JWR Articles: Film/DVD - An Englishman in New York (Director: Richard Laxton) - February 25, 2010

An Englishman in New York

4 4
75 min.

Living a decidedly queer life without obvious love

Oh yes, John Hurt is Quentin Crisp. Thirty-five years after bringing the ground-breaking, style-loving homosexual to life in The Naked Civil Servant, Hurt steps into the encore without missing a beat, wearing his array of scarves and kerchiefs with greater flair than ever. The senior-years actor (turning 70 last month) plays the aging raconteur with a splendid mixture of wit, whimsy and wiliness that more than makes up for the somewhat uneven script (Brian Fillis). The frequent segments from his one-man show (later two with the addition of Cynthia Nixon’s engaging portrayal of the delightfully named Penny—as in “for-your-thoughts&rrdquo;—Arcade) are consistently “on,” making one hope for a complete performance rather than the best-of highlights.

To move the narrative along, gay-magazine publisher Phillip Steele (Denis O’Hare is clearly as enthralled as the audiences to be near the fountain of wisdom and how-to-survive-life-as-an-outsider observations so easily delivered by Crisp) takes the peanut-and-champagne devotee under his wing and ends up becoming his closest companion. Along their largely devoted path, Crisp’s famous/infamous zinger “AIDS is just a fad” threatens to drive another man from his life. His savvy agent (Swoosie Kurtz) is also at risk when the makeup-wearing celebrity steadfastly refuses to issue a retraction even as hundreds succumb to the “gay plague” all around him.

Not least of those is Patrick Angus. Jonathan Tucker gives a convincing portrayal of the young painter of uninhibited men who finally finds acceptance and 15 minutes of fame on his deathbed. Better late than never thanks to the steady encouragement of Crisp who sits for the artist and offers further commentary on living through the ‘80s and ‘90s where his oft-quoted prediction that “things will get worse” comes true. His assertion that with a Democrat in the Whitehouse (Bill Clinton) the troops will get a rest, seems particularly adept even as present-day Obama reverses that trend in hopes of making the sacrifices from the previous eight years find some sort of resolution or meaning. Crisp might be uncomfortable with that direction in his party-loving, post-planet existence—patiently waiting for Elizabeth Taylor to take her final bow (stylishly, of course) and join him in perpetual Never Never Land.

In a film with this subject matter, the music is hugely important and composer Paul Englishby’s original score doesn’t disappoint. Running the gamut from infectious disco to pounding backroom rock through a tinge of country (the switch to a Stetson is also a nice touch) the tracks are at one with the times. When the mood is more sombre the use of piano, harp and mallets discreetly turns the tide from zany exuberance to introspective emotion. The acting, music (now infused with clarinet and flute) and costuming (Joey Attawia) achieve a cinematic perfect-storm in the brief but dazzling moments where Hurt/Crisp prove their exceptionally fine “queeniness” in the depiction of Elizabeth I (reconstructing a scene from Sally Potter’s film Orlando&emdash;based on Virginia Woolf’s novel). The delectable icing on the musical cake comes via Sting’s first-class performance of the title song.

Crisp often remarked that he’d never been in love and that men seeking their “great dark man” were doomed to failure as that sort of iconic macho male couldn’t possibly sleep with the same sex. And so booze, drugs, and muscle worship were summoned to fill the ache of loneliness. Director Richard Laxton wisely lets his characters speak for themselves, allowing the audience to decide—in turn—whether or not the love that “dare not speak its name” can be as true and fulfilling as that proscribed by the moral majority.

Couples of all persuasions and determined loners will find much food for silent thought or animated discussion as their case may be. JWR

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Director - Richard Laxton
Producer - Amanda Jenks
Writer - Brian Fillis
Cinematography - Yaron Orbach
Costume Design - Joey Attawia
Editor - Peter Oliver
Original Music - Paul Englishby
Title song performed by - Sting
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