In his latest documentary Making The Boys, director Crayton Robey (Where Ocean Meets Sky) investigates the legacy of the iconic play “The Boys in the Band,” which became both a rallying cry and a bone of contention in the gay rights movement of the 60s and 70s, and remains so to this day. Playwright Mart Crowley, a close friend of Natalie Wood, is the star of the film, and walks the audience through both his personal history and the contemporary events that inspired his groundbreaking work..
“Making” is well organized; the film’s pacing is excellent and its basic structure (interviews spliced together with period photos and footage) works well to give the audience the fullest possible picture of its subject. The selection of interviewees is a treat: everyone from Edward Albee to Dan Savage gets to say their piece, and the commentary is lively. Not everyone agrees on the exact nature of the play’s impact on the gay community; the fact that “Making” chooses to include so many differing points of view is a testament to its desire to examine its subject thoroughly, not to merely patronize it.
Robey’s film is a study in the complicated nature of representation. While it was initially hailed for its no-holds-barred portrayal of the “gay lifestyle” in the late 60s, The Boys in the Band quickly became outdated; its reputation for characterizing gay men as essentially self-hating was soon deemed damaging to the burgeoning gay rights movement. By the time William Friedkin’s film version was released in 1970, “The Boys in the Band” had already been relegated to the pantheon of pre-Stonewall art that now appeared not just out of touch, but dangerously regressive.
Crowley reflects on all of this with introspection and wit, and others involved in the original stage production have no qualms about delving into the play’s complicated history and legacy. Many of the original cast members had their careers nearly destroyed after playing out gay characters, and several ended up dying of AIDS in the 80s and 90s. Forty years later, “The Boys in the Band” is now seen as the beginning of a new era in gay history, rather than as the end of an old one best forgotten.
Making The Boys does The Boys in the Band a great service, and will certainly interest a new generation of viewers in learning about the foundation that films like Brokeback Mountain were built on.