An Englishman in New York (2009)
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This film achieves the formidable task of presenting Quentin both as he appeared publicly and as he thought privately. One can only imagine how difficult it must have been to construct the script. It was inspired to have utilized the framework of Quentin's relationships with various people upon which to construct the biography. By showcasing Quentin's friendships with a literary figure (his friend from "Christopher Street" magazine), an AIDS figure (the young, anguished painter), and a performing artist, the film reflects important facets of his personality and helps to illuminate the sometimes perplexing concept of the world according to Crisp or what he in life famously termed "Crisperanto." Quentin's dialog in the film may sound epigrammatic to some; but, that is how the gentleman actually spoke, and he had a great deal to say.
These considerations are perilously academic, however. What is important is that the film is, in and of itself, magnificent. One is tempted to observe that John Hurt does Quentin better than did Quentin himself. It is difficult to take one's eyes off of this intricately prepared, compelling actor. How astonishing are those scenes that show Hurt as Quentin: playing Queen Elizabeth I in a film, waxing ruefully upon the ravages of aging; as he really was, in his tiny apartment, hair down, balding, elderly, alone; tilting his head back, upon theater stages, in cafés, or while simply walking down the street, to achieve that rollicking laugh that so soothed and beguiled. Because portraying Quentin is by definition flashy, Hurt at first may appear mannered and theatrical; but, if one watches closely, he will realize that the actor knows precisely when less is more. His performance is, in fact, careful. It is vigorous but not exaggerated, and the effect is remarkable.
Those who approach "An Englishman in New York" armed with old political animosities from the Act Up era are missing out, really, because, as troubling as Quentin seemed in his attitude towards AIDS, he did try to atone for it, in his own way (even people with huge and gracious hearts can sometimes find it impossible to say "I'm sorry"), and because he blazed so uniquely and with such genius in innumerable other areas. As a social commentator, essayist, novelist, film critic, philosopher, public speaker, and most unlikely of fashion plates, Quentin Crisp had no peer. For better or worse, he remains a gay -- and literary -- icon. This film does justice to this totally unique man both as a legend and as he was at heart, a caring, emotional creature whose ultimate love and humility will likely outlive the hats, scarves, and tinted hair that memorably punctuated his public persona.
Quentin Crisp the one time naked life model and civil servant has gained celebrity due to his ITV film 'The Naked Civil Servant'. He is given the opportunity to fly to New York for one month to give talks; however once he arrives in the big apple he falls in love with a city which seems to offer him everything he ever dreamed of. Quentin quickly gains residency as 'a legal alien'. However, he faces some hard lessons about the vastly changing face of not only public homosexuality but also the world in general.
My opinion of an Englishman in New York is it's a flawless piece of work. It's rare a film can deliver such a sharp, but honest message which is relevant to today's society. In the original 1975 piece, Quentin was abused and attacked by 'hetrosexual' society not only for being gay but being different. In an Englishman in New York everything has flipped. The heterosexual world seems (on the whole) to adore him and be accepting of his eccentric and overtly homosexual persona. However, now his victimisation comes from the gay community who are excluding their own if they do not fit the very strict criteria of what they deem 'attractive'. Once upon a time Quentin was celebrated in the gay community as a brave pioneer of human rights. Now he's seen as a ghastly old queen who represents every gay stereotype a homosexual man is fighting against.
Hurt plays Crisps exasperation to this new rejection with perfect understated brilliance. It becomes very apparent that Quentin was fighting the cause for individuality and the colonisation of the gay community was not actually what he wanted. He seemed to long for a world where every individual was accepted on their own merits and not because they fit criteria of a certain group. WHen Quentin discovers the (seemingly) universal ambition of gay man is to be a caricatured clone of the male heterosexual stereotype you can almost hear his eyes rolling. It's also saddening to watch the world speed by Crisp in fifth gear, as he tries to get his head around the aggressive "fad" that is AIDS. This lesson being a particularly poignant one he has to learn.
Even after seeing 'The Naked Civil Servant' (20 years ago) I had always seen Quentin Crisp as representative of tolerance toward homosexuals. After seeing 'An Englishman in New York' I now see him as someone far more important. Crisp represents tolerance toward individuality and our right to be whoever we want to be without fear of exclusion. As the song says "If Manners maketh man as someone said, Then he's the hero of the day, It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile Be yourself no matter what they say".
John Hurt brings a brilliant luster to his role as the strange but lovely elderly Crisp who sits before audiences and says what comes to his mind. He is befriended by Christopher Street editor Phillip Steel (Dennis O'Hare) who gives him work as a movie critic, noticed by promoter Connie Clausen (Swoosie Kurtz) who schedules him heavily in nightclubs as an act, shy painter Patrick Angus (Jonathan Tucker) whom he champions among galleries, and kooky performance artist Penny Arcade (Cynthia Nixon). At the height of his popularity he makes a comments about AIDS being a 'fad', something that unites gays with a disease that Crisp claims is just what the straight public wants, and his popularity among his audience wanes. He discovers Angus is stricken with the disease and mourns his too soon death, and is sheltered by Steel as he grows into a fragile very elderly 91 year old. Throughout the film Hurt glows as the strange but somehow lovable Crisp, showing us all a side of a man who has been too often dismissed as a weird one. This is a very tender film, complemented by a first class cast, and one that deserves very wide attention.
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.
Quentin was a hero of sorts. The way this teleplay crafts a drama around his impressive one-liners is dazzaling. Not your usual mainstream fayre. No beginning/middle/end. Just a fabulous/ordinary life celebrated.
John Hurt's performance is first rate. He must have thought long and hard about the script before doing this project ---following as it does a triumphant original. All credit to him then, I loved it.
As a result, more or less the only 'plot event' of the film is the arrival of AIDS in New York, with even that seen largely through the effects on Crisp's career of a single dismissive quip (his reasoned attitude is that making too much of AIDS will only bolster public perception of homosexuals as disease-ridden outcasts, but this doesn't go down well among his target audience). Otherwise, "An Englishman in New York" consists largely of bons mots; little snippets of Crisp performing and delivering his famous lines, whether to an audience of one or to a small studio gathering.
That said, given the limitations of its material the film manages to pull off the difficult trick of its predecessor, presenting its deliberately flamboyant, over-the-top protagonist as a sympathetic human being whose pose we not only condone but find ourselves applauding. I generally shy away from 'gay issues', but find myself feeling here for the people he meets and the prejudice he encounters, both from them and on their behalf. In some ways, it is as hard to be a determinedly effeminate homosexual among the butch 'clones' of an out-of-the-closet New York as among the disapproving middle classes of pre-war England.
John Hurt does an excellent task in portraying the physical aging of the character, and of course it is a great bonus to have the same actor appearing in both films with a genuine generational time-lapse between them. It is just a truism that -- despite Quentin Crisp's much-repeated prediction that every year "things are going to get worse" -- happiness, as the proverb has it, simply doesn't make for such an enthralling story as do troubled times; and this is essentially a depiction of a man who has finally come to terms with the world, and it with him. As such it is well-meaning and pretty well executed, but not a particularly unmissable experience.
And inevitably it is less touching and less striking than its predecessor.