Wednesday, January 03, 2018

One Chapter From My Education In Queer Cinema

Written by Shane Smith, Editor, Stonewall Gazette

Joe Orton (L) and Kenneth Halliwell (R)

Award-winning British playwright Joe Orton would have turned 85 years old on Jan 1. Sadly, his life was cut short by his lover Kenneth Halliwell. On August 9, 1967, Halliwell bludgeoned the 34-year-old Orton to death with a hammer then Halliwell later committed suicide by taking an overdose of Nembutal.

Peter McEnery shirtless in a scene from the film, Entertaining Mr Sloane

Joe Orton was one of the first gay playwrights I knew by name. As a young gay man in the 1980's I tried to learn all I could about queer culture.

Orton's hit play, Entertaining Mr Sloane, was adapted into film in 1970. Like The Boys in the Band it was a must see! The black comedy about a bisexual hustler had a solid cast: Beryl Reid, Harry Andrews, Peter McEnery and Alan Webb.

Besides the provocative subject matter one of the main draws was seeing actor Peter McEnery in his tighty whities! Back then it was rare to see men displayed as sex objects on the big screen.

I remember being disappointed in the movie and have no plans to see it again. I do appreciate it being part of the cultural landscape though very much. The play is still being performed and remains popular to this day.

Watch the trailer for Entertaining Mr Sloane

In 1987 Stephen Frears directed a biopic called Prick Up Your Ears and it covered the tumultuous relationship between Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell. The film featured two terrific up-and-coming actors, Gary Oldman as Orton, Alfred Molina as Halliwell.

The movie was generally well-received by critics. Prick Up Your Ears was yet another film that I made sure to see as part of my education about queer culture as depicted in cinema. I thought the performances were good. It was interesting to watch a gay couple presented on film. In Hollywood movies such relationships were almost unheard of at that time. Even today our love stories are rarely told. Two steps forward, one step back.

The other day The Gay Almanac did a biographical post about Joe Orton and I retweeted it to Stonewall Gazette readers. Regular reader, Louis Riehm referenced Prick Up Your Ears right away saying "The story of their relationship and its tragic ending is told in the film "Prick Up Your Ears" starring Gary Oldman and Alfred Molina as the lovers. I recommend it." And another reader Bill Spearhouse asked if I had ever seen it.

It's been such a long time since I had seen Prick Up Your Ears so I sought it out online and was pleasantly surprised to see it available on YouTube. You can view it below. Enjoy!

Tell me what you think about the film in the comments. Does it hold up?

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