When contemplating the pics of William Friedkin, “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist” leap to mind. But “The Boys in the Band”? Yup, that’s also his, made right before the other two, and to hear him tell it — as he does at length in interviews on the film’s DVD bow — he’s as proud of “Boys” as anything he’s ever done.
“The Boys in the Band,” a mid-1960s theatrical sensation by Mart Crowley that he later scripted and produced for the bigscreen, will always be a gay touchstone. It was the first mainstream production, on stage and screen, to focus exclusively on gay men. Both play and film, however, have dated badly, as mincing, venom-spewing queens are neither as shocking nor as interesting as they once were.
Thus, as its long-delayed release on DVD suggests, the 1970 film exists mainly as a camp curio, its arrival tied to the 40th anni of the play’s premiere Off Broadway. Yet the trips down memory lane that buttress the release are well worth savoring, as is the sharp color transfer the helmer calls, “The best-looking print that ever existed of ‘Boys in the Band.'”
The extras come billed as an audio commentary by Friedkin and three featurettes detailing the history of the play and its screen transfer, but the commentary is really just an extended version of Friedkin’s featurette material, minus the visuals.
His comments are interesting but clearly responses to questions, not spontaneous observations made while watching “Boys.” Moreover, remarks by Crowley, also extensively interviewed in the featurettes, get tucked into that “commentary,” illuminating certain points but further compromising the sense that the helmer is revisiting the pic in real time. Still, it’s touching to learn of Friedkin’s love for this black-sheep drama.
Hearing playwright Tony Kushner’s thoughts on “Boys” is a welcome bonus. Reminiscences from Dominick Dunne, who exec produced, and cast members Laurence Luckinbill (Hank) and Peter White (Alan) naturally have a more personal ring.
Indeed, those who haven’t kept up with the “Boys” cast may be chilled to learn that six of the nine actors — Robert La Tourneaux, Leonard Frey, Frederick Combs, Keith Prentice, Kenneth Nelson and Cliff Gorman — are now dead, five of them victims of AIDS or its complications.
Works such as “The Boys in the Band” never anticipated that plague yet are shadowed by its effects. So if nothing else, this release serves as tribute to some of the fallen.