20 Questions: Crayton Robey

The Boys in the Band defined a moment in LGBT history. Crayton Robey explores that history in Making the Boys, which debuted at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.

Making the Boys

Director: Crayton Robey
Cast: Mart Crowley, Edward Albee, Paul Rudnick, Robert Wagner, Michael Cunningham, Tony Kushner
Distributor: 4th Row
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 2009

The Boys in the Band

Director: William Friedkin
Cast: Kenneth Nelson, Peter White, Leonard Frey, Frederick Combs, Cliff Gorman
Distributor: Paramount
MPAA rating: R
US DVD Release Date: 2008-11-11
First date: 1970

A revolution was born on the evening of 28 June 1969 in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan. Police raided the Stonewall Bar, a haunt that was, and remains, home to the gay habitués of the West Village. Fighting for their right to assemble in public, the patrons marshaled enough resistance to beget a revolt that changed the course of history.

No more would these people stand for being rounded up onto the paddy wagon like prisoners. The uprising ushered in the modern gay liberation movement, creating a community instilled with self-respect. So significant was the Stonewall rebellion that LGBT history is essentially divided by two chronological spheres: Before Stonewall and After Stonewall.

The Boys in the Band, a ground breaking play by Mart Crowley, landed right in the middle of the pre and post-Stonewall era. Originally produced for the stage in April 1968 at The Playwrights Unit, a theater founded by playwright Edward Albee in downtown Manhattan, The Boys in the Band was a blunt and incisive commentary about the lives of gay men. The diverse emotional profiles of the plays' characters emphasized the breadth of attitudes gay men had towards each other and about themselves, equal parts pride and self-loathing.

The Stonewall rebellion of June 1969 had only recently ensued by the time The Boys in the Band arrived in selected movie theatres in 1970. With a screenplay written by Crowley and directed by William Friedken, the cinematic translation of The Boys in the Band contained all the wit and starkness of the source material yet, less than 24 months after the play's debut, it represented a community whose identity was undergoing a radical change. Director Crayton Robey (When Ocean Meets Sky, 2006) explores this dynamic in Making the Boys, a documentary that tells the story of how The Boys in the Band evolved from words on a page to the stage to screen and into history as a defining historical document of gay men in the mid-20th century.

Interviews with Mart Crowley, Edward Albee, cast members from the film, and a host of other personalities and significant figures explain why The Boys in the Band was important 40 years ago and still remains a vital reference point in a history that, for far too long, was marginalized or completely ignored in the text books.

"From a political point of view", Robey says, "some people would like to rewrite that history. You need to know who the pioneers are that came before you. We have eye-witnesses who were there. We need to know our history because it gives us much more power in terms of where we are today and we see just how far we've come and just how far we haven't come".

That history was told on 27 April when the Tribeca Film Festival debuted Making the Boys, presented through the Tribeca Film Institute's Tribeca All Access On Track initiative. While preparing for the Tribeca screening festivities, Crayton Robey gave PopMatters some insight about what fuels his creative process in this edition of 20 Questions.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

Slumdog Millionaire (2008). That brought some tears to my eyes. You see people going through such horrific hardships. Your little daily life and your little issues, they mean something, but in the scheme of things, we are so blessed.

2. The fictional character most like you?

When I was an actor, I loved playing Alan Strang in “Equus”. Like Alan, I have a passion for life and a passion for art and theater and film.

3. The greatest album, ever?

Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life(1976). It captures your imagination. It's romantic, it's a little political, it's classic. That has a lot of wisdom for me.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

I'm not really a Trekkie or a Warrie. If I would have to pick, maybe Star Wars but I don't really know why. I'm not really a fan.

5. Your ideal brain food?

I'm thinking of something like kale with ginger, garlic, a little olive oil and a little lemon. It cleanses everything and it gets your palette fresh and it's easy to digest. The taste is great.

6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?

I guess I'm sentimental but I'm proud of this country at this particular moment. People are really paying attention to their environment, their world, their communities, their politics, education. This is deep. This is an interesting moment. People are enlightened. I kind of dig being on the planet right now. People aren't walking around asleep. They're totally awake.

7. You want to be remembered for…??

My honesty. My truth. I don't care if I'm really remembered for my warmth, that really doesn't do anything for anybody but if I leave a little bit of the truth, that's enough. My respect for people and things and the past.

8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?

Martin Luther King, Jr. Gandhi. My friend Al D. Rodriguez was outstanding. My grandfather because he was a powerful and loving.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

Honestly, Alex Haley's Roots (1977). I wish that I had done that, giving people that opportunity to discover themselves and their culture. I think he provided the world with a gift about African American culture, society, tradition. I think he laid it out really nicely, I just wish it had been me!

10. Your hidden talents…?

I do have a lot of talents. I think I'm just a creative being. I don't know if they're really hidden. I'm a good sneezer. It would get me out of class in school, I know that.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

You are enough. Just do you. Don't do anybody else.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

I think my education is the best thing.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?

I feel very comfortable in clothes. I don't care what they are. I can go from Levis to Armani in a second. I am a clothes-horse. I love fashion. I love dressing up, dressing down, dressing in.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

I'd have my friends Sara Ramirez, Carson, Marlow, Lisa, Carlos, Darcey, Harriett, and Christopher there. I'd have Oprah Winfrey there. I'd have Barack Obama there. I'd have Michele Obama there. Beyoncé. It'd be a nice dinner party.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

I'd go back to the '70s. I'd want to be everywhere. I think that was such a sexy time to be alive and I just want to know what that felt like. I want to know what it felt like being a man coming of age at that particular time without knowing anything about AIDS, with this whole introduction of life that you can do and be anything.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

Spa vacation. It just does it.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?

Love is essential. Nothing else.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

My favorite place in the world is New York City. That's my all-time favorite place. I love the diversity of people and cultures. I love the energy. I love the magic, the history, the pulse, the beat, the smell, the excitement, the hunger, the grime, the dirt, the possibility, the edge, the heart, soul, the pace. I love the city. To be mixed in it and able to do the things you do is a gift.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

Thank you for taking on this tremendous responsibility. I believe in you. I will do whatever I can to make this world a better place. I will inspire any of my peers and my community to do the same. I'm committed. You have my unconditional support.

Photo courtesy of 4th Row Films

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on now?

I'm working on a couple of projects. Of course, Making the Boys. I've been developing and working on a screenplay called Pines '79, which is absolutely fantastic. It's written. I do have a team that I've been working with but I'm ready to take it out in the world to really make it happen. I just decided to direct it, too. That was what was holding me up.

I’m going to be working on a few projects with Carson Kressley. I also just started this foundation called The Al D. Rodriguez Liver Foundation that is in honor of my friend Al who passed away. It was established with a group of friends. That's exciting because we're able to keep Al's memory and spirit alive through the foundation and to do really great outreach with so many different communities to bring awareness to hepatitis as well as anything arts-related.

We've got such a cool group of people on that board. Everybody has a different kind of background. There's some performers. There's some doctors. There's some filmmakers. There are some singers. It's like a gay family and we want to do something to give back to others what he gave to us. We are determined to make this work and see it evolve because of who he was.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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