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.
The Queen of interwar Old Compton Street, he starred with Helen Mirren, among others, on the London stage before moving to the United States where his dinner parties became legendary. He played Queen Elizabeth I opposite Tilda Swinton in 1992’s Orlando and appeared as a party guest in a scene of the same year’s Philadelphia.
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 at Outrate. 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.
THE FOURTH MAN (DE VIERDE MAN)
The Netherlands, 1983
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Stars: Jeroen Krabbé, Renée Soutendijk, Thom Hoffman, Dolf de Vries
Available on DVD - order here
The Fourth Man is not hard porn because although the audience is regaled with a glimpse of you know what the very moment the central character staggers out of bed, it is always seen at rest - never prepared for action. The movie is not even soft porn, because pornography is an attempt to sell sex without mentioning the price. Here, the wages of sin are quite clearly death. Furthermore, scenes of sexual activity are not given the nauseating gauzy treatment that is customary in so many modern films. Instead, it is depicted as the nasty, slightly ludicrous pastime that it truly is.
Almost from the beginning of the picture, violent extermination stalks the screen either in the lurid dreams of the antihero, played by Mr. Krabbe, or in the actual narrative. Even the home movies of the heroine, played by Miss Soutendijk, are unflinching records of the various ways in which her three husbands have met their ends.
The first spectacle of extinction comes in the form of a fantasy in which Mr. Krabbe murders his flat mate by strangling him with a bra that just happens to be lying about their apartment. (Who wears this garment is not stated bu why should it be? Perversity is the very air of Holland.) As the boyfriend is practicing the violin before breakfast, silencing him seems a fairly natural act. Indeed, we can say more. Murdering anyone who plays the violin is justifiable homicide. All the same, this entire incident is nothing more than a bloodstained herring. Mr. Krabbe commits no subsequent murders and the young man is never seen again.
This kind of wanton depravity garishly ornamented with symbolism is the main weakness of this picture.
The story tells us about a thoroughly unlikable author who visits a seaside town to deliver to its literary group a lecture peppered with aphorisms. On the way there, he sees a young man to whom he takes a fancy. Later, this object of his desire turns out to be the lover of the treasurer of the literary group, a woman with whom he spends the night. The usual permutations follow. First, there is a scene in which the author copulates with the treasurer. Miss Soutendijk gratifies her appetite for Mr. Krabbe by straddling him. This in movie terms is the new position and possibly marks the industry’s acknowledgment of equal rights for women. Next, the heroine is ravished by her more permanent lover in a more conventional posture. This incident is observed by Mr Krabbe through a keyhole. He becomes so excited that he masturbates. This is such a stock scene in all pornographic movies that I expected to see him dressed in the uniform of a butler. Finally, the two men start on one another. This last abortive meeting takes place in a family vault where the ashes of the heroine’s three former husbands are kept. When the author catches sight of the three urns and reads their labels, his erection collapses. He realizes that the girl in the erotic triangle is a witch. This thought might not occur to the average American, but in the Netherlands, witches are as plentiful as photographers are in Manhattan. Mr. Krabbe warns the young man that he will be Miss Soutendijk’s fourth victim but, as any fortune-teller can inform you, fate is inexorable. On the way home from the cemetery, there is a car accident and the lover dies. Mr. Krabbe is unharmed because while fornicating with the witch, he invoked the names of Jesus and Mary. When told this, the doctor asks, “Mary who?” - the only joke in the whole movie. The grim saga ends in hospital with the author lying in a mild state of shock beneath a crucifix.
People of my generation have all enjoyed movies (chiefly starring Miss Dietrich) in which the heroine luxuriates in a delicious life of sin for an hour but for a few final minutes, to placate the censor, puts on some very dull clothes and takes to redemption. However, the final scene in The Fourth Man is the most sanctimonious copout in the history of the cinema.
All through the film, sex, witchcraft, death ad the Catholic faith are inextricably woven - nay, flung together. Netherlanders seem to have a lot of trouble with their immortal souls. I imagine that this is a sincere national preoccupation that the rest of us find difficult to understand, but in the movie industry, it has begun to be exploited purely for the sake of sensationalism. Now that watching mere fornication has become a form of family entertainment and even the right of perverse sexual activity hardly sells an extra theater ticket, what is left but blasphemy? This film is full of it - the worst instance being a moment in which in the mind of the antihero a figure on a crucifix in a church changes into the body of the young man he so fervently desires. Some years ago in England, a blasphemy lawsuit was brought against Gay News by a certain Mrs. Whitehouse. The paper had published a poem by Mr. Mirkup that described the sexual feelings of the men who prepared for burial the body of Jesus of Nazareth. I dread to think what will happen if The Fourth Man is ever released in Britain. In the Times Square screening room, the effect was mild. The gentleman sitting next to me laughed heartily while a vast spider killed a fly caught in its web, but he slept through much of the rest of the film. If we are dealing with sorcery, this picture has none of the Gothic power of Mr. Dreyer’s classic Day of Wrath; it hasn’t even the single-mindedness of The Exorcist.
If you are in the habit of seeing two films a week, go to this one. It has definite assets. It is short - only just over a hundred minutes - and it is never boring. The photography is good in the sense that the violence is extremely ingenuously contrived. The sound track is acceptable. Music is like a dog; the nicest this that can be said about it is that you wouldn’t know it was there. The acting is excellent - especially that of Mr. Krabbe as the cynical author. If you only go to the cinema once a month, you could still try it in a dry season, but I couldn’t say that the story takes hold of you and drags you to an inevitable conclusion.
In fairness to the makers of The Fourth Man, I must record that it has won awards in Seattle, Toronto, Chicago, San Francisco, and various European cities.