Wednesday, May 6, 2015

1987 Prick up Your Ears

Gary Oldman as Joe Orton in Prick Up Your Ears
Directed by Stephen Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette), Prick up Your Ears is a movie about real-life gay British playwright Joe Orton and his lover Kenneth Halliwell (based on the book by John Lahr).   In addition to great acting, the film won critical praise for presenting a complicated gay relationship set in the 1960s England, complete with Orton's unwillingness to acknowledge having a male lover.

This movie was very edgy in 1987 and is as much a period film about the late 1980's (when the movie was first released) as it is about the 1960's (when the action in the movie takes place).  1987 was during the era of AIDS and audiences who watched Prick up Your Ears were often afraid and uneasy about the topic of gay sex.  In England in 1987, the first specialist AIDS hospital ward was opened by Princess Diana.  The fact that she did not wear gloves when shaking hands with people with AIDS was widely reported in the press.  The context of what was happening in society back then is important when comparing the film to today.

This film is the story of the talented life and violent death of British playwright Joe Orton. "I have high hopes of dying in my prime," Joe Orton wrote in his diary in July, 1967.  Less than one month later, he had been murdered by his lover in the London flat that they had shared for 15 years.

In his teens, Orton becomes befriended by the older, less self-assured Kenneth.  Orton is attractive and daring and enjoys the risks of anonymous sex with strangers in public places.  Halliwell is less-desirable in the world of pick-up sex and much  more introverted than Orton.   Orton eventually achieves fame (his plays Entertaining Mr. Sloane and Loot) become hits in London.  He's commissioned to write a screenplay for the Beatles.  Kenneth resents the success of his lover and fears that their dysfunctional relationship may come to and end as Orton grows more and more popular and successful, outgrowing him. Despondent, Halliwell kills Orton and commits suicide.

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