Tuesday, September 29, 2020

And It Played On, And On, And On

Falling somewhere on the vanilla center of the spectrum opinion-wise on a gay property doesn't really make for a great headline -- we're a fickle and fiery people, prone to large pronouncements, and lately it feels like we've got to hail something as everything or nothing, no in betweensies. I've noticed some anger and tension bubbling up in my reviews as of late -- see the generational nastiness that my Welles / Hopper review dipped into just yesterday -- and I guess that can be excused amid these fiery brimstone days, but mostly I'm just tired. Tired of so many conversations, but especially the ones that surround queer entertainment, where all life and joy and randomness and mystery and gestures towards uneasy ideas are stampeded over and flattened down to digestible meme content, Buzzfeed quizzes, tweets. 

You can of course grab me by the shoulders here and spin me around into the face of my own accusations, I'm as guilty as any. It just feels so extraordinary and life-affirming for me today, right now as I type this anyway, to stand here before you and decide to not choose a side, a Team Anybody, on the Boys in the Band culture wars. It's not worth it? The play's only really truly remembered because it got there first, a landmark status that superseded the need for terribly interesting characters or big ideas of any sort -- there are some fun quotable lines but we're not talking high art or even (I wish!) tremendous camp. The shiny new Ryan-Murphy-produced and Joe-Mantello-directed version hitting Netflix today is more of the same -- nobody's squeezing the life from or shooting to the moon anything that was previously resembling a stone-cold classic. 

These new actors all stand there and do their best to make these people seem like people and not the cardboard cut-outs they are on the page, and some of their best is really not good, some is perfectly fine, some is just fucking bizarre. I certainly laughed at Zachary Quinto's beamed-in-from-Uranus schtick more than once, and slammed up against Matt Bomer's pretty person wanness and Jim Parson's shrill lip-purses I can certainly say a lot was happening at once to pass the time. I don't begrudge representational history its depiction of closet-trauma -- I know from a meanness seeping down bone-deep, our viciousness an armor we spend an hour adjusting in the mirror before we leave home each day. 

I just find and have always found Band's presentation of it so... presentable. Such a flat here's this thing, and here are a dozen people standing in a room telling us about it. I can't really get worked up either way. It's a piece of our past and like a faggy Renaissance Faire we'll trot it out and remind everybody, mostly ourselves, of it once in awhile. Putting the fairy in the Faire, the belle in the Antebellum Reenactment, it is what it is and I'm just opting out of caring much either way today, if that's alright. Sure I saw pieces of myself on-screen, but I have seen pieces of myself in puddles on the sidewalk with more Art to them -- maybe you'll have better luck, care more, and for that I wish you the best. I'm sure there will be something for me to stomp my foot or jerk my dick about tomorrow -- there always is.


Anonymous said...

I love the original movie. I think it’s a blast while also being devastating at times. I always found it funny how many people are against it or “find it dated”. I understand people don’t want to see a negative portrayal of themselves but I know all these characters intimately. The original cast is mostly perfect and this cast looks promising too. I don’t really like Ryan Murphy but I’m really looking forward to watching this.

Anonymous said...

I really feel that right now. Thank you for articulating some feelings that have been bubbling away.

JKue71@comcast.net said...

I hope my boyfriend and I watch it today ir tomorrow. I have the original on DVD, yes he's seen it

Danny said...

Jason, your writing really is so good. I don't know why I'm always shocked when I read something you've written and it perfectly captures my thoughts so much better that I'd been able to summarise them myself.

NealB said...

I don't know, Jason. You're too young clearly to appreciate it more; to like it better. But Boys in the Band is the seminal gay play. There's a reason for that. Don't know how old you are, but if there's one thing that seems to be true about, let's say gay men under 40, it's that they don't know how to listen fast enough. And Mart Crowley's Boys in the Band spits out more dialogue minute-for-minute than any other three plays that weren't written by David Mamet.

Anyway, like you say, you're a film critic. What do you know about anything, much less plays originally written for the stage?

This filmed version of the original play was excellent. And it does something movies really never do that makes it better than most movies: it tells one story in real time from the time Bomer knocks on Parson's door about ten minutes in. Adds a couple of flash-backy reminiscencey interludes during the phone game, but otherwise, it's a straight-up well made play and it's damned delightful.

Under 40 gay guys won't get it. It's not quite mopey dopey self-indefinite enough for it to make sense. But give it the time and attention it deserves, look just a little harder and every gay man is one of the characters in the play. Still. Fifty years later. Parson's Michael especially. But damn, all of the acting is superb.

So, credit where it's due. Have there been better gay plays, movies since Boys premiered in 1968? Maybe. But there isn't one of them that isn't essentially based on the characters it showed us, yes "presented" to us way back then.

For a film critic that rambled on ecstatically in his reviews of CMBYN over and over again, a screenplay from a mediocre novel about a kid that had a bad summer in Italy one year when Armie Hammer came to visit (oy), to so glibly dismiss this delightful production of a classic (love it or hate it) of gay theatre lacks class.

Jason Adams said...

I'm over 40, I've seen the original movie several times, and it just doesn't connect with me and it never has. I don't find it particularly insightful or interesting. Apologies if that offends you, Neal! Everything is not for everybody.

NealB said...

I'd have guessed you were younger than that.

Jason Adams said...

Nope, just wildly immature ;)