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I don't usually enjoy biopics, but PRICK UP YOUR EARS is a glorious
exception. Many biopics don't have strong narrative arcs (simply
because people's lives generally don't), but this one does -- primarily
because it focuses on the rapid deterioration of the relationship
between playwright Joe Orton and failed novelist Kenneth Halliwell.
With the obvious exception of the horrific conclusion, the issues faced
by these two London writers will probably ring painfully true for many
members of the audience. Who hasn't felt like Halliwell at some point
-- or even Orton, dealing with a Halliwell-esquire partner?
This is where PRICK UP YOUR EARS succeeds while so many other biopics fail: while it does not shy away from the sensationalistic aspects of Orton's life, it never neglects the complex relationship beating at the center of the narrative. I can safely say it's one of the rare cases where I found myself relating on a human level to the biographical subjects, instead of dryly watching them from afar.
Director Stephen Frears deserves kudos for his warm, understated approach. It's almost hard to praise his directing because it's so unobtrusive; but this is exactly his strong point. He is confident in the story's inherent power, so he wisely gets out of the way and lets it unfold naturally.
And he is helped marvelously by the uniformly great performances; there simply isn't a wrong note struck by the cast. Even supporting roles, like those of Orton's sister and brother-in-law, feel like real human beings. Of course, the real standouts are Oldman, Molina and Redgrave.
Though his physical appearance isn't dramatically altered, Gary Oldman still seems unrecognizable compared to his previous work; this is how strongly he becomes Orton. His carefree swagger is by turns charming and infuriating. You understand why Halliwell is both entranced and insanely frustrated with him. He also looks a little bit like Dana Carvey - just by the by.
Molina is no less astonishing. Bald at 25, frustrated, neurotic, sexually incapable... the character is a hulking mass of awkwardness, but somehow he evokes tremendous sympathy. You alternately want to hug this guy and shake him silly. (The scene in which Orton is informed of his mother's death is heartbreaking - for both men's reactions.)
Meanwhile, Redgrave is a delight. Her line readings are exquisite and she gives the movie a crisp cleverness without crossing the line into self-indulgence.
For all the tragic and uncomfortable elements of Orton and Halliwell's relationship, the movie still features some hilarious scenes. The cheeky title, Orton and Halliwell's divergent accounts of their lifestyle together, the conversation with Brian Epstein, and Halliwell's "we were having a conversation" gave the movie a gleeful edge of naughtiness -- one the viewer suspects was strongly inspired by Orton's own approach to life and work.
In short, I highly recommend this movie. Though its description may seem sensationalistic -- a gay man brutally murders his successful young lover -- PRICK UP YOUR EARS triumphs as both a simple human drama and as a biography in which its subjects are made more intimate rather than more remote.
One of Gary Oldman's first films and need I say, one of the best? Based on
the biography by John Lahr, this film tells the true story of British
playwright Joe Orton and his "friend" Kenneth Halliwell.
This film is sad because we all know the outcome of Joe and Kenneth right from the beginning. Interesting storyline, fantastic acting all round especially from Gary Oldman (Joe) and Alfred Molina (Kenneth) who both absorb into the characters with incredible style.
This film is a classic, especially if youre a Gary Oldman. This is another piece of evidence that Gary can not just act in a role, he can go into it.
I never heard of Joe Orton before I saw this, but now I want to know more. Performances here are flawless, Molina and Oldman take risks very few actors would take. I wish the filmmakers had spent a little more time on Orton's work, and less on his sex life, but this is a small complaint. I give this a 9, and laugh wholeheartedly at the joke in the title.
Gary Oldman is absolutely brilliant as the tortured sexually promiscuous playwright Joe Orton, looking at pictures of the real Joe one is left in awe at not only physical resemblance but at the closeness that Oldman gets to Joe. The film is a sad reminder of jealousy and paranoia, the acting is superb, the story captivating. A quotable and memorable film!...i shall need a valium
Although in some ways more theatrical/televisual than cinematic, this is one
of the best British films of the 80's, and is probably Alan Bennett's most
successful screenplay. Bennett and Orton have a number of things in common -
a love of "found" dialogue (here mainly given to Orton's landlady) -
theatrical success in the 60's (Bennett in "Beyond the Fringe") - and of
course their sexuality.
The film is quite interesting in what it leaves out - anyone who has read Orton's diaries will know that "the latter part" is rather underplayed here. Also sadly missed is "Mrs Edna Welthorpe" an alter ego of Joe's who would write to newspapers denouncing his plays as filth - a rather cunning way of securing free advertising. A very interesting telephone conversation with Brian Epstein "...one of the boys is happily married..." plays with what we now know about Epstein and Lennon in a beautifully understated way.
Orton and Halliwell's relationship is counterpointed in the film by "John Lahr"'s own marriage (Wallace Shawn is great here too, as always) as Lahr's researching of his biography acts as a framing device for Orton's story. As others have commented, the dynamic of the central relationship rings horribly true to anyone who has been in a halfway similar situation.
It's interesting to speculate on what would have become of Orton had he lived. Time has dimmed the shock value of his plays to the point where they will probably never have the same effect, and despite various rumours (the Sex Pistols?) no-one has picked up the Beatles script, probably for the same reason. Live fast, die young, leave a good looking corpse? Perhaps.
I caught this on cable today. Had never noticed it before which is odd
since I've actively tried to be aware of movies with a strong gay
component for as long as I can remember. But, be that as it may this is
one that somehow slipped past me until today. After watching it in awe
I checked to see when it was made thinking that surely it was something
made in the recent past few years, after 2000. Certainly, I thought, it
must have come out during the "Queer as Folk" era which gave filmmakers
permission to finally and honestly show parts of the gay world which,
unless you're a part of that world, most of the rest of the world were
relatively unaware of until somewhat recently as society has changed
for the better in its well reasoned acceptance of gays. Yet, instead, I
found that "Prick Up Your Ears" was released in 1987. I couldn't
believe it. The movie was so well done. Not only did it portray
something that was way ahead of its time with regards to portraying
this type of subject matter, the movie itself is so modernly made. The
way it was filmed and the actors and how they are acting, everything
about this movie screams "I'm way ahead of my time"! And so it is. And
what you find is a beautifully made movie about the effects that
society's attitude towards gays in the 50's and 60's have upon two gay
men, their union, and gays in general during that time. And the movie
was made two decades ago, breaking ground in ways that only now that
movie audiences have come to take for granted.
This is a marvelous movie, groundbreaking when it was made, about an author and the authors life-partner who were breaking new ground themselves in their day. Everything about this movie is worth seeing. The story presented, the acting, the sets, the locations. Everything. In fact, it reaches far enough into so many different things about writing and movie making and gays and society and relationships and life and death itself, and it does it so well, that one can reasonably say that if you're a student of film this is a movie that should belong on your list of movies to see and study along the way to making your own movies. And if you're a person who loves good movies, this is also required viewing. And if you're gay, well, it will thrill you to see this movie for so many reasons that only if you're gay would you really kind of understand. And if you're just somebody who wants to pass some time watching a minor cinema masterpiece that has stood the test of time, here is one for you to watch, enjoy and be educated by too. Its just a part of who we were. I miss poor Joe and Kenneth.
The single best biographical film I've ever seen. Gary Oldman, Alfred Molina, and Vanessa Redgrave are all brilliant. (Check out Simon Callow's book "Love Is Where It Falls" for more information on the Vanessa Redgrave character.) Much of the last third of the film is difficult to take, but it is nevertheless essential viewing for anyone interested in Joe Orton. And it needs to be said that there is real joy in the film as well -- particularly in the mischievous looks that cross Oldman's face while cruising tea rooms. Has any other het actor played gay so utterly convincingly?
Its films like these that make you wonder why stars like Gary
Oldman(Immortal Beloved) and Alfred Molina(Boogie Nights) aren't noticed
much as the awful actors that plague our screens(see Mark Wahlberg or Ray
Prick Up Your Ears is a wonderful film about the writer Joe Orton(Oldman) and his lover Kenneth(Molina). The dialogue is smart and the acting is incredible. Rating=4/5
In addition, I would just like to say that teenagers can enjoy decent films. I was twelve when I watched this, and I found it amazing. Its the film that sparked off my fascination with Gary Oldman films.
Movie about gay London playwright Joe Orton (Gary Oldman) who was
killed by his lover Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina) in 1967. It's
done with Vanessa Regrave as Orton's agent and Wallace Shawn as an
investigative reporter piecing together Orton's life and his
relationship with Halliwell. It shows how it started out great but
Halliwell's reputation went nowhere while Orton wrote some very dirty
(and funny) plays. This upset Halliwell and shows how he finally
This isn't for everybody. This shows a VERY graphic and unflinching view of gay life in London in the 1960s (when it was against the law). It seems Orton was very sexually active with others (that probably didn't help his relationship with Halliwell) and we're shown a few acts (all within an R rating). Oldman is just great--he LOOKS like Orton and gives a wonderful performance. Molina is good but he doesn't look a thing like Halliwell. Halliwell was about the same size and shape as Orton--Molina is tall and hulking--all wrong for the role. Shawn is lots of fun getting into Orton's life and Redgrave is just superb as his agent--who ever knew she could do comedy so effortlessly? She casually throws out some wonderful lines with a little smile on her lips. Also Julie Walters has a very very good scenes as Orton's sister.
The only thing this lacks is some insight into HOW Orton wrote his plays and why he was thinking certain things. However it could be nobody knows. A great film--Oldman and Redgrave's show all the way. Again, not for people that have trouble with gay scenes or dialogue. I remember quite a few gasps from the audience when I saw it in a theatre in 1987 during the scene where Oldman french-kisses another guy. I give this an 8.
A TRUE STORY SET IN SIXTIES ISLINGTON
BASED ON THE Joe Orton Diaries
This cleverly edited Comedy Drama/Bio of JOE (Loot) ORTON concentrates mainly on his plethora of talents - both lyrical and libidinal.
A very touching film that has the ability by default to amuse and excite the gay/bi-curious audience.
Perhaps, never before has a film broadened the understanding of the term "COTTAGE" and "TEA ROOM" - and when the anagram of "EARS" finally did the rounds after the film's release, and the 'man on the street' realised what was being 'pricked' - it gave a better preparation and understanding of what to expect from the film if you didn't fully relate to the lifestyle.
If you were new to Joe Orton territory or to the maverick (then illegal) gay life style of the sixties... then this film does the era justice.
Maybe the excessive casual gay sex that takes place immediately after 'a' funeral, and in a cottage after an awards night may give insight into the stereotypical gay deviant that gay men have been trying to get away from for so long; however the environs and situations in which it takes place lends more understanding to behaviour in given environments today.
Strangely, I feel that Joe DOES show commitment to Kenneth - in a deeply hidden nostalgic way, but is unprepared to compromise his ego to share a sexual encounter towards the mid-end of their relationship.
The film concentrates heavily on the slow and painful draining of Kennith Haliwell's state of mind as Joe's promiscuity becomes synonymous with his success.
This will have you laughing and giggling one minute, then suddenly draw you into the dark and macabre reality of the love-hate relationship between Joe and Kenneth . . . POSSIBLE SPOILER ...
Joe's ability to emotionally detach drives Kenneth to provide us with an utterly gruesome, bloody and violent ending.
(I particularly wanted to make a contribution, as at the time I was in such a relationship, and we even did the 'going on holiday' bit, when it all fell apart... my partner at the time was a "Joe" driven character and I was certainly Kenneth ... gladly circumstances separated us before we enacted the end part of the film!)
In memory to Jonathan ... if u ever read this - I'm Real Sorry)
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