Monday, 5 October 2020

David at the Movies: New York gays - 1960s revisited


If there can be a gay theatrical “warhorse” this must be it. I’m at a loss as to why Netflix have chosen to revive it. Firmly set in 1968, the year of its original stage production, and with a cast of clichéd gay characters exchanging a series of bitchy barbs, surely it doesn’t resonate with younger gays today? And those of us who are Dorothy's oldest friends don’t need to be reminded (again) - do we? - of what sharp tongues we used to possess.

Aside from some brief street scenes and a couple of spicy nude moments, it's still the same movie we saw in 1970. And it’s very much an ensemble piece with each cast member getting his fifteen lines of fame. The key roles are Michael, hosting a birthday party in his New York penthouse apartment, and Harold, the birthday boy. Zachary Quinto is outstanding as Harold, although he perhaps didn’t "de-glam" enough – Harold frets about ageing and losing his looks. Jim Parsons is for me the weakest link: he doesn't quite get under the skin of Michael and his ‘confessional’ scene strikes a few false notes. Charlie Carver as kissogram hustler Tex brings a pleasing echo of Jon Voigt in Midnight Cowboy.

The original play (and movie) came a year or two after Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which similarly centres on a drunken party where the games become cruel and the hostess’s deluded self-image is savagely stripped bare. Mart Crowley, creator of Boys in the Band (who died last March), was brave to write a play of this candour in the 1960s, which were even more homophobic then than the Bible Belt still is today, but his dialogue is not in Albee’s league – or Tennessee Williams’s who is occasionally echoed. In the movie of Who’s Afraid Liz Taylor hit an all-time high. Jim Parsons isn’t in Taylor’s league. Of course, he may not aspire to be, though I kind of hope he does. He might get there in a few years.

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