An Englishman in New York
Dir: Richard Laxton
Cert: 15 • UK: 74 min • Momentum Pictures • DVD
It is widely believed that effeminate gay-icon Quentin Crisp was catapulted to fame at the ripe age of 67 with the television adaptation of his autobiography, The Naked Civil Servant. If anything the upcoming ITV1 sequel, An Englishman in New York, proves the original 1975 television movie was really just the beginning. It’s the perfect finale to a man that once said, “An autobiography is an obituary in serial form with the last installment missing.”
Explored to some extent in the brilliant documentary Resident Alien, also based on his novel, this is the story of Quentin’s move to the United States of America in 1981. Settling down in a humble flat in the Bowery section of New York City, he finds himself somewhat of a celebrity to mainstream pop-culture fanatics, and quickly develops some rough animosity in and amongst the gay community.
An Englishman in New York, which actually takes its name from the Sting song written about Crisp, doesn’t necessarily have the advantage of a direct narrative source as the original. Instead, this ambitious production, shot on location in New York, works more as a series of highlights from the man’s later years, based on fact of course, but every minute of it stranger-than-fiction. This is the infamous Quentin Crisp who somehow conned his way into a green card upon arrival, secured a gig as a film critic, jump-started an acting career that peeked with his portrayal of none other than Queen Elizabeth I herself in Orlando, and expanded upon his great talent as raconteur extraordinaire.
This is the story of a man loved and loathed, unpredictable but consistent, and so it’s completely unimaginable to cast anyone other than the talented John Hurt as Quentin Crisp. His performance in the first film earned him huge acclaim, including a BAFTA for Best Actor. Last barely–seen, and wasted, in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it’s not only a treat to see him revive the role that earned him almost as much attention as Crisp himself, but it’s stunning to see how easily he slips back into the persona.
Englishman is hardly a Quentin Crisp one-man-show. The supporting cast is outstanding—Swoosie Kurtz as an opportunistic off-Broadway agent, Denis O’Hare as Christopher Street magazine editor Philip Steele, and Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon as ‘80s performance artist Penny Arcade. But it’s the heartbreaking performance from Jonathan Tucker as groundbreaking gay artist Patrick Angus that becomes the sweet focus of the movie. Taking him under his wing, Crisp uses his celebrity status to help Angus land a show. The characters make an odd couple in their age difference and varied sexuality, but they share a common love/hate affair with loneliness.
The film succeeds best by giving us mostly highlights from the fish-out-of-water portion of the now-deceased man’s life. All of the controversy from his infamous AIDS comment (in which Crisp joked the disease was just a “fad” during one fateful off-Broadway performance) is fully explored. So too are the little tidbits about his life that just seemed too strange to be believed—a listed phone number that he welcomed people to call, his humble living conditions despite nothing short of wealth, his uncanny ability to inspire and alienate the gay community at the same time. For a short 75 minutes, thanks to his captivating reprisal performance, John Hurt brings Crisp back to life and center stage—an immortal tribute to a unique trailblaze
You’re a fucking poof. I’m going to smash your bloody face in!
You wish to make an appointment? I have some time on Tuesday afternoon if that is convenient for you…