I saw this 20 years ago and remembered it vividly. Having recently added it to my collection, I can confirm that it has aged well and lost none of its hilarious pungency. There are many levels on which this film can be enjoyed. First, it is a about gay life in an era - the 60s - when things are opening up. This is a fascinating portrait that does not attempt to gloss over or hide the promiscuity, the occasional danger, and the never-ending search for love and sex. It is very raw, yet funny. Of particular interest is a sex tourism trip they take to Morocco.
Second, it is about a weird relationship that combines love and need with hatred and cruelty, where one partner grows past the other who is in a downward spiral of depression and rage. Though between two men, it is a pattern found in many troubled relationships. Orten also comes for a strange lower middle class family, which is at times funny and very sad.
Third, it is about the difficult birth of a major talent, perhaps one of the most interesting such portraits I have ever seen. Orten starts off trying to act, then gets on the dole and more or less does what he wants, all the time studying and attempting to hone his writing. His lover serves as a mentor, introducing him to a corpus of work and long discussion. One of the most interesting parts of this is his relationship to a literary agent, Redgrave, who helps to manage his talent while profiting from it and enhancing her own career - it is subtle and deeply ambiguous stuff.
The plot is framed by a literary investigation by Orten's biographers, one of whom is Wallace Shawn. In her incisive manner, Redgrave is guiding the effort, which adds an additional layer to the story. It is very clever and throws much of what is discovered into doubt.
This is a true masterpiece, far better than My Beautiful Laundrette or Sammy and Rosie Get Laid. It can be viewed many times for interesting nuggets yet remains open to interpretation. The actors are absolutely perfect in each part.
Recommended with enthusiasm.
Prick Up Your Ears is a superb film that relishes crudeness as befits its subject. Stephen Frears has proved again and again to be one of the great directors, both prolific and varied, and he has made a number of gay interest films, including My Beautiful Laundrette and Mrs Henderson Presents - and this one. His collaboration with Alan Bennett has produced some timeless television films but this must be their biggest-scale production, and the script bristles with funny lines, so much so it is almost dangerous, you feel, there being a large dose of subversion in there too. Bennett has written brilliant scripts about other writers, namely Proust and Kafka, but this one gives him the freest rein with gay-oriented material. Gary Oldman is fantastic as Joe Orton, unbelievably sexy with his y-fronts and cheeky grin. You simply believe he is Joe Orton, possibly enhanced by this radiant sexiness. Alfred Molina is also outstanding as Kenneth Halliwell, managing to compensate for the script's bias toward Orton in terms of focus. You do feel very sorry for him, and Orton, while never sacrificing a sexual encounter, nevertheless does show some consideration, trying to set Halliwell up with tricks of his own and being fairly tolerant really with his very depressed antics. The London of the time is superbly refracted through an 80s sensibility, while the interiors - their flat, for instance - are full of interesting details, with a camera that seems to capture everything in just the right rhythm, and from the right angles, something I always find with Frears, but less and less with other directors. An episode in Morocco gives rise to more highly sexy goings-on ... Vanessa Redgrave and Julie Walters must be mentioned too for their brilliant turns, and what a pleasure to see Wallace Shawn giving the seal of excellence to the whole thing - time out from his discussions with Andre Gregory ...
on 15 November 2015
PRICK UP YOUR EARS [1987 / 2015] [Blu-ray] [US Release] They Shared Everything . . . Except Success! From the Director of ‘My Beautiful Launderette.’ One of the Most Remarkable British Films of the Decade!
In his research on the celebrated playwright Joe Orton [Gary Oldman], biographer John Lahr’s [Wallace Shawn] meetings with Joe Orton’s literary agent Peggy Ramsay [Vanessa Redgrave] gets to frame the story of the life of the artist.
Told through flashbacks, the film reveals the relationship between Joe Orton and his mentor and subsequently his lover Kenneth Halliwell [Alfred Molina]. At first blush the older Kenneth Halliwell is the educator and Joe Orton is a willing student. Those roles would be reversed with the success of Joe Orton’s play “Entertaining Mr. Sloane,” a success that would place Kenneth Halliwell in Joe orton’s shadow, leading to tragic consequences.
The talents of Vanessa Redgrave, Gary Oldman and Alfred Molina are a virtual master class on screen acting. Guiding then through their paces via a wonderful screenplay by Alan Bennett [‘The History Boys’], based on the book by John Lahr and director Stephen Frears [‘The Queen’] weaves a compelling caustic, often humorous and never less than entertaining tale of fleeting fame.
FILM FACT: Awards and Nominations: BAFTA® Award: Nominated: Best Actor for Garr Oldman. Nominated: Best Actress for Vanessa Redgrave. Nominated: Best Adapted Screenplay for Alan Bennett. Golden Globe® Awards: Nominated: Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Vanessa Redgrave. 1987 Cannes Film Festival: Win: Best Artistic Contribution for Stanley Myers (Composer).
Cast: Gary Oldman, Alfred Molina, Vanessa Redgrave, Wallace Shawn, Lindsay Duncan, Julie Walters, James Grant, Frances Barber, Janet Dale, Dave Atkins, Margaret Tyzack, Eric Richard, William Job, Rosalind Knight, Angus MacKay, Linda Spurrier, Charlotte Wodehouse, Helena Michell, Sean Pertwee, Liam De Staic, Anthony Carrick, Neil Dudgeon, Richard Wilson, Christopher Guinee, Stevan Rimkus, Michael Müller, Anthony Douse, John Kane, Steven Mackintosh, Garry Cooper, Roger Lloyd Pack, Joanne Connelly, John Moffatt, Philippa Davies, David Cardy, Julie Legrand, Sian Thomas, Karl Johnson, Max Stafford-Clark, Mark Brignal, Neville Smith, Spencer Leigh, John Salthouse, Robin Hooper, John Bailey (uncredited), Derek Jarman (uncredited) and Queen Elizabeth II (archive footage) (uncredited)
Director: Stephen Frears
Producer: Andrew Brown
Screenplay: Alan Bennett and John Lahr (book)
Composer: Stanley Myers
Cinematography: Oliver Stapleton
Video Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo
Running Time: 105 minutes
Region: Region A/1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Olive Films / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Andrew’ Blu-ray Review: Stephen Frears's ‘Prick Up Your Ears’ chronicles the rise and tragic demise of Joe Orton, the gay playwright whose brief but dazzling career spawned the brilliant farces ‘Loot,’ ‘Entertaining Mr. Sloan’ and ‘What the Butler Saw’ and made a lasting contribution to the English-language theatre.
As the film opens, the police find the bodies of both Joe Orton [Gary Oldman] and Kenneth Halliwell [Alfred Molina] along with a suicide note that states: "If you read his diaries, all will be explained." Vanessa Redgrave is featured as Joe Orton's manager in putting together a story with biographer John Lahr [Wallace Shawn], who is seeking Joe Orton's diaries to research his book on the playwright. Interspersed throughout are the major events from Joe Orton's life, like his first introduction to Kenneth Halliwell and their relationship is traced from its beginnings at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, their joint arrest for defacing library books, success on the London stage, a screenplay for the second Beatles film that was rejected by Brian Epstien [David Cardy], and eventually the demise of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell.
Revisiting Stephen Frears' Joe Orton biopic film brought back so many wonderful memories of 1987, when it was a good time for gay cinema, but a bad time to be actually gay, especially as it was illegal then and for most young people today ‘Prick Up Your Ears’ will be of little significance, especially the way the law has changed and now gay can get married. But for me, this biopic film about the short life of the playwright Joe Orton is the catalyst for a tidal wave of wonderful memories associated with the film's original release in 1987. The film charts the meteoric rise and gruesomely spectacular end to their careers of two of the most influential dramatists of the late sixties, for Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell. The intensity and frustration of their existence is conveyed so well by the leading brilliant actors, in particular by Alfred Molina who plays Kenneth Halliwell and Vanessa Redgrave as Joe Orton's predatory literary and theatrical agent.
Both men were homosexuals and they lived in a tiny Islington bedsit, wrote plays, decorated the walls of their flat with cuttings from magazines, defacing library books with suitably lewd amendments to the book dust jackets and returned them to the shelves, for which they were imprisoned for six months. But eventually their lifestyle could not last and after they came out of prison the two men grew apart. Joe Orton was writing with confidence and becoming successful while Kenneth Halliwell became increasingly disconnected and also became very insecure.
Watching the film ‘Prick Up Your Ears’ again brings so many specific cultural changes watching this Blu-ray disc that it brings everything sharply into focus. The film represented a remarkable convergence of talent, especially the brilliant adapted screenplay by Alan Bennett from the John Lahr biography of Joe Orton, and of course the brilliant film was also so brilliantly directed by Stephen Frears, which was then fresh from Stephen Frears success of another gay-themed crossover hit, ‘My Beautiful Laundrette.’ Alan Bennett and Stephen Frears went onto much greater success, both qualifying for the dreaded accolade of "national treasure,” and did some of their sharpest film work ever. Together they created something highly unusual, a 1960s film in which nostalgia is conspicuous by its absence. Period pieces that treated the past were at the time in 1987, a very rare occurrence, but with the film ‘Prick Up Your Ears’ it tells it how it was with a story that is brisk and very bluntly, and definitely without rose-tinted glasses.
Gary Oldman, whose portrayal of Joe Orton manages the unusual feat of being both cocksure and vulnerable at the same time. Alfred Molina who plays Kenneth Halliwell bravely resists the temptation to make a monster out of being Joe Orton's lover who eventually murderers Joe Orton. Vanessa Redgrave is all legs and lips as the literary and theatrical agent Peggy Ramsay. Watch out too, for a brilliant dotty Julie Walters cameo performances as Joe Orton’s mother, and a walk-on part for the late Derek Jarman, who eventually went on to be the reigning king of a couple of now-defunct British film-making scenes, especially in the art house and gay cinema genre.
The Joe Orton diaries, covered the last eight months of his life, catalogue the descending spiral of Kenneth Halliwell's decay. Joe Orton's own promiscuous marathons and the eruption of his career, culminating in an Evening Standard Drama Award and the offer to script a Beatles film. Kenneth Halliwell was completely ignored and uncredited, and left alone with his growing sense of failure and Kenneth Halliwell could take no more and so on 9 August 1967 both of their lives ended at the hand of Kenneth Halliway. Eventually life became more tolerant in Great Britain for gays, which was eventually to become all for the good for society as a whole and of course no one would ever wish for a return to that intolerant and bigoted Great Britain of 1987. But for those who do remember it like me, the experience of re-watching ‘Prick Up Your Ears’ is bound to induce a shudder as well as a thrill at the same time. At the time of its original release, the film was quite daring, especially with Stephen Frears directing, and especially combined with top-notch acting, a terrific script by playwright Alan Bennett, and a fine attention to period details which makes ‘Prick Up Your Ears’ a film well worth purchasing on this Blu-ray disc, because you will be well rewarded.
Blu-ray Video Quality – ‘Prick Up Your Ears’ is brought to you via the brilliant Olive Films / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. We also get a stunning 1080p encoded image that is so superior to my inferior DVD copy I had and such a joy to watch and has a very garish colour palette appears to be very accurate and really enhance the films performance, but with some of the darker outside scenes you get a peculiar shimmering effect, but I suspect most of its problems may very well stem from the original source material issues and should have been at least tweaked somewhat, but despite this, it is still a brilliant colourful image presentation.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – ‘Prick Up Your Ears’ audio presentation has only a standard alone 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo soundtrack and is certainly a breath of fresh air and sounds even better than when I remember viewing my inferior DVD. The outdoor footage and stage productions showcase a great deal of depth. With the films composition remains well balanced and is a massive improvement over the inferior DVD audio presentation, and definitely the audio fidelity is fine, and definitely I have to report there is no age related wear and tear to report.
Blu-ray Special Feature and Extras:
Theatrical Trailer  [1080i] [1.85:1] [1:44] This is the original Theatrical Trailer of ‘Prick Up Your Ears,’ and is really a great presentation in giving the audience a good taster of what to expect with such a brilliant awesome award winning film, but sadly the print is very grainy presentation at times.
Finally, the laughter, mockery and absurdity with which the characters in Joe Orton's plays could transcend intolerable situations that Joe Orton sadly could not match in real life. But watching this brilliant Blu-ray makes you appreciate what a brilliant intelligent person Joe Orton was and is still a cult figure today, and if he was alive today, I reckon he would have been in the class of the equally brilliant and prolific Alan Bennett. ‘Prick Up Your Ears’ provides incredible showcases for both Gary Oldman and Alfred Molina, both of whom give their roles with great authenticity and a surprising amount of feeling. The supporting cast is equally similarly impressive, and the story itself is totally and utterly riveting if ultimately very sad at the same time. Technical merits are extremely very good on this Blu-ray release of ‘Prick Up Your Ears.’ Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom