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Making the Boys

Talking heads reminiscence about "The Boys in the Band" in this largely straightforward docu.

With:
With: Edward Albee, Candis Cayne, Andy Cohen, Mart Crowley,Michael Cunningham, Dominick Dunne, William Friedkin, Cheyenne Jackson, Ed Koch, Norm Korpi, Larry Kramer, Carson Kressley, Tony Kushner, Laurence Luckinbill, Terrence McNally, Michael Musto, Paul Rudnick, Dan Savage, Christian Siriano, Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Robert Wagner, Peter White.

Middle-aged talking heads reminiscence about playwright Mart Crowley’s “The Boys in the Band” in Crayton Robey’s largely straightforward docu “Making the Boys.” Pic explores the making and context of the 1968 play and William Friedkin’s eponymous 1970 film, and their importance in the positive representation of gay men in U.S. culture. Hollywood geeks and gay-oriented fests and distributors will want to see these “Boys,” though varying footage quality makes the pic better suited to the tube than to the bigscreen.

Natalie Wood, for whom Crowley worked as an assistant and who was a lifelong friend, was an early supporter of Crowley’s writing career. Pic’s peek into the mechanics of the biz in Hollywood and New York as experienced by a gay man in the 1960s is fascinating and informs what would become Crowley’s hit play.

Photographs and footage from the time add an authentic flavor, while Robey’s contempo interview segments largely focus on Crowley himself, though various peers, including “Boys” actors Peter White and Laurence Luckinbill and playwright Edward Albee, a potential investor in the play, add their perspectives as well.

Simultaneously, Robey mixes in comments from present-day celebrities, including “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” fashion expert Carson Kressley and “Dirty Sexy Money’s” Candis Cayne. They may attract younger auds, but their observations add little. A possible exception might be “Project Runway’s” Christian Siriano, as his suggestion that “The Boys in the Band” is something involving the Jonas Brothers proves there’s a need for the gay community to preserve and pass on its history in docus such as this one.

What made “The Boys in the Band” — about a gay man’s birthday party — so special in the late 1960s, when representations of gays were either vilified or entirely absent, was the fact it showcased them as protagonists who were ordinary human beings. The unique timing that contributed to the play becoming a huge hit in 1968 is duly highlighted and becomes even clearer when compared with the relatively minor impact of Friedkin’s faithful film adaptation released only two years later. In that short interval, the watershed Stonewall riots had ensured that the gay community was no longer invisible.

The documentary’s later reels focus on the post-“Boys” career of Crowley and other key people who worked on the play and the film, many of whom would die of AIDS. But though some of this material is fascinating, it feels like a rambling postscript to the real story, with Robey, with the benefit of hindsight, too eager to make “The Boys in the Band” snugly fit in the grand sweep of gay history, right down to California’s Prop. 8.

Apart from the at-times poor image quality, the tech package is OK. Music, also frequently played under the interviews, is varied, though none of the songs were mentioned in the end credits at the projection caught.

Making the Boys

Documentary

Production: A 4th Row Films presentation and production. (International sales: SND Films, Amsterdam.) Produced by Crayton Robey, Doug Tirola, Susan Bedusa. Executive producer, Bill Condon. Co-producers, Jack Morrisey, Miguel Camnitzer. Directed, written by Crayton Robey.

Crew: Camera (color, B&W, HDCAM), Eric Metzgar, Charles Poekel; editor, Seth Hurlbert; music, Fran Minarik, Peiter Angell; associate producer, Danielle Rosen; research, Rosemary Rotondi. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama Documentary), Feb. 13, 2010. Running time: 97 MIN.

With: With: Edward Albee, Candis Cayne, Andy Cohen, Mart Crowley,Michael Cunningham, Dominick Dunne, William Friedkin, Cheyenne Jackson, Ed Koch, Norm Korpi, Larry Kramer, Carson Kressley, Tony Kushner, Laurence Luckinbill, Terrence McNally, Michael Musto, Paul Rudnick, Dan Savage, Christian Siriano, Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Robert Wagner, Peter White.

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