Image Credit: ‘Some Of My Best Friends Are…,’ American International Pictures

Welcome back to our queer film retrospective, “A Gay Old Time.” In this week’s column, we revisit the 1971 holiday drama Some Of My Best Friends Are…

Christmastime and the various celebrations around it have always been a complicated time for the queer community. For most of those around us, this is an occasion to get together with friends and family and partake in traditions that date back hundreds of years.

However, these are celebrations that many of us have historically been left out of, either by our own close relationships or by institutions. Not many are eager to go back to families that have pushed us away, or engage in religious rituals from groups that discriminate against us.

Which is why we have created our own rituals, families, and communities for these times, like we have with so many other aspects of our lives.

The Set-Up

This week, we take a look back at the 1971 film Some Of My Best Friends Are…, an obscure gem that depicts a tight-knit community of queer folks and allies coming together for a night of holiday celebrations. Even though it was made more than fifty years ago, the film captures the bittersweetness of the season, the complicated emotions that it brings up within us, and the sense of familial bonds that we create with each other, and that still resonates today.

Some Of My Best Friends Are… is not an ambitious film. It has a very low-budget production, shot and set inside a single location: a local community gay bar, the kind with frequent patrons and familiar bartenders that give out a sense of safety and freedom the moment one steps foot inside. The kind of establishment that has been the backbone of the queer community for decades.

The film consists of a series of vignettes, populated by a cast of dozens of characters, whose lives we pop in and out of throughout the night. For a while, it was almost entirely lost to history. But even with its scrappiness, it’s hard not to fall for the movie’s characters, their quips, and their heart, all of which feel equally of its time and entirely too familiar.

Meet The Gay Bar Regulars

Image Credit: ‘Some Of My Best Friends Are…,’ American International Pictures

There’s the young man that has set up a date in the bar with the man he’s been in a telephone fling with, and who thinks he has been courting a woman. There’s the boy who is lurking for a sugar daddy to keep him warm during the holidays. There’s the fabulous woman that has men falling at her feet but prefers the unwavering company and loyalty of gay men (played by a pre-Golden Girls Rue McClanahan, in a character that could very well be a young Blanche Devereux).

There’s the kind and warm bar patron that ensures everyone in her business feels welcome, and her team of bartenders and piano players who wouldn’t  choose to spend their holidays anywhere else. There’s the know-it-all boy who makes his business to know everyone else’s, and the drag queen with a chip on her shoulder. There are the hidden secrets, and love affairs, and brawls, and singing, and bonding; all the things you need in both a proper Christmas and a night out on the town with your friends.

Fannie Flagg and Warhol superstar Candy Darling are also among the film’s cast.

A ’70s Snapshot, For Better & For Worse

Image Credit: ‘Some Of My Best Friends Are…,’ American International Pictures

We don’t really spend much time with each of the individual characters. We hear portions of their conversations, witness their flirtations, and laugh at their one-liners. And then we move on to the next. It’s as if we, the audience, are another guest that night, moving around crowds and while we’re not getting a specific picture of everyone we meet, we can sense a big picture of what the group dynamics is about.

Some Of My Best Friends Are… may not be the most subtle or nuanced piece of storytelling or dramatic tension, but it does an outstanding job of painting a mosaic of a queer community coming together in the way they only know how.

Some of the storylines and types of characters we see are very much stuck in the 1970s. There’s of course the fashion, the pop culture references, and the music. But the relentless cattiness with which many of these men talk and move about is very reminiscent of other queer media of the time, particularly The Boys In The Band, which reads as a defense mechanism for the vulnerability that the community was facing at the time. And their conversations around sexual encounters, sexual health, and gender identity are very much from the pre-AIDS period. 

Timeless Holiday Classic?

However, there are also many things that feel contemporary, and even ahead of their time. The fears that these people have about finding love and seeking their families’ acceptance are timeless. The queer bar patrons are a diverse combination of gay men, women, and allies.

As conversations around who belongs in which spaces have taken center stage recently, it’s almost refreshing to see this eclectic group sharing the space together and acknowledging they all equally belong there; at the end of the day, it is the space they all have chosen to go for the holidays. 

But more than anything, Some Of My Best Friends Are… perfectly encapsulates the magic that takes place inside a gay bar, and the importance that it holds inside our community. The existence of a place where outcasts, allies and people without a home or family to go back to can gather, drink, laugh, fall in love and have their heart broken, and just be around their own is as important then as it is now. This movie understands that at its heart, that’s what Christmas is all about. Happy Holidays!

Some Of My Best Friends Are… is streaming via FuboTV, Paramount+, and on Amazon Prime Video and The Roku Channel via an MGM+ subscription.

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