A preface: I want to give Chris @ Angelman's Place a big thank you for directing me to these two movies, a pair I might have never had cross my radar were it not for reading entries on them on his blog. And also appreciation for his putting up with a clueless neophyte with not much contact in the LGBT community to know what is what.
13 years, more or less, separate these two movies in terms of history as well as how the characters come across. The Boys in the Band takes place in 1968, sometime around the election of nixon for hist first term (although that's only a superficial detail, the movie could just as well have taken place in 1970 when the actual movie was filmed). Longtime Companion begins in 1981 and ends in 1989. Watching the two simultaneously gives a pretty good overview of the progress in how gays were depicted in those early years post-Stonewall. (Although, technically, since Boys takes place in 1968, it was prior to those events).
Given that I watched the PBS documentary on Stonewall, and read the book by David Carter on which most of the documentary was based, I can't help but wonder how a town like NYC which was still hostile to gays in general in 1968 dealt with the production of the Mart Crowley play (on which the Boys movie was based). That documentary in itself is worth a view, either before or after watching these two films, assuming you take the plunge on the films.
I had originally wanted to title this piece "The Boys are Back in Town", because at the time I was watching The Boys in the Band, a current revival of the play had been running on Broadway (with Jim Parsons of "The Big Bang Theory"). Unfortunately, the altogether too short run of it ended a couple of weeks ago. So I chose the probably less impressive title you see at the top of the page...
The Boys in the Band (1971):
A cast of characters come together for a birthday party for one of their members. The group includes the birthday boy himself, Harold, as well as the friends that Michael, the host of the party has invited to share in the festivities, as well as Michael's old college roommate, Alan, who shows up unannounced. The rest of the party includes Emory, Hank, Larry, Donald and Bernard. It also includes a character only called "Cowboy", who is not a friend of the group, but a male hooker that one of the friends brings as a gift for Harold.
That's the basic gist of the film. From here on out I'd rather address the film from a viewpoint of commenting on the individual character.
Kenneth Nelson is Michael, the host of the party. Michael is a recovering alcoholic who eventually, as the party spirals downward gets rip-roaring drunk. It is probably that and some semblance of self-loathing that causes him to initiate the game that is the central part of the story. The game entails each man at the party having to call the one he loves the most and confess his love for that person, with points gradually accruing for various things over the period of said telephone call. It's hard to say who Michael would call (the game falls apart before we reach that point), but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be himself.
Cliff Gorman as Emory is the most effeminate of the group. I get the impression that Emory would just like to find a nice man and settle down and become a good housewife. He has all the good qualities; he loves to cook and decorate. The character comes off as rather stereotypical and may make some sensitive people cringe. The fact of the matter is I knew a guy when I went to college who might have been an inspiration for Emory, if he had been born 20 years earlier. I loved the fact that Emory got some of the best lines in the picture. (By best I mean funniest).
eg. After Cowboy tells the group he hurt his back doing chin ups: Cowboy: "I lost my grip doing chin ups and fell on my heels and twisted my back." Emory: "You shouldn't do chin ups in heels..."
Lawrence Luckinbill plays Hank, a man who has just recently accept his homosexuality, although he has been married and has kids. He is currently living with Larry (played by Keith Prentice). During the aforementioned game, Hank reveals the person he loves the most is Larry, but Larry has a problem with monogamy. He wants to sleep around and that grates on Hank who is a one man man. And yet Hank still loves Larry.
Frederick Combs is Donald. Donald is what passes for Michel's best friend and sometime lover. Donald is the most compassionate of the crew, in my opinion. This is only based on the fact that he doesn't get his chops in very often during the back-biting sessions that permeate the movie.
Leonard Frey (whom some of you will know as Motel, the boyfriend and future husband of Tevye's oldest daughter in Fiddler on the Roof) plays Harold, a self-described "32-year-old ugly pock-marked Jew fairy." And that should sum it up in a nutshell. Harold has no qualms about stating what's on his mind, no matter how rude or obnoxious he may come off sounding. But the fact of the matter is I probably like Harold the most of the cast, simply because he does come right out and say it. He arrives ("fashionably"?), and thus misses out on some of the fun.
Robert La Tourneaux plays "Cowboy", the "present" that Emory has brought for Harold. Apparently a street hustler hired to put a smile on Harold's face, to say the Cowboy is a mimbo would be being overly gracious. This poor sap probably couldn't put two and two together and get anywhere near 4. In my typical acerbic wit I created a better word for him. "Dimbo" Cowboy gets off on the wrong foot from the very start when he greets Michael at the door with the song and the kiss that was supposed to be for Harold (who had yet to arrive for his own party).
Ruben Greene plays Bernard, a man who suffers from a double whammy of being both black and gay in a society that considers both to be less than acceptable. Bernard is the first one on the clock to call his most loved one, which turns out to be the son of a woman for whom Bernard's mother worked as a housekeeper/maid.
Peter White plays Alan, the outsider in the group and the only straight man. (There is some debate on that among critics and fans of the movie, and maybe my own heterosexual tendencies are in play here, but I am convinced he is straight even at the end.) Alan was Michael's college roommate and in the ensuing years Alan married a girl from college with whom they were both friends. Apparently Alan is having some trouble on the home front, which is why he comes to see Michael in the first place. Watching Alan's expressions throughout the movie as he observes the interactions is pretty eye-opening. I can imagine myself in his position, or at least I can imagine myself 30 years ago in that position. Coming from my background (conservative small town mentality) , I probably would have reacted the same way in my 20's. These days I'd fit right in.
As a final note on the picture, I rather liked it. I understand that some members of the LGBT community have begun distancing themselves from the movie and play because it presents a rather negative view of the community, but if that's the case then most heterosexuals ought to distance themselves from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?...
A number of the stars of this film have since passed away from HIV/AIDS (Nelson, Combs, Frey, Prentice, La Tourneaux ) and it's complications. Which makes it a good reason to segue into the next film we will discuss.
Longtime Companion (1989):
In 1982, I first heard about this new disease that was affecting, mostly, the homosexual community. Not much was known about it at that time. It had only really been discovered a year earlier. The fact that not much was known about it, and the fact that it was first discovered to be appearing in the homosexual community did not stop people from speculating about it. The evangelical Christian community for example took no pauses to declare that it was God's judgement on the homosexuals.
The movie covers one day each year for several years in the lives of several gay couples. The first day is July 3rd, 1981. The talk of the gay community is a New York Times article about a new "cancer" that has begun to crop up in the gay community. While this is discussed, we are introduced to the main characters of the film. Willy (Campbell Scott) and John (Dermot Mulroney) are a pair of friends who are visiting a couple on Fire Island. David (Bruce Davison) and Sean (Mark Lamos) are their hosts.
Willy ends up hooking up with "Fuzzy" (Stephen Caffrey) because, as Willy confesses, he "likes hairy men". Meanwhile Howard (Patrick Cassidy) is auditioning for a part in a soap opera, which just happens to being written by Sean. Howard's boyfriend, Paul (John Dossett) lends his emotional support in Howard's endeavors. Fuzzy's sister, Lisa (Mary-Louise Parker), who is a neighbor of Howard and Paul, also lends encouragement.
Over the course of 8 years (the movie ends on a date in 1989), we see the gradual deterioration of several characters to the disease which has now been labelled AIDS. The first to succumb is John. But the most heart-rending victim in the movie is Sean, who appears to hang on for a year or two, but his decline is seen from the prism of David's eyes as he watches his longtime companion die. Bruce Davison was nominated for an Oscar for his heart-wrenching portrayal of David. (He lost to Joe Pesci, but he did win several other awards including a Golden Globes).
The movie is not a total downer, however. There is plenty of humor in it as people try to deal with the situations. There is a funny scene as several try to find something for one of their friends to be dressed in during his funeral and they come across a dress in his closet. And one character reveals a past incident where he dressed up in his sister's wedding dress and fell down the stairs while still in it and passed out, And I don't know if it was supposed to be funny, but I found the scene where a trio of musicians performed the Village People song "YMCA" as if it was a chamber music piece pretty funny.
Longtime Companion has been cited as the first movie to deal compassionately with AIDS. It was preceded by a play, The Normal Heart, but that didn't get produced as a film until 2014. Philidelphia, which came out several years later is probably the most well known movie to address the issue, but this one surely deserves a watch. You'd have to be hardhearted indeed to not shed some tears in the final scene as three surviving members walk along a deserted beach and imagine seeing a horde of their deceased companions running up to them. (Sorry for the spoiler... The movie poster I used for this piece is actually from that scene, though.)
Drive home safely, folks.