Following the success of his television biography The Naked Civil Servant (1975), Quentin Crisp (Sir John Hurt) is invited to America to lecture on How To Be Happy, and falls in love with New York City's more permissive ambiance. Agent Connie Clausen (Swoosie Kurtz) enables him to be a "resident alien", writing movie reviews and dispensing words of wisdom. Curious about but impervious to trends, he describes A.I.D.S. 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 (Jonathan Tucker), a young, A.I.D.S.-afflicted artist attain fame for his paintings and his healthy cynicism is marketed by performance artist Penny Arcade (Cynthia Nixon), 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 ninety-one. —don @ minifie-1
John and Quentin, together again
Quentin Crispe was one of the most important people of the second half of the twentieth century. If he had heard me say that, he would have laughed as uproariously as it was possible for him to do, by which I mean give a severe chuckle. What do I mean by saying it? I mean that he was an individual to the furthest and truest extent, in a world made dull by a stifling mass conformity. In addition, he was brilliantly witty and extraordinarily intelligent and wise. He always claimed to be a homosexual, but my wife and I always suspected that he may have died a virgin, as he was sublimely asexual in person and the idea that he might ever have been physical with anyone seemed frankly inconceivable. Quentin was above all a narcissist, and proud of it. He was driven into narcissism by the sameness of the human environment, and I believe that if he had been an animal (assuming that he had been allowed to be also articulate), he would have been much happier, because animals do not all look alike, whereas humans deceive one another by all having two arms, two legs, faces, etc., so that they have the illusion that they all somehow have something to do with one another, which they do not. We were fortunate to know Quentin in both his London and New York environments, though we saw him rarely. People who missed his amazing one-man show in a large London theatre years ago can never know what they missed, because it was one of the most scintillating live performances possible to see anywhere at any time. It was all on the theme of 'personal style', a subject which was a favourite for me to discuss with him. (He was somewhat jealous that I had known Tallulah, the one person in the world he most wished he had met, and we often recurred to the subject of Tallulah as the Queen of Style). John Hurt has done a wonderful service to posterity in capturing Quentin on film almost to perfection. He has mastered every detail of his mannerisms, his movements, his walk, the turn of his head, his gestures, his manner of speaking, and his facial expressions. (The only thing missing is the purple tint which Quentin added to his hair.) It was so eerie seeing John sitting there in that lower Manhattan diner. I could just see Quentin eating his melted cheese on toast (he loved boring 'school food'). This is one of the greatest acting achievements of our time, in terms of portraying a real life character. My wife and I hosted a dinner party many years ago for both John and Quentin, who did not see that much of each other, and it was so intriguing listening to them bantering back and forth, which they did somewhat shyly. The photos of them were marvellous, with them reflecting each other's glow and their arms around one another. John Hurt has never had as many opportunities to be the lead actor in films as he should have had. That is because, except in SINFUL DAVEY in his youth perhaps, he was never a natural 'romantic lead'. The inevitable nature of popular story lines generally condemns many actors and actresses to supporting roles, no matter how brilliant they are. And so it is that John has made something like 150 films because everybody wants him, but has never been Brad Pitt (for which I am sure he is eternally grateful), though to judge from his attraction to women, you would imagine that John might secretly have been Brad Pitt after all in ways best left to the imagination. Drollery has always been a specialty of John's, and that is remarkably attractive as a trait. And so we come to the film. Trying to write a script like that is no easy task, and the writer has done a good job without being particularly brilliant. The lighting was not that good at times, and the direction was good without being brilliant either. The trouble with falling short in the production itself is that a subject like Quentin demands the best. However, we must be grateful for what we got. The film features a spectacularly good performance by Jonathan Tucker, who was so brilliant in THE DEEP END (2001; see my review). He plays the young gay artist Patrick Angus, whom Quentin befriended, with great sensitivity and intensity. Denis O'Hare is admirable as Quentin's friend Phillip Steele. Rather too much is made in the film of Quentin's unfortunate flip remark about AIDS being a fad, which landed him in a lot of trouble. There is no doubt that Quentin was the victim of hysteria and was excessively criticised for a mere passing witticism (or what was intended as such, however stupid it may have been). But one very touching scene of a huge butch gay man attacking Quentin for it in the street and then sobbing uncontrollably about his dying boyfriend really brings home to us the mass grief associated with this terrible disease, and how wrong a stray remark can be when it wounds those who are suffering deeply. After all, who of us has not lost a friend to AIDS? One reason why this film is not as exciting a film as one would have wished is that Quentin was a quiet and subdued person. Despite his carefully designed gauche appearance, Quentin was remarkably demure. Perhaps we are all a bit too jaded and expect too many thrills in movies. One thrill which I wish everyone had had the opportunity to enjoy was to know Quentin Crispe. This film goes some way towards filling that gap, and we must be grateful to it, and to John Hurt for his magnificent efforts to bring Quentin to life as vividly as if he were really there in front of the camera.
- Dec 28, 2009
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