The incomparable Quentin Crisp (1908-1999) shared a birthday with Jesus and was played by John Hurt in 1975’s The Naked Civil Servant, adapted from Crisp’s memoir of the same name.
Imperiously disparaging about everything from AIDS (”a fad”) to Princess Diana (”vulgar”), he wrote a classic series of film reviews for Christopher Street magazine, some of which are reprinted here. For more information, please visit the Quentin Crisp website, or purchase the anthology of Quentin Crisp film reviews, “How To Go To The Movies”, here.
LAW OF DESIRE
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Stars: Carmen Maura, Antonio Banderas, Eusebio Poncela
If, in an idle mood, you happen to be wandering up Broadway past the Cinema Studio, you can snatch from just inside the entrance a leaflet advertising their newest release, Law of Desire. This sheet of paper tells you that Senor Almodovar, the maker of this film, is “the last of the great hedonists” and that his current work is a comedy.
I feel impelled to issue a warning.
For all I know, the Senor himself may be as hedonistic as hell, but Law of Desire is no such thing, neither is it a comedy, unless Spaniards are like Russians, who, it is said, find humour in circumstances that to other nations would seem tragic (Dr. Chekhov described The Seagull as a comedy, though in it a girl’s life is ruined by a brief affair with a heartless philanderer and a young man kills himself). It is true that almost all the characters in Senor Almodovar’s bizarre tale are seen to be living for pleasure - kinky pleasure at that - but, except for an inexplicable child and the police, no one survives the weird twists of the plot entirely unscathed. I would describe the intention of this picture as heavily moralistic.
The story begins with a young man who looks like the late Mr. Hudson translated into Spanish. He is taking part in a pornographic movie. The sequence is acted with a certain amount of reluctance but with no attempt that I could discern to satirize the fundamental inanity of the antics that he is being asked to perform. When this scene is over, he is rewarded with a wad of quarto-sized bank notes, which he kisses. This leads us to suppose that we are going to behold the history of someone who will do anything for cash. As far as I can recall, money is never mentioned again. What this young man does - and he does plenty - he does for love.
Next, the narrative abruptly turns our attention to a movie director who is engaged in making an absurdly arty film of Monsieur Cocteau’s La Voix Humaine. At a discotheque, he meets the porno star and takes him home. In spite of an initial lack of enthusiasm for this encounter, the actor is soon allowing himself to become the passive party in what I can only call frontal anal intercourse. As some of you may have the misfortune to know, this is a pastime about as enjoyable as an operation without anesthetic. Indeed, the victim, of whom at this point we see only his face and the soles of his feet, does evince a certain amount of misgiving but, again, not enough to render the situation comic.
The movie director in this film is a cool character. He has already implored a previous playmate not to fall in love with him, but the new sexual partner pays no heed to any such admission. He immediately becomes an addict of homosexuality to such a depth that he wishes to involve himself in every aspect of his lover’s life. He tries to rape the former boyfriend and succeeds in beginning an affair with the sister. The plot of Law of Desire is positively labyrinthine. It manages to drag in drugs, sodomy, incest, and transsexuality. It is easy for the audience to lose its way, but I must admit that as soon as the police become involved, momentum does increase to a very exciting pace.
What comedy there is takes the form of hilarious cynicism. For instance, when detectives, searching for murder clues, find in the director’s apartment a little cocaine, they do not confiscate it; they use it. As television has recently informed me that the New York police department is now a vast drug ring, I laughed somewhat uneasily.
The acting in this film is acceptable but it is not all of a piece. While ll the male characters act dramatically, the movie director’s sister (who was once his brother) seems to be in quite another film. She camps madly, looks like Mlle. Moreau, walks like Miss Midler, and packs a punch like a Mr. Ali.
In one bewildering respect, Law of Desire is like all the other pictures that I have recently seen. In spite of all the outrageous sensuality of the events and crudity of the subtitles, the actual images are almost prudish. Perhaps because I myself have hardly ever worn pajamas, whether sleeping alone or with a companion, I found it ridiculous that the Rock Hudson character wore his underwear against all odds.
The color of the film favors bright red and its general mood is one of uncontrollable passion. It does not have the sorrowful romanticism of Ernesto nor the dreamy, steamy beauty of Querelle but at least it is much less nasty than Menage. By all means, see it; it is never boring, but do not expect to be either enlightened or elated. Above all, do not hope to find a shred of justification for the wickedness of your ways. The message of this drama is as clear as day - as clear as Judgement Day. Passive sodomy is an addictive habit that leads to the abandonment of all reason and no one who practices this vice can count on living happily ever after, or even long after.