Friday, November 11, 2011

One A Week Reviews #45: The Naked Civil Servant

The Naked Civil Servant

I wonder if they didn't include the real Quentin Crisp introducing The Naked Civil Servant so the 1975 audience wouldn't completely dismiss the magnificent queen brilliantly embodied by John Hurt as a caricature. "Quentin Crsip," though was a role created and cultivated by Quentin Crsip, and it was he was an outsized, brilliant marvel. You'd never believe it if you didn't meet the real Crisp up front.

Sometimes, in a world that expects conformity, one must be the biggest, most exaggerated version of themselves that they could be. Crsip's autobiography shared his life, growing up a unique and very gay boy coming of age in England between two world wars. John Hurt is beyond brilliant in the role, not only does he inhabit the part fully, he's also absolutely lovely in drag. As Hurt has pretty much looked ravaged by time since 1977, seeing him so young and delicate is refreshing. Savoring every word of Crisp's bon mots - and he one seriously funny wit- and conveying the strength and dignity required for someone the whole world is against, Hurt's Crisp is like an exotic, hothouse flower in a cold, concrete garden. His armor was his flamboyance and, out and proud before the world knew you could be, he never let any small-minded... bullshit get in his way, and Crisp put up with a lot of it. His struggles and the cruelty of others are a good reminder to those of us, thanks to privilege and, frankly, physical stature don't get menaced by thugs and the judgmental every single time we walk out of the house. Admittedly, part of his survival mechanism is a certain... passivity that can be infuriating, but perhaps detachment was what it took to make it against those odds. He also seems to be the heart of his bohemian circle, and his fondness for those friends seems to be the primary relationships in his life.

(As Crisp himself might say: Don't fear, dear, everything after the break is fabulous)

The real Quentin Crisp.
He journeys from son of a wealthy family to street walker to teacher and, even, artist's model (though in doing a little homework the title seems inspired by Desmond Morris' The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Race while also referring to his nude posing days - and I find it genius). The sequence detailing his success with American GIs during WWII, being that I watched this less than a week after the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," actually sent me into peals of laughter. His scene in "the dock" is stirring and heartbreaking at the same time.

Crisp became a gay icon. More importantly, he was a strong, smart, unique realist who shared his story in universal terms who's autobiography and film - evidently both scandals there and abroad - in the end opened up eyes in the seventies and probably helped advance the acceptance of gay rights in England. Sometimes we forget how good we have it today, and the struggles of the men and women who created a world we can move in more easily through the sheer force of their will. It reminds me to honor that struggle.... and I'll start by watching An Englishman In New York, a sequel where John Hurt visits Crisp's later life that I never knew existed before a week ago.

Watch The Naked Civil Servant if you get the chance. It's a brilliant film and you can't help but fall in love with Quentin Crisp.

No comments:

Post a Comment