Ryan Murphy is one of the most prolific producers in Hollywood. This year alone he has three films—assuming The Prom makes its December release date—and five television shows coming out. He has directed one of the movies, The Prom, and episodes for two of the television shows, Hollywood and Ratched (the other shows for which he did not direct are The Politician and 9-1-1 and its spin-off, 9-1-1: Lone Star). Murphy is so busy it feels like every week brings a new trailer for one of his projects, and this week that project is The Boys in the Band. This is one of Murphy’s (many) Netflix projects, but he did not direct it. The director is Joe Mantello, who previously starred in Murphy projects The Normal Heart and Hollywood. It is based on Mart Crowley’s play of the same name.
The Boys in the Band is a landmark piece of queer history, being one of the first times that the lives of gay men were depicted on stage in a 1968 Off-Broadway production (there was a Tony-winning revival on Broadway in 2018). It was also a landmark for cinema when William Friedkin adapted the play, making it one of the first films to depict gay life. The film came out in 1970, one year after the uprising at Stonewall and the year of the first organized Pride marches. Take a queer history and/or queer cinema class and you will encounter The Boys in the Band, with all its of-its-time imperfections—many of the characters read like screaming stereotypes to us now, but that’s largely because films depicting LGBTQ characters after Band often cribbed from that script how gay men talk and dress and behave. Really, though, Crowley’s characters are hyper-specific, and very much a product of that generation of gay men forced to live in the closet by societal standards. Michael, Donald, and Harold seethe with the restlessness and dissatisfaction that fueled the Stonewall uprising. If The Boys in the Band seems out of step with today, it should. We have actually made some progress in the last 50 years. And yet, there are still patches of Crowley’s script that are depressingly relevant and familiar.
When it comes to Ryan Murphy’s projects, I like to play a game I call “How long can I watch this?”. With the television shows, the answer varies. Some shows, like Pose and American Crime Story, I can get all the way through. Other shows, like The Politician and American Horror Story, I’m lucky if I make it past episode three. The films are usually a little easier to take because they end relatively quickly and don’t build up the same cumulative effect that the television shows do. Another film Murphy produced this year, A Secret Love, was very moving and wonderful. The Boys in the Band looks like a beautifully staged adaption of the play, and the run time is listed as two hours, so I am sure I can make it all the way through before the Murphyisms make me want to die.