The Orton Diaries by Joe Orton ed. J. Lahr

TODSo that’s what happens when you fail the 11+ (Orton) and your father commits suicide (Halliwell).

Orton’s mother: was always in search of some indication of status: Players not Woodbines, ham not Spam, opera not Gilbert and Sullivan. She wanted the best; but she had been short-changed in life. Her family had no money, no education, no prospects.

I’d forgotten how much prudery there was back in 1967.

Orton was very well-read – Henry Fielding, for example. He may have been a self-made man or a Halliwell-made man but he was erudite.

Halliwell’s suicide note was placed directly on top of the diaries, directing police to them as an explanation for the bludgeoning and his own suicide. Prophetically: Long, neurotic argument. Kenneth said, ‘You’re turning into a real bully, do you know that? You’d better be careful. You’ll get your deserts!’

Some of our group found it slow to get going.

They wondered whether it was written with posterity in mind.

Orton seems cold to people;’ a sopcioath who observed detachment in order to observe people and write about them.

I didn’t like the section on Tangiers – too much sex, much of it underage. Also, one time he says that sex for 45 minutes is too athletic, the next he says he enjoyed it. Later, he manages a whole hour.

I had to look up ‘tuft-hunter’ = one that seeks association with persons of title or high social status,  snob

Also kif = A loose or powdered form of cannabis resin used especially for smoking; The euphoria caused by smoking kif. [Colloquial Arabic kēf, from Arabic kayf, kef, condition, pleasure, opiate.]


Orton had rejected the world of conventional work, conventional sex, and conventional wisdom. He was an iconoclast who believed there was no sense being a rebel without applause.

To Orton, indiscretion as the better part of valour. ‘

Orton despised the bogus propriety — the ‘verbal asterisks’ ­with which public figures doctored the picture of their life. ‘It’s extraordinary,’ he complained to Peggy Ramsay, ‘how, as people grow older and they have less to lose by telling the truth, they grow more discreet, not less.”

Orton’s plays caught the era’s psychopathic mood, that restless, ruthless pursuit of sensation whose manic frivolity announced a refusal to suffer.

In farce, Orton found a way of turning his aggression into glory. ‘To be destructive,’ he wrote, ‘words have to be irrefutable.’ And Orton’s hard-won epigrammatic style achieved just that: ‘With madness as with vomit, it is the passer-by who receives the inconvenience.’

The landscape of Orton’s London is bleak: a soiled world of loss, isolation, ignorance, and bright decline. ‘I’m a believer in Original Sin,’ Orton said. ‘I find people profoundly bad and irresistibly funny.’ Public lavatories were often the setting where his point was proved most outrageously. ‘No more than two feet away,’ Orton writes in the diaries, as seven men grope each other, including him, in a loo, ‘the citizens of Holloway moved about their ordinary business.’

Usual messages from the heads of the establishment. The Queen from Windsor. the Pope from Rome: Pilate and Caiaphas celebrating the birth of Christ.

He had a very tight arse. A Catholic upbringing, I expect.

Kenneth Williams (1926— ). Popular comedian and actor. Played Truscott in the original production of Loot. A good friend of Orton’s and Halliwell’s. ‘What is heart? If we’re talking about compassion and sympathy, I’d say Joe had it. He showed tremendous loyalty to Halliwell. He showed it to me. I went to Joe Orton when I was suicidally depressed about my unshared life, my living alone. When I got to the flat, Halliwell answered the door. He hadn’t got his toupe on and this great boiled egg answered the door. “Yes,” he said, in a prissy voice. And I said “Hello.” “Joe isn’t here,” he said. And I said “Well, I’ll come and see you.” “But he’s not here. You don’t want to see me,” Halliwell said. His terrible inferiority always came to the surface. He always believed he was only wanted because Joe was wanted. “Nonsense,” I said. “I’d love to see you. And I can smell something cooking.” “Oh, it’s a bit of haddock I’m doing for him.” “I love haddock,” I said and walked into the kitchen. He said, “There’s only enough for two.” “Rubbish,” I said, “Split the two bits and put an egg on top. We’ll have it!” I sat down in the kitchen. There were only two stools — everything was arranged for two in that flat. Two easy-chairs and two stools. Then Joe came in. He said, “What made you come up here?” I said I was at a loose end. Then I dropped my facade. Up to that point I’d been brittle and arch with Halliwell because I sensed his inwardness and his desire not to talk. Joe said, “Anytime you feel like this always come here …” He made me talk. He was the most marvellous counsellor. He actually got the adrenalin going, forced the pendulum, which had almost stopped, to swing again. He was a great activator . . .”

‘How your moustache has grown in the past few days. It must be the excitement’),

the general public are, where plays are concerned, ignorant shits.

Peggy Ramsay to John Lahr, 29 May 197o: `Joe’s extraordinary charm captured everyone, whereas Kenneth’s rather brittle, sharp manner didn’t. Certainly Kenneth improved when he began wearing a wig. He was quite bald, and was very ashamed of his baldness, and kept his hat on ev erywhere including the theatre. The first money Joe earned was spent on a couple of wigs for Kenneth, and he chose a style with a rather endearing forelock. I think that by looking at himself in a mirror and seeing someone rather charming and sincere, it actually altered his person, and he became rather charming and sincere, so that indeed I quite forgot my first alarmed reaction to his personality.’

Dreary day. Watched The Outlato, a boring film, on TV. Made in the h Hollywood. Pornography with the pornography left out. And pretentious Went for a long walk — about three miles — and came back to watch rubbishy film on TV, this time Hollywood in decline. Made, I’d guess, mid-fifties. 23 Paces to Baker Street. Van Johnson as a blind playwright pretention. This was soap opera with the soap left out.

Outside main building was a group of stuffy, tight-arsed English and American  men. ‘I’ve never been here before,’ I said to one of them. ‘Can you give name of a good hotel?’ He looked at me in a pondering sort of way. I expected. him to turn on his heel and walk away. At last he said, ‘Haven’t you reservation?’ No,’ I said. ‘Well, you may find it rather difficult to get into a hotel. This brought me up sharp. I caught a glimpse of Kenneth’s face 1 though he’d been pole-axed. ‘It is difficult then?’ I said. ‘Yes,’ the man said the Libya Palace. And if you can’t get in there I’d go to the Delm shuffled away, uneasy; as though not wishing to be associated with such people.

The shower was in the lavatory and so, as I later discover wasn’t possible to use the lavatory after a shower because the shower saturated the lavatory pan and reduced the toilet paper to a pulp.

A few depressed and aged Libyans were seen at intervals under trees. It was altogether like a balmy night in Hull or Birkenhead.

I took the Piccadilly line to Holloway Road and popped into a little pissoir – just four pissers. It was dark because somone had taken the bulb away. There were three figures pissing. I had a piss and, as my eyes became used to the gloom, I saw that only one of the figures was worth having – a labouring type with cropped hair and, with cropped hair, wearing jeans and a dark short coat. Another man entered and the man next to the labourer moved away, not out of the place altogether, but back against the wall. The new man had a pee and left the place and, before the man against the wall could return to his place, I nipped in sharpish and stood next to the labourer. I put my hand down and felt his cock, he immediatley started to play with mine. The youngish man with fair hair, standing back against the wall, went into the vacant place. I unbuttoned the top of my jeans and unloosened my belt in order to allow the labourer free rein with my balls. The man next to me began to feel my bum. At this point a fifth man entered. Nobody moved. It was dark. Just a little light spilled into the place from the street, not enough to see immediately. The man next to me moved back to allow the fifth man to piss. But the fifth man very quickly flashed his cock and the man next to me returned to my side, lifting up my coat and shoving his hand down the back of my trousers. The fifth man kept puffing on a cigarette and, by the glowing end, watching. A sixth man came into the pissoir. As it was so dark nobody bothered to move. After an interval (during which the fifth man watched me feel the labourer, the labourer stroked my cock, and the man beside me pulled my jeans down even further) I noticed that the sixth man was kneeling down beside the youngish man with fair hair and sucking his cock. A seventh man came in, but by now nobody cared. The number of people in the place was so large that detection was quite impossible. And anyway, as soon became apparent when the seventh man stuck his head down on a level with my fly, he wanted a cock in his mouth too. For some moments nothing happened. Then an eighth man, bearded and stocky, came in. He pushed the sixth man roughly away from the fair-haired man and quickly sucked the fair-headed man off. The man beside me had pulled my jeans down over my buttocks and was trying to push his prick between my legs. The fair-haired man, having been sucked off, hastily left the place. The bearded man came over and nudged away the seventh man from me and, opening my fly, began sucking me like a maniac. The labourer, getting very excited by my feeling his cock with both hands, suddenly glued his mouth to mine. The little pissoir under the bridge had become the scene of a frenzied homosexual saturnalia. No more than two feet away the citizens of Holloway moved about their ordinary business. I came, squirting into the bearded man’s mouth, and quickly pulled up my jeans. As I was about to leave, I heard the bearded man hissing quietly, ‘I suck people off! Who wants his cock sucked?’ When I left, the labourer was just shoving his cock into the man’s mouth to keep him quiet. I caught the bus home.
I told Kenneth who said, ‘It sounds as though eightpence and a bus down the Holloway Road was more interesting than £200 and a plane to Tripoli.’

there was a bunch of poor queens at the bar. The air was hot with sibilants

Sexually he really horrible mess. He mentions “guilt” a lot in conversation. ‘Well, of course, always a certain amount of guilt attached to homosexuality.’ For him, pc too much. ‘I never feel guilty whatever I do,’ I said. ‘Why should you?’ 1 no answer to this and it would be futile to attempt to find one. Kenneth W. able to have sex properly with man or woman. His only outlet is exhibiting extremely funny personality in front of an audience and when he isn’t he’s a very sad man indeed…..He talks a lot about a friend of his who committed suicide. ‘ ‘They gave her the choice of gaol or a mental home. She chose the mental home. “Well,” she said, “there’s all the lovely mental cock. I’ll be sucking all the nurses off. I’m sure it’ll be very gay.”‘ Kenneth said this man went into the mental home and was given some kind of treatment ‘to stop her thinking like a queen.’ The man apparently was very depressed after this and committed suicide. Kenneth then spoke of all the people he’d known killed themselves. Someone threw himself from a high window and died ambulance in agony. His father, I believe, swallowed disinfectant. He told stories in a way which made them funny, but it was clear that he thinks death constantly. He is afraid also of being alone. When I mentioned that mind being on my own, in fact I liked wandering about by myself, he she and said, ‘Can’t stand it. Can’t abide being alone.’

The trouble with at these middle- and upper-class idiots,’ Kenneth H. said, ‘is that all their paltry lives they’ve been insulated against the opinions of other people by the thick wads of money surrounding them. Nobody ever says to them “You’re a fool.” Boring, nutty, fatuous ex-public school layabouts.’ They also imagine that anyone the working classes is automatically going to accept their old buck on any subject. I hope they’re sadly disillusioned in my case.

scratch a liberal and you’ll always find a fascist bleeding

Tom told a joke which I thought was funny. A little boy arrived at school a new watch. His friend said, ‘Where did you get that?’ It was a present,’ boy said. ‘Is it your birthday?’ his friend said. ‘No,’ the boy said. ‘Well, why mere you given it then?’ the friend said. Eventually the friend persuaded the boy te tell him. ‘I woke up the other night and wanted a drink of water,’ the boy said,

I went into Mummy’s room. When I got there I saw Dad on top of Mum wing up and down. They told me to go back to bed. And in a bit Dad came ageD my room and said I mustn’t tell anybody what I’d seen. He said if I promised not to say anything he’d buy me a wristwatch.’ The other boy thought about this Mai he decided that he wanted a present as well. So the next night he waited “rail his Mum and Dad had gone to bed and after a bit he went into their room. His Dad was on top of his Mum and jigging up and down. When she saw the boy its Dad said, ‘What do you want?’ I want a watch!’ the boy said. ‘Well, close the fucking door then and sit down,’ the boy’s Dad said.

A large bank balance in a gathering of queers is as popular as a large prick.

Nigel came round and borrowed A Case of Human Bondage. I haven’t finished reading it yet. I find it a book, although difficult to put down, easy not to pick up.

Nobody around to pick up. Only a lot of disgusting old men. I shall be a disgusting old man myself one day, I thought, mournfully. Only I have high hopes of dying in my prime.

‘Joe sneered at the horus. It was a genuine wood-carved Egyptian bird placed on graves and intended to take souls to heaven. It’s a form of Egyptian god. One is either superstitious or one isn’t. I didn’t think he should have laughed at it. Joe died within two weeks of that.’

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Prick Up Your Ears – J. Lahr

PUYE 2(We have not discussed this in the group but I rereasd this play in preparation for our November 2015 meeting when we shall be discussing Orton’s diaries and this review is in a personal capacity.)

In his teens, Orton is befriended by the older, more reserved Kenneth Halliwell, and while the two begin a relationship, it’s fairly obvious that it’s not all about sex. Orton loves the dangers of bath-houses and liaisons in public restrooms; Halliwell, not as charming or attractive as Orton, doesn’t fare so well in those environs. While both long to become writers, it is Orton who achieves fame – his plays “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” and “Loot” become huge hits in London of the sixties, and he’s even commissioned to write a screenplay for the Beatles.

As Orton’s fame skyrocketed, Halliwell never achieves much of anything and this causes friction in the relationship. The years of Orton’s sexual promiscuity in bathhouses, his fame, and Halliwells shortcomings come to a head one night for him when Orton says he wants to leave him. This pushes Halliwell over the edge and leads to the demise of both of them.

Lahr chronicles Orton’s working-class childhood and stage struck adolescence, the scandals and disasters of his early professional years, and the brief, glittering success of his blistering comedies,

Joe Orton’s plays scandalised and delighted the public. The indecisive loyalty to a friend caused his tragic and untimely death. ‘I have high hopes of dying in my prime,’ Joe Orton confided to his diary in July, 1967. Less than one month later, Britain’s most promising comic playwright was murdered by his lover in the London flat they had shared for fifteen years.

I wasn’t aware, until very recently, that the title was an anagram – ‘ears’ = ‘arse’.


I lived in a normal family. I had no love for my father. Joe Orton, What the Butler Saw

Joe Orton: I always wanted to be an orphan. I could have, if it wasn’t for my parents.

Kenneth Halliwell: I can’t remember when you last touched my cock. Well, I can actually. It was about two years ago. Only I can’t remember the actual date. Pity. I could have put it in my diary. “The last time Joe touched my cock. Grouse shooting begins”

Kenneth Halliwell: I just want to go to the awards! I could! Look, “Joe Orton and guest.” I’d behave. I wouldn’t say a word, I promise.

Joe Orton: No.

Kenneth Halliwell: Why?

Joe Orton: Because it’s for me. I wrote it.

Kenneth Halliwell: I gave you the title.

Joe Orton: Okay, so when they have awards for titles, you can go to that.

PUYEPeggy Ramsay: Prison gives a writer credentials.

John Lahr: Everyone else, it takes them away.

Kenneth Halliwell: The whole point about irrational behaviour is that it IS irrational!

Kenneth Halliwell: Can you spell?

Joe Orton: Yes, but not accurately.

Leonie Orton: [Mingling Joe’s and Ken’s ashes] I think I’m putting in more of Joe than I am of Kenneth.

Peggy Ramsay: It’s a gesture dear, not a recipe.

Kenneth Halliwell: Do you want the sardines with the rice pudding or separate?

Joe Orton: With.

Kenneth Halliwell: [preparing to dictate an offensive letter] Seat yourself at our trusty Remington, John, and we shall piss on this person from a great height.

[Halliwell puts his hand on Orton’s leg. Orton brushes it off] Joe Orton: No. Have a wank.

Kenneth Halliwell: Have a wank? Have a wank? I can’t just have a wank. I need three days’ notice to have a wank. You can just stand there and do it. Me, it’s like organizing D-Day. Forces have to be assembled, magazines bought, the past dredged for some suitably unsavoury episode, the dog-eared thought of which can still produce a faint flicker of desire! Have a wank, it’d be easier to raise the Titanic.

Kenneth Halliwell: Cheap clothes suit you. It’s because you’re from the gutter.

Kenneth Halliwell: At least you can say you’ve sat in the same chair as T.S. Eliot.

Joe Orton: Yes, I’m never going to wipe my bum again.

Mrs. Sugden: Do you notice I’m limping? Spilled a hot drink down my dress. My vagina came up like a football.

Joe Orton: Some of these people are, well, having sexual intercourse.

Kenneth Halliwell: Fucking, you mean? Well, what do you expect? Many of them are from Australia.

Kenneth Halliwell: Writing, John, is one tenth inspiration, nine tenths…

Joe Orton: Masturbation!

Peggy Ramsay: Ken was the first wife. He did all the work and the waiting and then…

John Lahr: Well, first wives don’t usually beat their husbands’ heads in.

Peggy Ramsay: No. Though why I can’t think.

John Lahr: So what does that make you? The second wife?

Peggy Ramsay: Better than that, dear. The widow.

Joe Orton: [Ken and Joe are cruising a strange man] He’s built like a brick shithouse!

Kenneth Halliwell: He’s probably a policeman.

Joe Orton: I know, isn’t it wonderful?

Joe Orton: Have you been reading my diary?

Kenneth Halliwell: No.

Joe Orton: Why not? I would.

Peggy Ramsay: At moments of triumph, men can do without their wives… But sharing is what wives want.

Joe Orton: [accepting a drama award] My plays are about getting away with it, and the ones who get away with it are the guilty ones. It’s the innocents who get it in the neck. But that all seems pretty true to life to me. Not a fantasy at all. I’ve got away with it *so far* [hoisting trophy] and I’m going to go on.

Joe Orton: I think I’ll retire. Lick my wounds. Or have them licked for me.

[Orton is having his portrait painted, naked] Joe Orton: When I die I want people to say, ‘He was the most perfectly developed playwright of his day.’

[Paul McCartney is going to visit and Joe and Kenneth are tidying frantically] Kenneth Halliwell: This is what it must be like when one meets the Queen!

Joe Orton: Except when one meets the Queen one *generally* hasn’t threatened to shove one’s typewriter up her arse.

Counsil: [at Joe and Kenneth’s trial] This is the novel “Clouds of Witness” by the noted authoress Dorothy L. Sayers. Could you read what the accused have written on the flap of the jacket?

Policeman: “When little Betty McDree says that she has been interfered with, her mother at first laughs. It is only something the kiddy has picked up off the television. But when, on sorting through the laundry, Mrs McDree discovers that a new pair of Betty’s knickers are missing, she thinks again. Her mother takes little Betty to the police station and, to everyone’s surprise, the little girl identifies PC Brenda Coolidge as her attacker. A search is made of the Women’s Police Barracks. What is found there is a seven-inch phallus and a pair of knickers of the kind used by Betty. All looks black for kindly PC Coolidge. What can she do? This is one of the most enthralling stories ever written by Miss Sayers. Read this behind closed doors…” [He pauses, embarrassed] “… And have a good shit while you are reading.”

Joe Orton: I take it they [the Beatles] all sleep together…

Brian Epstein: They do NOT.

Joe Orton: But they’re all very pretty. I imagined they just had a good time… sang, smoked, fucked everything in sight including each other. I thought that was what success meant.

Anther’s Mother: [Translating the shorthand from Joe’s diary] Then went into mum’s bedroom and arranged the dressing table mirrors and had a lovely long slow, wink.

Anthea Lahr: Wink? Are you sure that’s an ‘I’?

Joe Orton: [Accepting the Evening Standard award] My plays are about getting away with it and the ones who get away with it are the guilty, it’s the innocents who get it in the neck. That all seems pretty true to life to me, not a fantasy at all. I’ve, got away with it so far, and I’m going to go on. Thank You.

Kenneth Halliwell: [yelling at Orton, who is deep in slumber] Joe! You do everything better than me! You even sleep better than me!

As he was leaving…he said, “Next time, can I bring my friend?”

And I thought, does he mean “friend”? Which was quite bold in those days.

It was the Dark Ages. Men and men. And they could still put you in prison for it.

And they did, dear.

Bollock naked?

No, keep your socks on.

London was still quite exciting then. Remember that? No, you wouldn’t.

You’re in good shape.

It’s the weights.

“And what sort of day have you had, Kenneth?”

Well, not unproductive, Joe, actually. I caught up on a big backlog of dusting.               Then I went down the road to replenish our stock of corn flakes. When I returned, I rinsed a selection of your soiled underclothes… by which time it was the hour of your scheduled return. When you failed to come, I redeemed the shining hour by cutting my toenails. What did you expect me to do? Shag the Dimplex? Actually, I just want to get out of this fucking room.

I’d better have my Valium now. Give us a couple.

His first taste of sex, or the first that he records… took place in a cinema lavatory in Leicester at the age of   .Joe says he came all down the man’s raincoat.

Mozart was dead by the time he was my age.

I’m not even young anymore.

What about me?

You never were.

I can’t see how we are ever going to make our mark…defacing library books.

You didn’t tell me one of them was a nancy.

I’m sorry, Mr. Cunliffe?

A homosexual. A shirtlifter.

Tell me about your father.

There’s nothing to tell. I was   …I came down one morning and found him with his head in the gas oven.

You called the ambulance, naturally?

Oh, eventually. I made a cup of tea first. He was quite plainly dead.

You weren’t fond of him.

Not particularly.

You’re fond of your roommate.
We’re everything to one another.
Sleep together, do you?

No..but we have sex.

Are you sure?


You don’t mean you want to have sex?

No, we do.

But your friend’s not like that, is he? He’s married, he’s got a child.

So you’re surprised, are you?

Not really.

This may come as a shock to you…but I suspect your friend…may be homosexual.

Jesus! And there I am, sleeping in the same room with him.

You mentioned your wife. Where is she now?

The last I heard, she’d taken the kid to Lyme Regis.

Try and team up with them again. Make a fresh start.

Not too Spartan, is it?

On the contrary, a room of one’s own. Prison gives a writer credentials. Everyone else, it takes them away.

It was the first time in   years they’d been split up.

Having it sucked regularly is turning you back into a human being.

Kenneth Halliwell: At least you can say you’ve sat in the same chair as T.S. Eliot.

Joe Orton: Yes, I’m never going to wipe my bum again.

Joe Orton: Some of these people are, well, having sexual intercourse.

Kenneth Halliwell:
Fucking, you mean? Well, what do you expect? Many of them are from Australia.

Peggy Ramsay: Ken was the first wife. He did all the work and the waiting and then…

John Lahr: Well, first wives don’t usually beat their husbands’ heads in.

Peggy Ramsay: No. Though why I can’t think.

John Lahr: So what does that make you? The second wife?

Peggy Ramsay: Better than that, dear. The widow.

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Behind the Candelabra

BTC 2We’ve been trying out film nights at the request of some members.

We thought that both Liberace and Scott were damaged.

Before Elvis, before Elton John, Madonna and Lady Gaga, there was Liberace: virtuoso pianist, outrageous entertainer and flamboyant star of stage and television. A name synonymous with showmanship, extravagance and candelabras, he was a world-renowned performer with a flair that endeared him to his audiences and created a loyal fan base spanning his 40-year career. Liberace lived lavishly and embraced a lifestyle of excess both on and off stage. In summer 1977, handsome young stranger Scott Thorson walked into his dressing room and, despite their age difference and seemingly different worlds, the two embarked on a secretive five-year love affair. This film takes a behind-the-scenes look at their tempestuous relationship – from their first meeting backstage at the Las Vegas Hilton to their bitter and public break-up

It takes us from the couple’s ecstatic first meeting backstage in Las Vegas in 1976, right through to Scott having to be ejected, with zero dignity, from his kept-man apartment some years later.

Scott confides in Liberace that he is bisexual because he is also attracted to women. Liberace is sympathetic, informing him that he wanted and tried to love women, but was exclusively attracted to men. He relates a story of a “divine healing” in which a “messenger” informed him that God still loved him.

In 1980, Liberace’s mother, whom he always adored, dies and he holds a funeral. Scott is troubled by Liberace’s lack of grief over his mother’s death by claiming that he is “finally free.”

Thorson’s increasing drug abuse and Liberace’s interest in younger men, including dancer Cary James, creates a rift that ultimately destroys their relationship. When Liberace begins visiting pornographic peep shows and suggests that they each see other people, Thorson becomes upset. Thorson retains an attorney to seek his financial share of the property by suing Liberace for over $100,000,000 in palimony. As a result, Liberace ends their formal partnership and involves himself with his most recent, and much younger, “assistant”. In 1984, Thorson’s palimony lawsuit starts where he gives details about his five-year romance with the entertainer, while Liberace flatly denies any sexual relationship.

A little later, Thorson receives a phone call from Liberace telling him that he is very sick with what is later revealed to be AIDS and that he would like Thorson to visit him again. Thorson agrees and drives to Liberace’s retreat house in Palm Springs, where he and Liberace have one last, emotional conversation. Liberace dies a few months later in February 1987. Thorson attends Liberace’s funeral, in which he imagines seeing Liberace performing one last time with his traditional flamboyance, before being lifted to Heaven with a stage harness.

Camp and kitsch, locked in a preposterously furnished palace-cum-prison which is like an anti-gravity capsule where they float around in their own neuroses and dependencies. The fat gold rings he wears around almost every finger form an interesting currency in Liberace’s dysfunctional world: he challenges the audience to admit he can play brilliantly despite this chunky jewellery; he loves giving rings to his conquests, who they hang on to them as a form of capital. One disgraced ex-lover is forced to hand his back.

The candelabra conceals nothing, in the literal sense – unlike Liberace’s wig. The great man doesn’t have secrets from us, the audience.

At the funeral Mass at the film’s end, the congregation’s response to the priest’s opening liturgical greeting “The Lord be with You” is ..”and with your spirit”. This is a well known change made recently. The funeral takes place in 1987 where the liturgical response would still have been, “And also with you.”

Liberace: [Final love song] Why do I love you? I love you not only for what you are, But for what I am when I’m with you I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, But for what you are making of me. I love you for ignoring the possibilities of the fool in me, And for accepting the possibilities of the good in me. Why do I love you? I love you for closing your eyes to the discords in me, And for adding to the music in me by worshipful listening. I love you for helping me to construct of my life Not a tavern but a temple I love you because you have done so much to make me happy. You have done it without a word, without a touch, without a sign You have done it by just being yourself Perhaps after all, that is what love means And that is why I love you.

BTCLiberace: I have an eye for new and refreshing talent.

Scott Thorson: You have an eye for new and refreshing dick.

Scott Thorson: I’m bisexual.

Liberace: Well which half likes women? I haven’t met that half yet.

Liberace: I hate my life sometimes, I really do.

Scott Thorson: I can’t believe you’re so Catholic.

Liberace: Devout.

Liberace: What a story. It’s got everything but a fire at the orphanage.

Scott Thorson: [angrily eyeballing Cary James] There you are, you cock-sucking tenor fuck.

Scott Thorson: [on the phone] You scumbag piece of shit! Fairy! You fucking queen cocksucker! How dare you? How fucking dare you, Lee? I could kill you! I could fucking kill you!

Scott Thorson: Being somebody’s boyfriend, I didn’t picture my life like this. I wanted to be a veterinarian.

Liberace: You want to help animals? Pick up the dog shit.

Liberace: All of a sudden we’re sounding like a gay Lucy and Ricky. “Oh, Ricky, you wouldn’t fuck me up the ass if you loved me!”

Scott Thorson: Why am I the Lucy?

Liberace: Because I’m the bandleader with the nightclub act.

Liberace: [watching himself on TV] Oh my Christ, I look like my father! I look like my father in drag!

Liberace: I want to be everything to you, Scott. I want to be father, brother, lover, best friend.

Liberace: I love to give the people a good time.

Carlucci: Pig?

Scott Thorson: What?

Carlucci: Pig in a blanket, do you want a pig in a blanket?

Liberace: I don’t want to see you depressed. When you have a sad face, I get sad.

Liberace: [after Scott passes out at an adult video store] I’m not ready for apologies, OK?

Scott Thorson: Apology? Fuck you! You are a well known star! Are you out of your mind, going to a place like that? I mean, what if someone would have recognized you? What if they had gone to the press?

Liberace: When a London paper said I was gay, I took them to court, and I won that law suit. They retracted the story and they paid for it.

Scott Thorson: Only because they didn’t have a witness seeing you with a room full of dildos, with your dick hanging out of a glory hole! Are you out of your fucking mind?

Carlucci: [goes outside to deliver Scott some food] He made you a pesto panini.

Scott Thorson: Oh. Did you, uh… did you bring my Fresca? [Carlucci says nothing, looks disapprovingly at him] What?

Carlucci: [sighs] Here’s what’s gonna happen. You listening? You think you’re so hot and sexy with your hard ass and that bisexual bullshit. You know how many there have been? Bobby, Hans, Chase, oh and some country boy stripper who was so dumb, he wore his G-string backwards. He got rid of all of them, but I’m still here. And one day, Lee is gonna call Seymour and he’s gonna tell him to get rid of you.

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In the Name Of “W imie…” (original title)- Dir Malgorzata Szumowska

ITNOWe’ve been trying out film nights at the request of some members.

Adam knows that he desires men and that his embrace of the priesthood has been a flight from his own sexuality. When he meets Dynia; the strange and taciturn son of a simple rural family; Adam’s self-imposed abstinence becomes a heavy burden.

He has a special gift for helping troubled teenage boys, which his superiors value greatly. His homosexuality has never led to anything remotely inappropriate with a boy (or with a man, for that matter), but he is periodically transferred in order to keep even rumours from interfering with his very valuable ministry. Most recently he was moved from Warsaw to an isolated rural parish with a small work-home for boys on furlough from reformatories.

He works elbow to elbow with his even sterner lay assistant Michal, and there is no question about their earning the boys’ respect:  they command it. The wildness of the place is described in a tense opening scene showing how small children mercilessly torment a simple-minded youth. An atmosphere of danger and violence holds the whole film in thrall, and against this backdrop Father Adam’s personal drama emerges.

His first temptation comes, appropriately enough, from an attractive woman named Eve, Michal’s dissatisfied wife, who attempts to seduce him without success.  His witty reply (“I’m already taken”) seems to refer to his vow of celibacy, but gradually it becomes clear that he’s attracted not to women, but to the youths around him. One in particular strikes a chord, the strange, silent Lukasz whose long hair and beard give him the look of a teenage Jesus. In an eerie primeval scene in a vast cornfield, the priest and the boy play hide-and-seek, calling to each other with ape-like howls.  Rather than give in to his sexual longings, however, Adam returns to his old vice of drinking, which culminates in the film’s sole comic scene as he dances, dead drunk, to a pumped-up rock track, with a portrait of Pope Benedict XVI for a partner. Though there are not really that many ways such a tale could end, the screenplay keeps all options open until it settles on a dignified finale with a small-scale surprise.

In a village in rural Poland his work is with teenage boys with behavioural problems who are constantly fighting and shouting abuse. A local, bored housewife, the wife of Fr Adam’s co-worker, Michal, makes a play for him but he rejects her advances, stating that he is “already spoken for”, a reference no doubt to his vow of priestly celibacy. His eyes, however, are drawn to the Christ-like figure of Lukasz, known to his friends as Humpty, a strange, withdrawn and possibly autistic youth, the son of a local family, whom Adam resuscitates after the young man, who does not swim, gets into difficulties at a local lake. After this, the bloodied Lukasz turns to the priest for help after getting involved in a fight with other boys. In an obvious reference to depictions of the Pietá, the young man is seen draped across the lap of the priest after having had his wounds washed.

The appearance of a newcomer to the centre, Blondie, who passes knowing glances in the direction of Adam, is the catalyst for change. Not least because the priest finds him In flagrante delicto with another boy who previously had confessed that he had had oral sex with a youth at a party he attended while on a weekend pass  The penance recommended was that the young man should run for at least an hour every day, and to regard it is a form of prayer. Explaining perhaps why Fr Adam is seen several times throughout the film running in the local woods. He’s not training for a marathon but dealing with his demons. Blondie condemns the priest as an old faggot to a group of the boys and, in time, Michal comes to the same conclusion and secures an appointment with the local bishop.

Director Malgośka Szumowska and her co-writer/cinematographer Michal Englert eschew a sensational approach, with no interest in condemning their tortured protagonist as a criminal; “I’m not a pedophile, I’m a faggot,” he weeps in a confessional video chat with his sister. (They do hedge their bets by casting Kościukiewicz, an actor in his mid 20s who looks his age, as the object of infatuation.) While the setting and austere interiors are expressively grim, In the Name Of could have used more nervy scenes like the one where Adam, in the wake of discovering two students noisily fucking, goes on a vodka bender and dances furiously with a portrait of Pope Benedict. The brutish physicality of the teens, even before they begin to gossip about their minder’s sexuality, is germane to this man’s world, whether Adam is doing call-and-response ape grunts with Humpty in a cornfield, and even in the juvenilia of a weenie roast (one kid has to blurt, “My sausage is on fire!”). But the priest’s obsession with early-morning distance running as sublimation, and Szumowska’s too-frequent use of buzzing flies in the priest’s house as some kind of symbol of decay, contribute to an overwrought miserabilism that inhibits any larger social significance. Up to its final shot, which interpreted narrowly could feed malevolent theories about the priesthood as an all-but-official refuge for self-loathing gays, the film is almost as confused about the moral quandaries of its characters as they are.

A scene in which, after visiting the lake at Lukasz’s request for swimming lessons, the two of them pursue each other in a field of maize, playing ‘hide and seek’, while acting and sounding like chimpanzees, is a metaphor that continues to elude me. Not so the final scene where the camera focuses on a large building, a seminary, finally coming to rest on a group of becassocked seminarians. One of the seminarians turns from his companions to look straight at the camera; it is the face of Lukasz. So the cycle repeats itself, another lamb to the slaughter.

‘There is the spark of holiness in each of us’, says Father Adam.

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Imagine: Jeanette Winterson – My Monster and Me

imagineWinterson and Yentob toured the streets of her youth and she showed him how she used to curl up on the doorstep of her house on the many occasions Mrs Winterson threw her out for the night, and the kind of Mini she lived in when she was finally thrown out for good at 16 after Mrs Winterson’s attempts to exorcise Jeanette’s homosexuality had failed. Then they went on, as she did, to Oxford, with nothing to support her but the inwardly digested contents of Accrington public library and a passion for more freedom, more knowledge, more girlfriends, more everything – though her early training persisted among the dreaming spires and she still automatically hid her book under her pillow if anyone knocked at her study door.

I think that Jeanette is still not at peace with herself.

We have discussed her books here and here

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The Yacoubian Building

TYBThe film is quite faithful to the novel.

Hollywood Reporter says the film may “offer a revealing window into the secular world of a modern Islamic country — its indulgence in alcohol, sexual promiscuity, political corruption and personal betrayals. From such ‘deformities, the movie argues, Islamic fundamentalism gains its most passionate adherents.” But we can do better than this crude analysis. Moroccan-born ,western educated novelist Laila Lalani points out the book (and consequently the movie) is full of prejudices against gays, resembles the old “large-scale melodramas” produced by Egypt’s “huge film industry,” with their “young idealists, desirable ingénues, old predators, and so on,” and is crudely moralistic — with almost every character forced to make choices that “ultimately result in either their downfall or redemption.” It’s also full of heavy-handed emotional manipulation, cliff-hangers, and so on. Alaa Al Aswany is no Naguib Mahfouz. Aside from the prejudice against gays, we’re told that mixed marriages produce confused children, that all women love sex enormously, and so on. It’s important to realize that however engaging the film is and notable the actors are in the Egyptian film world, it’s made out of dross, not gold.
In the figure of the Yacoubian Building we can see the crumbling of the old order.  In a short prologue which begins the film, a voice-over narration explains how the Yacoubian Building serves as a monument to the old Egypt, an Egypt of European splendor and a polyglot, Levantine culture; an Egypt where the rich and poor mingled in a complex stew of imperial gloriousness and utter squalor, an Egypt of Jews, Europeans, Muslims, Copts, Greeks, Armenians and many others.

“Things are moving in the Arab world and people are becoming more and more aware of the importance and vitality of having freedom of expression, so cinema would definitely reflect this,” says Cherif el-Shoubashi, the head of Cairo’s International Film Festival.

Sadly, much has changed since he said that.

We discussed the book in May 2009

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The Line of Beauty

TLOBDepending on your point of view, this play shows the shallow nature of tory politics.

Nick Guest: I just think he’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever met.

Catherine Fedden: Darling, you don’t fall in love with somebody *because* they’re beautiful. People are lovely *because* we love them, not the other way round.

Catherine Fedden: You’re really very rich, aren’t you, Sir Maurice?

Sir Maurice Tipper: Yes. I am.

Catherine Fedden: How much have you got?

Sally Tipper: Oh, my dear, what a question. You can never exactly say, can you? It goes up so fast. All the time these days.

Catherine Fedden: Well, roughly.

Sir Maurice Tipper: Roughly… a-hundred-and-fifty million.

Catherine Fedden: A-hundred-and-fifty million pounds?

Sir Maurice Tipper: Give or take a few million, yes.

Catherine Fedden: I noticed you gave some money to the appeal at Podier Church.

Sally Tipper: We give to endless appeals and churches.

Catherine Fedden: How much did you give?

Sir Maurice Tipper: I don’t recall exactly.

Catherine Fedden: You gave five francs. That’s about 50p. *That’s* how much you gave.

Gerald Fedden: [arriving] What’s all this about?

Sir Maurice Tipper: This young lady was giving me some criticism. Apparently I’m rather mean.

Catherine Fedden: Oh, I didn’t say that.

Sally Tipper: You certainly implied it.

Catherine Fedden: All right, I did. And if I was in charge I think I should stop people from being able to have a-hundred-and-fifty million pounds.

Gerald Fedden: Just as well you’re not, then, Puss.

Nick Guest: Prime Minister, would you like to dance?

Mrs. Thatcher: Do you know, I would like that very much.

Nick Guest: I’m not at all sure they could manage without me.

Antoine “Wani” Ouradi: Christ they can’t! Don’t kid yourself, Nick. Haven’t you ever thought it’s the other way around?

[first lines] Nick Guest: Wow. Is this really where you live?

Toby Fedden: Yep, well, you know, where my parents live. What’s the matter, something wrong with it?

Nick Guest: No, it’s… it’s lovely.

Toby Fedden: Come on, then.

Sally Tipper: They’re going to have to learn, aren’t they? The homosexuals, I mean.

Nick Guest: Actually, we are learning to be safe. [silence] These days we use protection, and there are other things one can do: oral sex, for example, is much less dangerous.

Sally Tipper: …Kissing, you mean?

We discussed this in December 2013

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Angels in America

AIAThe film shows just how the stage directions were meant to be carried out and what the playwright envislaged – angels, the fiery ladder, and the visit to heaven.

It was subtitled A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.

It has multiple roles for several of the actors. Initially and primarily focusing on a gay couple in Manhattan, the play also has several other storylines, some of which occasionally intersect.

We discussed the script here

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My Night With Reg

MNWRA group of English gay men get together to reminisce. They are all coming from a wake for one of their circle who’s died of AIDS. It’s that terrifying time between the outbreak of AIDS and the development of an AIDS test and as the conversation unfolds it becomes apparent that each man there has had unprotected sex with the deceased.

The Guardian review said: The pivotal figure is Guy, a dogged loner whose cautious attitude to sex leads one character to observe, “You know he masturbates in Marigolds.” In the first scene, celebrating Guy’s flat-warming, we not only learn that he has long had an unspoken love for his old university chum, John: we also discover that the rootless John has been having a secret affair with Reg, the lover of another old mate from uni days, the flamboyant Daniel. But, in the two succeeding scenes, we find that the unseen Reg has been generous with his favours and has slept with just about everyone in Guy’s circle of gay friends. It is significant that John and Reg have been spotted going to see a fashionable French film, since I suspect Elyot’s play is an oblique homage to Eric Rohmer’s My Night With Maud.

A gay review said: It’s always scary to think back to the ’80s and how entire friendship groups watched as the brutal disease picked off each member one by one, yet it’s a timely reminder of how far we’ve come. Although the inhabitants of My Night With Reg never saw past their early 40s, we’re thankfully now at a stage where living with AIDS and HIV is becoming increasingly more comfortable. Watching with this awareness, however, doesn’t give the play a dated feel, because death, love and friendship play a part in everybody’s lives no matter their health status.

We discussed the book in March 2012

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