Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

Among the many pleasures I have taken in working on this project, some of the greatest have come in communication with colleagues and friends who have generously given me their encouragement, guidance, and companionship during its development. First among these is David Gerstner, who initially invited me to take part in a workshop on The Boys in the Band at the 2012 Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference and afterward urged me to pursue publishing an edited collection devoted to the film. His energy and fearlessness have inspired me all along, and his shrewd advice...

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Introduction: On Returning to The Boys in the Band

Matt Bell

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pp. 1-32

Why should a dozen scholars come together in the twenty-first century to take another look at William Friedkin’s 1970 film The Boys in the Band? After more than four decades, audiences and commentators of various persuasions have already settled on a certain reckoning of its value for cinema, history, and queer politics: it is merely an early and minor effort in the career of a director who went on to create cinematic monuments called The French Connection and The Exorcist; merely a toxic touchstone that evinces a bygone era’s homophobia; and merely a fictional group portrait of apolitical...

Cinematic Transitions

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1. Let’s Hear a Round of Applause for the Camps in the Band

Steven Cohan

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pp. 35-56

The Boys in the Band (1970) could not withstand the proverbial test of time before its time had even passed. Upon its release in March 1970, the film was already being perceived as re-creating with seeming historical indifference the Off-Broadway play’s antiquated representation of a pre-Stonewall milieu where gays were either sad, self-hating men or flamboyant queens; where homosexual desire was understood by gay men themselves as a poor imitation of heterosexuality; and where camp equaled the closet and therefore should now be repudiated as politically incorrect by gay activists and...

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2. “Turning”: Alcohol and Affect in The Boys in the Band

Joe Wlodarz

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pp. 57-87

The characters in The Boys in the Band (dir. William Friedkin, 1970) drink a lot. They also regularly talk about the enabling and disabling effects of alcohol. Cocktail glasses and a drink cart play central roles in the mise-en-scène of the film, and both the expression and repression of queerness in Boys are intimately tied to the drinking ritual. Moreover, the key visual and tonal shifts of the film are structurally aligned with the emotional arc of Michael (Kenneth Nelson) as he dramatically falls off the wagon. Harold (Leonard Frey) keeps a wary eye on the drinking of his best friend and repeatedly accuses...

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3. Gothic Spatiality and the Limits of Gay Visibility in The Boys in the Band

Ryan Powell

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pp. 88-112

The 1970 film adaptation of Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band occupies a very specific moment in the history of gay cinema. Released just as the gay liberation movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s coalesced, the film holds an important place within a larger cycle of films that articulate an emergent paradigm of gay visibility. Other such films include Some of My Best Friends Are... (dir. Mervyn Nelson, 1971), A Very Natural Thing (dir. Christopher Larkin, 1974), and Saturday Night at the Baths (dir. David Buckley, 1975). At the same time, as a play first performed in 1968—more than...

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4. Closet Dramas: Masculinity and Claustrophobia in William Friedkin’s Films

Nick Davis

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pp. 113-138

It is, apparently, okay to like William Friedkin again.1 The recent revival in film-cultural enthusiasm for this straight son of blue-collar Chicago, who improbably adapted The Boys in the Band to film in 1970, follows an early, Icarus-like trajectory that was stark even by Hollywood standards. After establishing himself in television and documentaries in the 1960s, he started inauspiciously in film with the Sonny and Cher frivolity Good Times (1967) and a vaudevillian period comedy called The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968) that even he disliked. Friedkin preferred his third feature, a transfer...

Historical Thresholds

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5. “Who Does She Hope to Be?”: Celluloid Ghosts, Queer Utopias, and The Boys Onstage

James Wilson

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pp. 141-162

The Boys in the Band is, in several senses, a very queer play. Of course, as anyone reading this chapter knows, Mart Crowley’s Off-Broadway hit focuses on a group of gay men and one putatively straight invader on the occasion of a birthday party. The queerness comes through as characters celebrate gay film icons, including Judy Garland, Bette Davis, and Barbara Stanwyck (and those are just in the first three pages of the script), and dance together as a group and in pairs. As a result of their over-the-top camp dialogue, the cast has been described as a “pack of youngish middle-aged...

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6. The Boys in the City: Disintegration, Transformation, and the Cinematic Flash in William Friedkin’s New York City Films (1970–80)

David A. Gerstner

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pp. 163-189

Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, provides a promotional review for Miriam Greenberg’s book Branding New York: How a City in Crisis Was Sold to the World. The review describes her study of the way New York City packaged itself during the turmoil of the late 1960s and 1970s as a “cunning, wonderfully dialectical analysis.” The most pointed “dialectical analysis” in Greenberg’s study, it turns out, is her dramatic posing of one conception of New York City as “Fun City” against another as “Fear City.” The dialectical split, played out within approximately...

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7. “Nobody’s Goddamn Business but My Own”: Leonard Frey and the Politics of Gay and Jewish Visibility in the 1970s

Stephen Vider

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pp. 190-216

When Leonard Frey died in August 1988, at the age of forty-nine, both his New York Times and Los Angeles Times obituaries were accompanied by a portrait of the actor playing Motel the tailor in the 1971 film Fiddler on the Roof. 1 The choice of the portrait aligned Frey with the role of Tevye’s son-in-law-to-be—capped, bearded, and bespectacled, wishing only to marry his childhood sweetheart and to purchase a mechanical sewing machine. The part had earned Frey an Oscar nomination, but it was not the role that first made him famous. A year before the release of Fiddler, Frey gained nationwide...

Queer-Political Crises

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8. “Beware the Hostile Fag”: Acidic Intimacies and Gay Male Consciousness-Raising in The Boys in the Band

Ramzi Fawaz

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pp. 219-246

In November 1968, Kathie Sarachild, a founding member of the Redstockings, an early collective of the women’s liberation movement, presented an outline for a new form of feminist political practice at the first national Women’s Liberation Conference. She dubbed this practice “consciousness-raising” or “CR.” Consciousness-raising was a collective practice of publicly speaking personal truth to uncover shared experiences of patriarchal oppression. In Sarachild’s words, CR required women to meet in “rap groups” or “bitch sessions,” in which they would “recall and share [their] bitter experiences” of...

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9. “A Credit to the Homosexual”: The Boys in the Band and the Appearances of Queer Debt

Matthew Tinkcom

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pp. 247-265

The specter of the commodity—its required labors, its forms of exchange, its hold on the fetishistic imagination—haunts The Boys in the Band just as it haunts the queer cultures of the past four decades since Mart Crowley’s stage play was adapted for film by the director William Friedkin. In that measure of things, we might look to the film to discover the manner in which it articulates queer affect—both in terms of pleasure and in terms of shame—as it is imbricated with the economic dimensions of the lives of the film’s characters. The answer to Eve Sedgwick’s question about the operations...

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10. The Tragedy and Hope of Love between Gay Men: The Boys in the Band and the Emotionality of Gay Love in the 1960s and ’70s

J. Todd Ormsbee

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pp. 266-291

I do not think I was gay until I fell in love. I was seventeen when I met Kyle, and I fell madly, teenagerly, in love; the force of the emotional connection I felt shook me, challenging everything I thought I knew about myself. For the first time in my life, I allowed myself to think that I might be gay. Such experiences are far from unique, but I reflect on them briefly here because they suggest a possibility for an expansion of our conception of gay male subjectivities and communities, to account for the role and force of emotional attachment in the development of sexual identities. Since the...

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11. The Sounds of Silence: Acoustics and Politics

Amy Villarejo

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pp. 292-308

In 1969, AT&T executives hired a young documentary filmmaker, Nell Cox, to make a recruitment film for telephone operators. The telephony union, the Communications Workers of America, had waged an eighteen-day strike against the company the previous year, during which period AT&T executives themselves had served as operators. Through this nascent film project, they apparently sought to advertise the switchboard work, according to director Cox, as “interesting” through a movie that would appeal to young people.1 Accordingly, the resulting fifteen-minute film, Operator,...

Contributors

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pp. 309-312

Index

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pp. 313-324