Last night at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, the 33rd annual Frameline LGBT film festival kicked off to a packed house. The opening-night film -- An Englishman in New York , a sequel of sorts to The Naked Civil Servant -- this time follows Quentin Crisp in the later years of his life, after he had jumped the pond to Manhattan and become an American treasure, only later to become the scourge of the gay community for a time, following a remark he made about AIDS being a fad in the '80s.
Directed by Richard Laxton, the film stars John Hurt, reprising his role as Crisp. "When I was first approached about doing this film I said there is no other way of doing it unless John is involved," Laxton told me before the screening (as we were talking to comedian Jason Stuart, who suddenly got a phone call from Judy Tenuta). "I wouldn't have done it without him."
True, Hurt is quintessential Crisp and seems to have aged appropriately right along with the character since his risky debut of the role in '75's The Naked Civil Servant , the film about Crisp's life as a groundbreaking queer activist in London in the '30s and '40s. "That was a huge decision for Hurt at the time," Laxton told the crowd that stayed for the Q&A following. "It could have ended his career."
The film, which aired on British television and then in the United States, was a huge hit and an inspiration to a lot of gay people in the closet at the time to be who they wanted to be. Laxton's background as TV director serves him well and the film itself, from the music to the title cards, feels like it could have aired in the '70s where it starts off.
The film also stars Swoosie Kurtz as Crisp's agent, Dennis O'Hare as Crisp's best friend and publisher, Jonathan Tucker ( The Deep End ) as the young painter Patrick Angus who died of AIDS but whom Crisp helped to get his work sold, and Cynthia Nixon as the famous performance artist Penny Arcade. Though none of the cast was in attendance, Arcade was there in a skintight black dress and alligator platforms.
I asked her if Nixon had studied with her and she told me that she was not consulted in the making of the film or the character, a fact that seemed to be irksome to her. She also used the Q&A as a moment to point out that Laxton took liberties in changing the personalities of the real persons portrayed.
But all seemed well at the after party at a gallery space near the Bay Bridge where hundreds drank fruit-infused SKYY vodka and ate ribs, beans, and rice and loose-meat sandwiches while watching a Liza Minnelli impersonator. Many of the festival's directors were in attendance but little talent in this festival that seems to be more about substance than splash.
For tickets and more information, visit Frameline.org .
Unidentified guest, Jason Stuart, Corey Scholibo, and Alonso Duralde