25 of 37 people found the following review helpful
A disappointing sequel,
This review is from: An Englishman in New York [DVD] (DVD)I once played as Quentin Crisp's support act in Baltimore MA, and later took him to lunch in New York - one of the freebies he never refused. So I knew the great man close up. There were two things which struck me. One was his elusiveness, largely created by the fact that he always, on his own admission, reflected back the person or people that he was with; you felt that back in his own room, without company or at least an audience, he would disappear. The other was his hardness. I don't mean his stern, clear-eyed view of the world; rather, his personal hardness - no-one would ever be allowed to get anywhere near him. The year I was in Baltimore (1986) he acted as Grand Marshal of the Baltimore Gay Pride March, a kind of Fairy Godmother in a coach-and-four. This despite his strictures about various forms of gay activism, including gay pride. He did it because he was paid for it.
So I watched this DVD with great interest, to see if it was the Crisp I remembered. The answer was yes and no. John Hurt's second reincarnation as Crisp - and it is far, far more than a mere performance - is uncanny and a joy to behold. However, the suggestion of a heart lurking not so far beneath the imperious surface seemed foreign to the man I met. There were also two moments which rang false to me. One was a scene in which Phillip Steele, the editor of New York Native, the nearest thing to a friend, is striding down the street with 76-year-old Crisp, who is almost running to keep up. Crisp would never have hurried his stately pace, he would expect you to slow to his pace. The other is the last scene in his flat, where he is finally persuaded to toss the myriad invitations coming through his letter box into the waste paper basket. It's presented as a kind of release, greeted with joy; Crisp laughs ecstatically. I can believe in the last few months of his life he had to draw his horns in, but I can't see that it would be anything but a source of heartbreak for a man who lived for the attention, however much he may have professed to weary of it. Significantly, in that moment of laughter John Hurt is least like Crisp and most like Hurt.
But leaving aside whether it is true, is it any good as a movie? Hurt's performance aside, I would say so-so. The problem is - where's the conflict? Once Crisp ceased to be a pioneer and became just another sideshow in a city full of sideshows, it has largely to be manufactured round his response to the early AIDS crisis, and his realisation through the illness and death of a young gay painter to whom he becomes a mentor that this is more than a fad. The ending, on his final show in Florida, is solidly upbeat, as if Crisp had become again a pioneering inspiration. Where I think Crisp is moving and even heroic is in his solid refusal to countenance old age, to keep up the image and pile on the slap in spite of a horrendous series of ailments. I think more focus on this would have created a grittier, more demanding movie.
I appreciate that in order to turn a life into a movie, it is necessary to shape and take liberties, but this feels manufactured by someone who has been to scriptwriting classes and is determined to fit the life into a three-act structure of a slightly old-fashioned kind. It reminds me of 1950s biopics like "The Five Pennies". Probably Crisp himself would have liked it.
This is a feelgood movie, where "The Naked Civil Servant" was brave and challenging. I can't help feeling it's a decline, and a decline which reflects a general decline in television and our appetite for thought.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 20 Mar 2010 12:11:45 GMT
Graham Chapman says:
A thoughtful and very helpful review. Thanks!
In reply to an earlier post on 26 Mar 2012 11:01:21 BDT
Ikki Piggy says:
Very intelligent review!!!!
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