Tag Archives: Gary Needham

In Conversation with Gary Needham on The Boys in the Band

gary needham

When I was growing up, everything I heard or read about THE BOYS IN THE BAND was terrible. Recently, after the Broadway revival, it was meant to be ´period´and wonderful. I´d never seen the film until now and found it a difficult and unpleasant watch, an experience I’ve written about here. When I had the opportunity to talk to Gary Needham about CRUISING, I also took the opportunity to ask him about THE BOYS IN THE BAND. Gary’s work on queer cultures is by now extensive and wide-ranging:


His is the voice of reason; thoughtful and considered on the initial reception of the film, its relation to the play and its subsequent afterlife. I come across as quite brattish. It makes for a lively conversation, one that references a range of films, from Pillow Talk (Michael Gordon, 1959) to My Hustler (Andy Warhol/Chuck Wein, 1965) to The Queen (Frank Simon, 1968) to Philadelphia (Jonathan Demme, 1993). We discuss the film’s uses of camp, Friedkin’s interest in sub-cultures, the stageyness or not of the mise-en-scène, the possible classist dimension of the film, and Tom Waugh’s argument on the duality of sound and image in My Hustler in relation to the hustler and the queen with the hustler afforded the image  and the queen given power over the sound. The discussion can be listened to here:

If you’re interested in further exploring The Boys in the Band, I highly recommend Matt Bell’s The Boys in the Band: Flashpoints of Cinema, History, and Queer Politics as a wonderful addition to Gary’s insights and as a possible corrective to my contributions:

matt bell boys in the band

Matt Bell has also written a very interesting piece on the 2018 Broadway revival (and its various contexts) for The Huffington Post called ‘Taking Pride in The Boys in the Band‘ that can be accessed here.

As with the podcast on Cruising, Gary has kindly made available a range of resources:


An entire issue of After Dark, featuring an interview with Leonard Frey where the actor discusses the filming of Boys in the Band, and the strong possibility that it might result in a better film than play: After Dark (Boys in the Band)

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An interview with Mart Crowley on the 25th anniversary of the play’s premiere: An_emotional_state_Mart_Crowle

An interview with Mart Crowley that discusses various productions in the context of the recent revival of the play on Broadway: And_the_Band_plays_on

A discussion from 1973 on reasons to see the touring production in San Diego: Boys_still_good_theatre

An appraisal of the film’s DVD release by Peter Burton: Playing_up…

An image of the New York Cast Album, which featured dialogue from the play: Screenshot 2020-07-01 at 10.21.19

A 1969 review of the LA touring production praising ‘the authenticity of the dialogue’: Reflections_on_’Boys’

A 1979 interview with Robert La Tourneaux for Gay News: Robert_la_tourneaux

An ad for the San Francisco production with an invitation to the cast paty: YEQWMD727018207


Various reviews and ads for other touring productions:


Images from the film (and the play — you can see Natalie Wood in the centre below):

…and perhaps the greatest find is this episode of Emerald City, where the great Arthur Bell —  whose columns in The Village Voice in the  early 80s were so important to me personally — interviews Robert La Tourneaux on the 10th anniversary of the release of the film. Bell talks about how he didn’t like the film then or now but how he still acknowledged the ‘piercing moments of truth’. La Tourneaux is frank about hustling and equally frank about how appearing in the film affected his career giving concrete examples of how his mere appearance in the film was reason for people like Bob Evans to not even see him for roles much less interview or audition, and this from the horse’s mouth. A fascinating show, with the ads in between the interview being at least as fascinating as the interview itself. It can be seen here:



José Arroyo

In Conversation with Gary Needham on Cruising (William Friedkin, USA,1980)


I can think of no one who knows more about Cruising (William Friedkin, USA, 1980) than Gary Needham. He’s already written extensively on Warhol, Queer TV, Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005) and many aspects of Queer Histories from various historical perspectives, and has recently published, ‘CRUISING IS A PICTURE WE SINCERELY WISH WE DID NOT HAVE TO SHOW’ United Artists, ratings, blind bidding and the controversy of William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980) in his own co-edited collection.


The discussion in the podcast ranges from the film’s production history to New York S&M clubs to Disco Music to Queer Representation and Queer Politics, to ‘New’ American Cinema of the period to the film as a text characterised by incoherence, doubt and ambiguity. The kind of commentary a 40th anniversary re-issue of this still alluring film deserves.

Aside from his scholarly work, one of the reasons I so wanted to talk to Gary about the film was the series of brilliant images related to the film that he had been publishing on Twitter. Gary has kindly provided some of them. Here is a series of images documenting the protests the film sparked during the filming itself and after its release:

Here are a series of images from gay people defending the film:

Here are a series of images referred to in the podcast:

And Gary has also kindly provided two pdf’s of contemporaneous coverage of the film: ‘Cruising, Blueprint for Carnage’: QKPZCB716161002

and an article from Gay News: Cruising, The Lure – The Novel of Death: REVMIB524278205


Lastly, Kevin Heffernan has kindly directed me to a long three hour forty-five minute  podcast on Cruising by Mike White and The Projection Booth Podcast: for those of you who can’t get enough of the film.


José Arroyo

Fast Trip, Long Drop (Greg Bordowitz, 1993)


How did I miss Fast Trip, Long Drop when it came out?Sara Diamond, listed as an executive producer was then a friend of mine. And indeed I knew several of the people listed in the credits. Perhaps it´s because at the time I was moving through Montreal, Vancouver, Norwich and was then in Coventry, where I´d moved to, partly hoping to escape some of what the film deals with, without then realising there was no escape.

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Seeing it now, it seems to me no work better evokes the structure of feeling of the struggles over HIV/AIDS, what it felt like to come out at a time when gay identities seemed inextricable from AIDS in public discourse. In fact that´s how this work begins. Bordowitz finds out he´s HIV positive, then comes out to his parents as gay, then comes out as HIV later. The exploration is a personal one. He talks about his father who died young and whom he never knew after the age of four. The music of the film is all mournful klezmer. He talks about his family´s roots in the schtetels of the Ukraine, and how typhoid often attacked, wiping off entire sectors of the population, ie that the unjustness experienced by the generation, my generation, who came out and came into HIV/AIDS was not so unique.

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He asks the questions we all asked then: how to remain hopeful in the face of increasing loss. How to avoid or escape the overarching presence of death? Will our future be about just watching each other die? How to reconcile the ´fact that I´m going to die with the daily monotony of my life’; Isn´t this a crisis for all of us…why is it my burden and responsibility? Some of these questions are questions that will affect all of us as we get older, and time and history are actively discussed in the work. But these questions take on a particular urgency in the work because it´s of a time before the introduction of retrovirals, when life expectancy for people with HIV was shortened, concentrated.

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I was moved by Bordowitz´intelligent articulacy, by his youthful beauty, by the way historical footage is interspersed with role-playing, autobiography, interviews. It´s a work full of mourning and militancy.  It´s my youth. And it moves me to see all those young faces at the demonstrations, enjoying themselves and reminding me that, whilst death was all around, there was still fun, and joy, and sex…and without denying the deterioration, helplessness, death, and lots and lots of tears.

Bordowitz talks to a female friend with terminal cancer, notes that a car could run one over tomorrow, that nothing is set. Indeed he is still with us. I´m far from an objective spectator. I was moved even by those stilted moments so typical of the video art of the time and which I used to then hate. I can´t think of a work that better evokes what young gay men of a certain age in those years thought about and felt.

The film can be seen in the link at the very top. Some of you might also be interested in this lovely obituary of Douglas Crimp by Greg Bordowitz, which also arises from and connects to this period.

Thanks to Gary Needham for bringing it to my attention,


José Arroyo