band – I found it mesmerising. I fell in love with it. I looked at these characters as being real people living and facing the world as it was way back in the late 60s. They fought, they cried, they bitched and most of all, they wore their hearts on their sleeves.

I totally related! 😉



  1. I’m with JudgeG. How many theatrical works are cast with role models of any sort? Albee was quite critical of Boys, yet I don’t see any characters in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf who would be role models for heterosexuals, let alone middle-age ones or young married academics. And, I don’t want them to be. I deeply love both Boys and Virginia Woolf because they are penetrating looks at struggling people, and are chock full of panache and wit.

    I am an actor, and one of the first things we learn is that plays are about the best and worst–often the worst–moments in the characters’ lives. They’re also about conflict, and quite often the source of the conflict is themselves; they are confronting flaws in their own makeup.  Characters generally make choices during most of the play that take them deeper into conflict rather than away from it. It is only late in the play that they resolve these conflicts or have insights into their short-comings and (hopefully) grow a bit as people. Conflict and crisis–those are the essential elements of theatre. You want role models, look to real people. In theatre they’re a bore.

    The characters in Boys would have had their ups and downs like most folks, even in that era. I think that Hal is a very likeable, almost noble, character–the play’s one-man Greek chorus speaking truth about himself and the other characters. Boys happens to be an evening when a lot of their issues are brought to the surface. Things start off cooly enough, but the heat turns up when a closeted outsider crashes the party and upsets Michael, who goes off the wagon and sends the party into a tailspin. And let’s not kid ourselves, many of the same issues are rife in the gay community, even now. Promiscuity, insecurity, alcoholism, you name it — I could cast Boys from my extended circle of friends.

    Speaking of which, at a movie night party I convinced about twenty of our friends, the younger ones of whom were totally unaware of the work, to watch the DVD and they were awestruck and moved. It was quite an evening.

  2. […] recently asked me to comment on the film, Boys In The Band and he has put up my response on his blog. Needless to say, I hate it and he loves it so he wanted to put up two opposing views. Check it out […]

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