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Love ’em or hate ’em, you can’t deny the historical impact of this pair of era-defining bookends from director William Friedkin (The Exorcist). Boys in the Band was filmed as a faithful recreation of Mort Crowley’s stage play — even including members of the original off-Broadway cast, notably Leonard Frey, whose bitter, self-loathing Harold serves up a beggar’s banquet of caustic tongue lashings to his pals. Boys is awash in self-hating stereotypes, and yet Crowley’s work captures, if not the reality, then at least the perceived notion of how gay men treated one another in the late ’60s. It wasn’t about support and brotherhood, but about ripping one another to emotional shreds, until all that’s left is bloody pulp. Much more problematic, but no less fascinating, is Cruising, which suffers from a sensationalistic, crudely-wrought, serial-killer storyline, and an undercurrent of homophobia. And yet, Cruising is a must-see for several reasons, not the least of which is its depiction of Lower Manhattan’s S&M leather scene, just before AIDS brought everything to a screeching, tragic halt. The movie is as close as we have to a visual historical document, as Friedkin takes us directly into the heart of what was then an underground, disquieting subculture of the gay movement (but what is now a vital and celebrated part of the gay mainstream). Cruising also suffers at the hand of star Al Pacino, who, despite his swarthy, smolder-and-steam handsomeness, feels miscast in the role of an undercover cop forever changed by his S&M experiences. Who can forget the brain-searing image of Pacino, hog-tied and ready for action at the hands of a pickup, all in the name of duty?
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