The poster for the Italian release of the film (entitled "The Birthday Party of Dear Friend Harold") is wildly misleading, but in a strongly Catholic country like Italy, maybe that's the point.
What is it (as if we don’t know)?
It’s an American film directed by William Friedkin and released in 1970, based on the play by Mart Crowley that premiered in 1968.
This is a pretty famous LGBT classic. What took you so long to see it?
I didn’t think I’d like it. I’d heard that it presents an unflattering picture of gay men as drama queens prancing around being camp, which doesn’t attract me as an image. Basically, I thought it would be dated and exaggerated, so I actively avoided it.
Is it dated and exaggerated?
No. (I’m wrong so often.) It presents a wide range of queer guys, from the straight-acting to the outrageously affected. Although it does date from a time when, I guess, some gay men felt a need to scream their identity in order to validate it, that behaviour isn’t all that uncommon today. These guys, on the whole, wear their sexuality less comfortably than we do now, but the film is less dated than I thought it would be. In a way, I’d say it externalizes in a highly dramatic way the unease and pain that many of us still struggle with in 2020, albeit more subtly.
What’s it about, if anyone doesn’t know?
Eight gay men get together to celebrate the birthday of one of them. Unexpectedly, an apparently straight friend of the host shows up and throws a hammer in the works, and it all degenerates spectacularly.
What did you like about the film?
Everything! The script is brilliant, the actors (who were also the actors in the stage version) inhabit their characters to the point where it doesn’t seem as if they’re acting, and the direction by William Friedkin ensures that the film isn’t static and stagey. In a word, it’s a great film. Everything is perfect. (Although it did take me a few minutes to get used to the way they speak. Is that how New Yorkers really talk?)
Steady on there, John! You’ve never given a film three stars. Rethink!
Three stars. I’m sure. This is, for me, so far, THE great gay film I’ve been looking for. (There is actually a new version in the works, with the cast of the 2018 Broadway revival. But see this one first, if only to celebrate its 50th anniversary!) Even if you don’t like it as much as I did, it’s still a fascinating portrait of gay life in New York pre-Stonewall. But what amazed me is that I didn’t view it through a historical lens at all. It’s a classic film, excellent in every respect, and can say a lot to gay men even in 2020.
But come on, didn’t you find that they dress really badly in this film?
Appalling! Those shoes!! We’ve come a long way, baby. It still gets a three.