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.
PRICK UP YOUR EARS
Director: Stephen Frears
Stars: Gary Oldman, Alfred Molina, Vanessa Redgrave
It is the weak who destroy the strong.
This is the appallingly clear message contained in both the book and the movie of Mr. Orton’s life and in his diaries.
On the ninth of August in 1967, Mr. Halliwell (who was what my brother would have called a drip) hammered to a pulp the skull of the tough, bouncy Mr. Orton, with whom he had been living for seventeen years. It is impossible not to think that the victim deserved his fate. He was popular - even with his agent - but, deep down, he was not a likable man.
He was, however, a minigenius who wrote Entertaining Mr. Sloane, Loot, and What the Butler Saw. In a small way, he was a man of destiny. That is to say his particular talent was what his generation was waiting to receive. By the early sixties, the world had fallen into the hands of the young, who have always been impatient with the establishment. All Mr. Orton’s plays make fun of respectability - a viewpoint that was considered fashionable. He also despised discretion, which was less easy to condone.
Mr. Halliwell was somewhat older than Mr. Orton, was well educated, and had a little money of his own. When they first met, the latter had nothing. He came from the lower middle class and, worse, from Leicester. There are two ways of dealing with this handicap. You can either stay there and triumph by becoming even more respectable than your neighbours or you can leave and forever after enhance your enjoyment of life by imagining how shocked Leicester would be if it knew what you were doing. This was the course chosen by Mr. Orton. He went to London and entered the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. That was where he met Mr. Halliwell, who, at first, became his mentor and collaborated happily with him in writing a novel that no one would publish. Soon, however, Mr. Orton began to blossom on his own, wrote plays that were actually staged, and acquired theatrical friends who thought of his companion as a hanger-on and dreary with it.