on 7 February 2007
When I first saw this film I was amazed and magnetised. Over the years Quentin's life has inspired so many people homosexual and heterosexual, transgendered and non-transgendered (Does anyone remember Sting's song "An Englishman in New York"?).
The film follows pretty closely Quentin's autobiography of the same name. There are a couple of bits that deviate from his book but it doesn't detract from what a wonderful film it is. Quentin himself, apart from disagreeing with a minor scene, was very complementary about the film.
See it. It's a brave, sincerely made film that made Quentin Crisp, in his own words, a stately homo.
on 6 May 2009
When asked in New York why this film was so successful, Mr Crisp said that at that time in England there were only two television channels. And whilst making a cup of tea a wife might ask her husband what was on. He'd say, 'A film about a homosexual' and then switch channels. Then she'd say, 'What's on the other side?' to which her husband would reply, 'The News'. To which she would sigh and respond, 'Well you'd better switch it back then'.
Although Quentin Crisp fully acknowledged the fact that it was The Naked Civil Servant that propelled him to some kind of curious stardom he also thought it was somewhat accidental. Surely in America with it's hundreds of TV channels such a film would have gone unnoticed.
But in truth, this is a great film that really sticks in the mind. Well made, it stars the wholly remarkable John Hurt and his interpretation of Mr Crisp is memorable, touching, funny and almost accurate. Quentin described him as 'My representative on Earth'.
Hurt is utterly magnetic and, like all great actors, makes you believe in his role without question. It was with great satisfaction that I learned he is currently playing Mr Crisp again, so many decades later, in a film based around Quentin's later years.
The Naked Civil Servant stands up well as classic piece of British filmmaking. I'm sure it was considered shocking in it's day and terribly revealing too. Now it's a valuable lesson in the attitudes of the time. It cannot and does not try to represent the whole book but the adaptation is really very good. At key moments we are guided by Quentin's wonderfully charming narration, (although it must be said that John Hurt's vocal talents far exceeded that of the writer).
The fact that this film has not drowned in the world of today (with it's thousands of television channels and a million other diversions) is testimony to its quality and long lasting appeal. In this respect Mr Crisp remains happily incorrect.
on 24 January 2008
That was what one critic said when this movie was first screened in Britain.
Another said that Quentin was "some kind of hero".
If you want to now who Quentin was, his philosophy and what his life stood for then this is the one to watch.
on 17 September 2002
John Hurt isn't the star of this show - the story is. As much as I admire the British film industry and its fabulous wealth of character actors/actresses, this is one script that makes its own stars.
Naturally, John Hurt plays a blinder and maybe I couldn't imagine anybody else finishing off the part as he does. But the Q Crisp one-liners and humorous put downs would have been funny even if Prince Edward had grabbed it with his clumsy paws.
I won't spoil the finished article by quoting the best bits - watch it and I promise you won't be disappointed, it's a real classic.
on 31 May 2006
As a child growing up in the Seventies I remember this when it ws first screened. I was too young at the time to watch it or appreciate it. However, Quentin Crisp has always fascinated me. He truly is a hero of our modern times. We live in considerably 'enlightened,' times as far as homosexuality is concerned and certainly compared to the times when Quentin Crisp was a young homosexual man.
John Hurt gives a superb performance as Quentin Crisp and captures the charismatic Crisp so well on screen. This is a brilliant film about the life of Quentin Crisp and definitely was ground breaking for its time. I felt myself moved by watching this especially through the sad, tragic and intense moments when he came up against such extreme prejudice from those around him and the society he lived in. God, bless Quentin Crisp!
on 22 May 2003
I had bought the budget VHS of The Naked Civil Servant several years ago and have enjoyed the film immensely - in spite of the tape's very grainy picture quality and annoying noises in the soundtrack. But the content is what matters absolutely with this film and the ClearVision DVD version has just arrived at home today from the UK. The picture quality is HUGELY improved compared to the VHS and there are no unwanted noises on the very clear soundtrack. The film was made for TV using 16mm film so you wouldn't expect state-of-the-art Hollywood sight or sound, but this is as good a version as you will ever get (until the glorious day that the British Film Institute decides to do a remastered transfer to Blu-ray... fingers crossed). The commentary track is exceptionally entertaining and informative, as John Hurt, director Jack Gold and excecutive producer Verity revel in sharing their memories of making the film in just 3 weeks, 28 years earlier. The same commentary is used on the 2007 region 1 NTSC edition - which has a different extra titled "Deja Vu Quentin Crisp") The extra on this 2002 British PAL edition is particularly good: "Mavis Catches Up With...Quentin Crisp" is a well produced gem in which we join Mavis Nicholson and Quentin in New York in 1989 chatting about how life has gone for him in the USA and how times have changed in the 15 years since the John Hurt film was made. Buy this DVD with confidence.
on 3 September 2009
This drama based on Quentin Crisp's autobiography was recently shown on BBC4 as a tribute to its producer, the late Verity Lambert (who also gave us Doctor Who). Having not seen it for many years, I was happy to see how well it stood up and how much had stayed with me over the years. John Hurt is outstanding and the whole has oodles of style, as befits its subject, but is also coherent: it's a journey towards self-discovery, or self-acceptance, perhaps, or more simply towards a modus vivendi.
The most poignant moment comes about in a memory of being surrounded by sailors: he is the focus of their good-humoured attention and there is no threat involved. But Crisp's tragedy, at least as suggested in this film and the book, was that the sort of man he wanted could not want him without ceasing to be the sort of man he wanted, if that makes sense.
There have been other attempts to bring Crisp to the world, not least by himself: he first came to my attention as the subject of a World in Action
programme, living out his small life in England as he did before his transatlantic crossing. Later he came to the Edinburgh fringe (circa '76), in effect to repeat the substance of his book, and later on did the same at Glasgow School of Art. Seeing him for a second time I was peeved to find it was the same show, not realising that if he'd learnt this stuff painfully over time he was perfectly entitled to make what use of it he could on whatever occasions presented themselves.
Tim Fountain, who met Crisp in New York, wrote a one man play for Bette Bourne entitled Resident Alien; this worked well because alongside the sparkling aphorisms you saw the price of Crisp's freedom to live as he wished: a squalid flat, cooking in a filthy frying pan etc. The price may have been worth paying but it had cost him something, although the squalor was inseparable from the achievement; after all, Crisp's most memorable saying is something to the effect that there was no point in cleaning as after three years the dust
never gets any worse.
"Do you think a homosexual elephant has a terrible time of it?" Most of us undoubtedly have asked that question at one time or another, but I doubt if any except Quentin Crisp have asked it with such innocent interest. Crisp was, in his own words, an unregenerate degenerate. He was an English homosexual who saw no reason why he shouldn't be who he was. He was effeminate. He dressed flamboyantly, favoring broad-brimmed fedoras and flowing scarves. He wore make-up and hennaed his carefully coifed hair. He was witty but not malicious. He was willing to take people as they were, and saw no reason why he shouldn't expect the same for himself. Says Sting, who wrote a song about Crisp, "Quentin is a hero of mine, someone I know very well. He is gay, and he was gay at a time in history when it was dangerous to be so. He had people beating up on him on a daily basis, largely with the consent of the public. Yet, he continued to be himself."
The Naked Civil Servant, with a wonderfully nuanced performance by John Hurt as Crisp, takes us through Crisp's life until he was in his mid-seventies. Crisp died in 1999 when he was 90. Crisp apparently knew his own skin even as a child. As a young man, he tells us with innocent frankness, "I had already discovered for myself one fact of life, the only fact of life I've ever fully understood. I have a message for those who, like me, inhabit a world of make believe...sexual intercourse is a poor substitute for masturbation." That has to be one of the great autobiographical lines in English literature.
Crisp is important because he simply would not become what he wasn't. He also seemed to be a remarkably sympathetic person, amusing and perceptive without the burden of seeming to be wise. "Does he love you," a female friend asks about an awkward lover. "You are a woman," Crisp says. "You speak a language I do not understand. If love exists, which is something I wouldn't know, then love is never closing my hand even to the unlovable." He's not only realistic ("The sex was alright in a domestic sort of way, but never share a narrow bed with a wide, single man."), but also practical ("I have discovered a great labor-saving secret. After the first four years, the dust doesn't get any worse.").
For a year he was a prostitute. For years he made a small living as a paid model in art classes. "Being a model requires no education, no references and no previous experience. You have only to say `I do' and you're stuck with it for life...like marriage. I became a naked civil servant." He came to admire America and, at 71, moved permanently to a small bed-sitter in the lower East side. "The great difference between the Americans and the English is that Americans want you to succeed because they feel you may drag them forward with you, while the British want you to fail because they fear you may leave them behind."
Fame comes when he writes his autobiography, "The Naked Civil Servant." The book is turned into a British television movie starring John Hurt, which achieves great acclaim. Crisp finds an admiring audience for his wit and for the honesty of his life. When he is accosted by some nasty children because of how he looks, he stares at them and says, "I defy you to do your worst. It can hardly be my worst. Mine has already and often happened to me. You cannot touch me now. I am one of the stately homos of England!"
Still, when he enthusiastically agrees to have a movie made about him, he says, "Any film, even the worst, is better than real life." He says it with a smile, but it's an unsettling judgment.
I finished the movie with a great deal of admiration for Quentin Crisp. And if anyone doubts that John Hurt is a superb actor, watch Hurt's performance. The DVD looks just fine. The extras include a commentary track with Hurt, the director Jack Gold and the associate producer Valerie Lambert.
This is an amazingly good film with a superlative performance by John Hurt in the role of Quentin Crisp, a flamboyant English homosexual in the days when being such was anything but comfortable. Brilliantly played by Hurt, Crisp was a born in 1908 and was aware that he was different from an early age. He grew up in an era where homosexuality was not an option as a life style. Still, he managed to make it in a world that was decidedly unfriendly to those like him. Witty and self assured, he lived his life as he wanted, despite the hardships he faced due to his self-professed homosexuality. He was a trailblazer and poster boy for an alternative life style.
John Hurt deservedly won the British Best Actor award for his incisive portrayal of Quentin Cristp. It is no wonder that his performance was critically acclaimed. It is nothing short of brilliant. His is a touching and sympathetic portrayal of an individual who wanted nothing more than to be able to be himself. It is a performance that is not to be missed. The film is an absolute gem.
The Naked Civil Servant is always a pleasure to revisit, and it is still striking how open it was towards its subject, and how generous, given that it was made in 1975. Having said that, there was the odd film or play that was quite comparable in this respect, such as Bermondsey with James Fox, or Me, I'm Afraid of Virginia Woolf which both seem to have disappeared (the BFI have them to view, but sadly they are not available on DVD). This film had more luck, perhaps because of John Hurt's brilliant turn as Quentin Crisp. Many of the scenes are delightful - where he meets fellow camp boys out 'on the game', for instance, and goes to The Black Cat with them, or his eccentric group of friends, or his lovers who tended to be fairly hopeless cases in one way or another. Behind the camp, sharp exterior he had a lot of warmth and accepted a lot of suffering stoically. This makes for some harder viewing where he encounters homophobic thugs, and his treatment at the hands of the law also means he has to suffer a court case when he did nothing whatsoever. Without wishing to stand up for gay rights or representing any group, Crisp nonetheless did all gay men a great favour by bravely presenting himself in a way that flew in the face of every conventional notion of how men were supposed to behave. It is also interesting to see how much less straight-laced American culture seemed to be, for instance he had a lot of fun with GIs, probably more than at any other time. The English married men who were interested in a 'bit on the side' had a lot more disgust with what they were doing. The awkward, testing moments certainly outweighed the joyous ones, even if they are often amusing (his presenting himself for military service during the War is one example). However the scenes of genuine kindness shown him are heart-warming - a scene with some marines in Portsmouth - and create a certain link with Hurt's other great role, John Merrick in The Elephant Man. The sequel, An Englishman in New York, hardly needs recommending to those who have enjoyed this first film.