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Following the success of his television biography 'The Naked Civil Servant' Quentin Crisp is invited to America to lecture on How To Be Happy, and falls in love with New York's more permissive ambiance. Agent Connie Clausen enables him to be a 'resident alien', writing film reviews and dispensing words of wisdom. Curious about but impervious to trends, he describes AIDS as a "fad, nothing more", actually to divert heterosexual anger but he is misinterpreted and reviled by many gays. A return to popularity occurs when he helps Patrick Angus, a young, AIDS-afflicted artist attain fame for his paintings and his healthy cynicism is marketed by performance artist Penny Arcade, putting him back in the limelight. Poor health causes him to refuse a lecture tour of England but he gives a triumphant final audience at a gay club in Tampa. A postscript informs that he died at the age of 91. Written by
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John Hurt inhabits this character completely. This is not a sequel to The Naked Civil Servant, it is a continuation of the story of Quentin Crisp.
Quentin Crisp was a flamboyant and insightful 'homosexual' who, after spending the first 73 years of his life in not-so-gay, olde England, moved to New York and was embraced by the art and literary communities there. He spoke in quotable soundbites that challenged the world's assumptions, and people's perceptions of each other through the stories he told.
His live performances were more of Q and A between himself and the audience, as he never failed to provide an opinion about any idea presented to him.
This film fearlessly bases it's integrity on John Hurt's performance and he doesn't let anyone down. Having played Crisp previously in a film based on Crisp's own book, The Naked Civil Servant, Hurt "leaves nothing unpacked" in his rendition of Crisp. When I think of Crisp now, I see John Hurt's face.
Story-wise, I found this film very informative about a less-public time in the life of a courageously defiant man who refused to let society keep him in the closet, both in England and the U.S. Finally I got some clarity on why Crisp fell out of favour during the beginning of the AIDS crisis. It's unfortunate that Crisp's analysis of AIDS as a "fad" turned out to be true in some ways. Perhaps the disease isn't a fad, but certainly people's fear and behavioural changes were temporary, as we now see in increasing infection rates of young people. If only his insights weren't treated as simplistic in the midst of panic, or if Crisp had had the fortitude (at 75) to lead a change in attitudes, the fight against this disease might have followed a different trajectory. Unfortunately that was not Crisp's role to play.
If you enjoyed The Naked Civil Servant, you will likely find this film equally interesting. Hurt is remarkable, and Crisp's perspectives are still relevant.
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