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Prick Up Your Ears
Let’s name-drop, shall we? A screenplay by legendary English playwright Alan Bennett. Based on a book by John Lahr (son of Bert, The Cowardly Lion). A supporting cast that includes Vanessa Redgrave, Wallace Shawn and Julie Walters. And two stars at the center who were utterly sublime — Gary Oldman and Alfred Molina. In the coyly named Prick Up Your Ears, Oldman does an about-face from his starring debut a year earlier as Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy, and shows the world his extraordinary acting prowess. His turn as playwright Joe Orton, the young British farce-master whose works still bring roars to this day, is a performance steeped in the giddy joys personal self-discovery, both of one’s talent and sexuality. But it’s Molina’s superb, bracing portrayal of Kenneth Halliwell, Orton’s deeply jealous partner, that transports the film to a disturbing, tragically resonant realm. The facts are well-known — Halliwell killed Orton in a fit of rage and then committed suicide. And the way in which Frears — and Oldman and Molina — get there is movie storytelling at its finest. Prick Up Your Ears deals, tangentially, with issues pertinent to 1960s England, in which homosexuality was still considered an aberration. But it’s less a political drama than the true story of a same-sex relationship gone terribly, terribly wrong, tragically robbing the theater world of one of its greatest up-and-coming talents. –RS
Looking for simple plot and sympathetic characters? Keep looking. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a surreal fever-dream in the form of an avant-garde homoerotic tableau, Querelle, directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder from a novel by Jean Genet, is the film for you. Maybe you’ve seen the poster of the Brad Davis leaning against a sort of stone turret in the unmistakable form of a phallus. You might think you’re diving into some stylish porn. Instead, you get a meandering tale that has the sublime Jeanne Moreau, as brothel owner Lysiane, deadpanning a little tune, ”Each man kills the thing he loves,” dada-da, dada-da. You also get leathermen and construction workers, but none who can hold a candle to the breathtaking Davis, decked out as a simultaneously tough and adorable Belgian sailor, wife-beater undershirt meets pom-pom-topped sailor’s beret. While Davis got the spotlight in Midnight Express, wherein he declines some friendly man-on-man action, his Querelle is not at all inclined to decline. The tragic fiction breaks the fourth wall with heartbreaking reality: By the time of its release, Fassbinder had died of an overdose. Three years later, Davis learned he was infected with HIV, opting for assisted suicide in 1991. –WOB
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