Tuesday, December 29, 2009
An Englishman in New York: Review. The perfection of a maquillaged frost box
So, where were we? Last century, John Hurt dramatised the extraordinary person of QC in The Naked Civil Servant; and last night he returned as QC in An Englishman in New York (ITV). Wrong title. It should have been "A Resident Alien in New York", but sadly Sting didn't whinny out those words. Hurt once again gave us a perfect impersonation of a garish, walking-talking refrigerator with a good line in pre-emptive strikes. Crisp's whole act was a self-contained riposte, not a reproach, but an absolute alternative to straightdom, made shiny and hard by aphorism. As QC himself might have said, if you repeat a line long enough, soon enough you'll be quoted.
At around the age of 73, now famous thanks largely to Hurt, Crisp allowed his heart to melt a little - for New York. The feeling was mutual. His uniqueness qualified him for resident alienship and so his fabled dust was permitted to accumulate in another grotty apartment. New York queerdom turned hostile when he described Aids as a passing fad. Slowly he was forgiven: but some damage was done: the Muscle Mary clones viewed him as a redundant old 80s queen: they demanded conformism from him just as they demanded empathy for nature's unconformism.
Perhaps Crisp was a stubborn old queen. But no one was going to tell this maquillaged frost box what to say or do. That's the thing about icons. They're petrified - as in hardened in our and their minds. Or husk acts. And this husk act wasn't about to admit he was wrong. He did however help an artist who was HIV+ find the deviant dollar. The heart did beat, by implication. A purple passage could be got through with a wordless lift of purple eye shadow.
Crisp had the paradoxical effect of taking the exotic out of queerdom by virtue of his singularity. No one, queer or not, was quite like Quent. In New York he soon encountered the dull, cat-loving queer straights who read the Sunday Supps over cappuccino, gazing on him as if he were a zombified early model consigned to history's dustbin.
Unlike them, he was much much wiser and funnier. And persistence was his watchword. And his person gave Hurt his masterpiece.