Review: Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars by Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg

Newly discharged from the Marines after World War II, Scotty Bowers arrived in Hollywood in 1946. Young, charismatic, and strikingly handsome, he quickly caught the eye of many of the town’s stars and starlets. He began sleeping with some himself, and connecting others with his coterie of young, attractive, and sexually free-spirited friends. His own lovers included Edith Piaf, Spencer Tracy, Vivien Leigh, Cary Grant and the Duke of Windsor, and he arranged tricks or otherwise crossed paths with Tennessee Williams, Charles Laughton, Katharine Hepburn, Rita Hayworth, Errol Flynn, Gloria Swanson, Noël Coward, Mae West, William Holden, James Dean, Rock Hudson and J. Edgar Hoover, to name but a few.

“Full Service” is not only a fascinating chronicle of Hollywood’s sexual underground, it also exposes the hypocrisy of the major studios, who used actors to propagate a myth of a conformist, sexually innocent America knowing full well that their stars’ personal lives differed dramatically from this family-friendly mold. As revelation-filled as “Hollywood Babylon,” “Full Service” provides a lost chapter in the history of the sexual revolution and is a testament to a man who provided sex, support, and affection to countless people.

Review by Elliott Mackle

We knew that Randolph Scott and Cary Grant were housemates and longtime lovers. We knew that Tony Perkins and Tab Hunter were more than just close friends. And that the supposedly torrid romance between Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy was born in a Hollywood dream factory and acted out in the pages of fan magazines and gossip columns. In certain circles, the Duke of Windsor’s bisexuality seems to have been an open secret. Still, some parts of Scotty Bowers’ sizzling tell-all are pretty surprising. Here in the United States, especially on amazon.com, there seems to be an organized effort to one- and two-star the book to death—on literary as well as moralistic grounds. I couldn’t put it down.

Scotty Bowers spent his early years milking cows and tending livestock on the family farm in Illinois. Like many such youths, the facts of copulation and reproduction were to him simply facts of life, with no moral value attached. Although he noticed girls at an early age, and liked what he saw, his first sexual experiences were at the hands of a neighboring farmer, the father of schoolfellows, and he liked that, too. The pattern was set: sex was natural and necessary. Love was where you found it. His libido was high—three ejaculations a day was not uncommon in his twenties and thirties—and the handsome man he was to become was attractive to, and attracted by, men and women with exquisite taste (or memorable kinks) and the means to buy their own unfettered pleasure. Given the fame, variety and kindness of his partners, longtime sweethearts and wife, who could ask for anything more?

The opening is well crafted, with alternating chapters charting Bowers’ coming of age during the Great Depression and his experiences as a fighting Marine in the Pacific followed by almost immediate success as a stud-for-hire and date-arranger in the City of Angels.

After the farm was lost and the family moved to Joliet and then Chicago, Scotty followed an undercover but believable track of shining shoes (and accommodating the men who wore them), delivering papers (same scenario) and allowing pedophile priests to use his pre-adolescent body. His turf in California was a Richfield Oil station on Hollywood Boulevard near several major studios. One day, after he’d pumped gas into a very expensive auto at another station, the customer, a man with an unforgettable voice, tipped him twenty dollars extra and asked what he was doing for the rest of the day. Although Bowers had had sex with men in and out of the military service, and at that time lived with a woman and their daughter, this was his first paid trick with a male. His arrangement with the driver, married film star Walter Pigeon, was ultimately long- term and satisfactory on both sides, though hardly unique.

Scotty arranged to work the evening shift at Richfield. The station became a hangout for his ex-Marine friends, their girlfriends and buddies. Many of these attractive young people were long on time and short on cash. Scotty kept a little black book detailing who might be available for what sort of activity. Word got around. Tricks were arranged by phone as well as in person.  Scotty might tell an inexperienced customer the going price for what he or she required but he declares again and again that his was not a prostitution ring. He never took a fee or cut. He was merely the middle man for private transactions involving sex and money.

Although Bowers had enjoyed name-brand companionship during wartime shore-leaves (playmates Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, platonic pal Marion Davies), his numbers soared postwar. “Professionally married” composer, Cole Porter, for instance, had no hesitation in phoning Bowers to ask that he bring over three or four or seven or eight Marines to be serviced orally. Bowers became a confidante of the insecure Porter as well as a regular sex partner.

And so on, including George Cukor, ex-Marine buddy Tyrone Power, Edith Piaf, Raymond Burr, Vincent Price, Vivien Leigh (while husband Laurence Olivier was busy with call boys), Alfred Kinsey (as an observer) and visiting notables, including both Windsors. No need here to mention every trick, affair and arrangement. Or to assume that an old man’s memory is faultless and every word literally true.

Probably the memoir’s juiciest section concerns the Tracy-Hepburn ménage conducted in a cottage on director George Cukor’s estate. Although Bowers was a source for William J. Mann’s “Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn,” his own report on the so-called affair is more detailed and less nuanced than Mann’s. In short, according to Bowers, Hepburn was a full-time lesbian who called on him to provide younger, smaller, darker girls for her amusement whereas the married Tracy regularly summoned Scotty to help steel himself into the sort of drunken insensibility that allows closeted or bisexual men to claim that they “don’t remember a thing” the next morning. Oddly enough, Tracy is an exception to Bowers’ routine detailing of the whats, whys and hows of most of the stars’ preferences and peccadillos. “Nibbling on my foreskin” and “a damn good lover” are about as graphic as it gets. I’m guessing that Tracy was so habitually drunk that he was usually unable to either perform or fully enjoy Bowers’ considerable skills.

What’s not mentioned is almost as interesting as what is. Bowers eventually moved on from pumping gas to full-time bartending, catering, tricking with and liaison-arranging for Hollywood royalty. As far as I can tell, his career was entirely private and his sensibilities resolutely lower middle class. There is little or no mention of dining or meeting friends at such hallowed Hollywood hot spots as the Polo Lounge or the Brown Derby. Bowers doesn’t explain but my guess is that the managers of such high profile watering holes considered him persona non grata.

No matter. For us, the eighty-nine-year-old and his spicy memories are welcome guests. Would that all of us—and our favorite literary characters—could lead such a charmed, erotically charged and romantic life.

Buy:  Amazon UK | Amazon USA | TLA Video&books

Film Review: Victor/Victoria dir. Blake Edwards

In 1934 Paris, trained coloratura soprano Victoria Grant, a native Brit, can’t get a job as a singer and is having trouble making ends meet. She doesn’t even have enough money for the basics of food and shelter. Gay cabaret singer Carole ‘Toddy’ Todd may befall the same fate as Victoria as he was just fired from his singing gig at a second rate club named Chez Lui. To solve both their problems, Toddy comes up with what he considers an inspired idea: with Toddy as her manager, Victoria, pretending to be a man, get a job singing as a female impersonator. If they pull this scheme off, Toddy vows Victoria, as her male alter ego, will be the toast of Paris and as such be extremely wealthy…

Review by Erastes

I dare say there are few people reading this blog who haven’t already seen this film, but if you haven’t, get it on Netflix, rent a copy, or simply pop on over to Youtube and seek it out because you’ve missed out on a real treat.

I first saw this film years ago, after it had just been released on video, in about 1984. I didn’t have any interest (or so I thought) in gay fiction, gay history, at the time but I loved the film to pieces for its sheer ebullience and camposity.

It’s very cleverly filmed, to my mind. Blake Edwards, having just directed “10” and “S.O.B” could probably have filmed the entire thing on location but he chose instead to build a mini portion of Paris as a set on the odd occasions that the characters have to be outside and dealt with the rest in restaurants, nightclubs and hotels. The sets he does build, though are gorgeous, dripping with Art Deco style and fixtures and fittings which would make any Art Deco fan’s mouth drool. Particularly Victor’s hotel bathroom.

The casting is bizarre but utterly inspired. Julie Andrews was still attempting to shake off Maria Von Trapp and had done so with some success in S.O.B. but I think that it was this film that gave her the space between Maria and the real world. She’s no character actor, that’s for sure, and she’ll always have the unmistakable and unique cut-glass spoken voice but it’s quite uncanny the way she can have her hair slicked back, put on a serious face, and even with more eyeshadow than Boots she’s suddenly a very attractive and androgynous youth.

I didn’t much fancy James Garner as King Marchand (I’d like to get hold of a copy of the 1995 made-for-TV-version which stars Andrews reprising her role but with Michael Nouri as Marchand to see what he makes of it. Garner played the bumbling Maverick and Rockford for too many years for me to find him convincing as a smouldering male romantic lead, but he does pretty well, and the confusion he’s feeling is managed perfectly with those Droopy-style eyebrows.

I wish he hadn’t found out conclusively that Victor was a woman before he decided to kiss her, but I can understand that for 1982 film audiences that would have been a kiss too far. It would have had the weight of “Nobody’s Perfect” that famous last line in “Some Like It Hot” if the studio had been brave enough to have Marchand say “I don’t care if you are a man” before he kisses Victor, whilst still being unsure as to whether he was or not.

The star of the show for me is Robert Preston who hams, camps and queens it up like the proverbial good ‘un, never seeming out of place or embarrassed but gleefully milking every joke and double-entendre for what they are worth. His final performance as Victor is a gem of film history and the giggling and general guffawing that is going on during it is–I’m sure–in no way faked. It really comes over as being a really fun day on the set.

Credit is also due to Lesley-Ann Warren who plays the dizzy blonde bombshell to a tee and a wonderful understated performance by Alex Karras as Marchand’s heavy.

Historically? Well, you have to take much of it with large handfuls of salt. Of course stage types and artistic types were–and are–often gay, but how outre Paris was about this at the time is probably exaggerated. Yes, there would have been clubs where men could go and dance together, but Toddy’s song “Gay Paree” is a bit of a puff even though what he describes is very true for the time. Gay was a word around from the early 20s, although more used for prostitutes of both the gay and straight persuasion. However, it’s a great song and we can forgive it for that.

It garnered a lot of attention, critically at the time, too. It had seven Oscar nominations, Andrews, Preston and Warren all being nominated but it “only” won one, that of Best Music. It did pick up a few Golden Globes and many other awards in 1983, though.

It’s a real feel-good film, with enough gentle humour and understated farce to make you giggle. Some of the humour is very slapstick, but in a Pink Panther kind of way–unsurprising as Edwards was responsible for the show and the films, too. Add to that outstanding performances by all concerned.  Don’t miss it. And if you have seen it, give yourself a treat and watch it again.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084865/

Film Review: Infamous

On November 16, 1959, Truman Capote reads about the murder of a Kansas family. There are no suspects. With Harper Lee, he visits the town: he wants to write about their response. First he must get locals to talk, then, after arrests, he must gain access to the prisoners. One talks constantly; the other, Perry Smith, says little. Capote is implacable, wanting the story, believing this book will establish a new form of reportage: he must figure out what Perry wants. Their relationship becomes something more than writer and character: Perry killed in cold blood, the state will execute him in cold blood; does Capote get his story through cold calculation, or is there a price for him to pay?

Director:

Douglas McGrath

Writers:

Douglas McGrath (screenplay), George Plimpton (book)

Stars:

Review by Erastes

A bit of an odd one, this–almost the exact same story had been released a year earlier with “Capote” – with a much higher profile and glittering prizes – Philip Seymour Hoffman received an Oscar for his performance in that particular film, and yet–having watched Toby Jones in this I think that this film does it better in just about every respect. and yes – that does include a great performance by Sandra Bullock.

I KNOW!!!!!!!!!!!

 

The story for those who missed Capote,and who haven’t read “In Cold Blood” starts in 1959 when Capote–a multi-published author, screenplay writer and considered to be the enfant terrible of the literati world of the time–catches a pretty small article in a paper talking of a mass slaying in Holcomb, a small town in Kansas. He persuades his newspaper editor to let him do an article on the case and sets off for Holcomb to interview the locals. However, as he is pretty outre, even for 1950’s New York, he’s jaw droppingly shocking to the good people of Holcomb and the story follows how he–and Nelle Harper Lee (beautifully underplayed by Bullock–I know!!!!) win over the townspeople and start getting them talking. The killers are apprehended and the story changes to Capote as he starts to interview the two young men and the relationship he forms with them.

Firstly, I adore Toby Jones. I loved him as Hogarth and more recently he did a lovely job of the man who Isherwood changed into Mr Norris in “Christopher and his Kind.” He picks projects that play to his strengths, and seeing how he’s short, a little pudgy and not blessed with chiselled features he’s found his niche and plays strongly to it.

He seems born to play Capote, and he did a wonderful job, even more swishy and unrepentant than Seymour Hoffman, and infinitable more likeable. As he flounces down the small-town street in bright canary yellow or wearing a red scarf bigger than him I can appreciate what a stir he must have caused.

I wonder why they made this film; considering the other being made at the same time–perhaps they were being made at exactly the same time, despite the fact they came out a year apart–perhaps this version with a much higher count of Big Names was expected to the one to make it big, but sadly that didn’t happen, and me thinking it deserves it more isn’t going to make any difference.

Aside from the fact that Capote was gay, and in a full-time relationship with Jack Dunphy, who he was with from 1948 until his death in 1984, the story line touches on the way that Capote interracted with the more reticent of the two killers: Perry Smith. Smith was not willing to speak to Capote–and unlike his partner in crime Dick Hickok, Capote paints him as educated, sensitive–once he’d decided to talk.

I liked the way that we are left in some doubt as to the veracity of the accounts given in the book–Capote’s behaviour with his New York socialite friends echoes the way he behaves in Holcomb. He says of the way he gets the NY set to open up and tell him everything, that he finds out what they want and then he gives it to them. Perry Smith seems to want a friend, and then, later, someone to love, and Capote gives him that. But did he mean any of it? or was it just a ruse to get his story?  I suppose we’ll never really know.

I should add here, that Perry is played amazingly by Daniel Craig–made up to lessen his attractiveness but he loses none of his power–the scenes between Capote and Perry are mesmerising.

Add to that that little matter of Bullock’s quiet and beautifully judged (I KNOW!!!) performance, and with guest spots from Weaver, Paltrow, Bridges and others–I think I can recommend this with knobs on.  It may not be a subject matter that will appeal, and there are one or two scenes pertaining to the murder that will disturb you (but then, In Cold Blood is a disturbing book, and the murders were appalling) but overrall, you should seek it out.

Film Review: Christopher and his Kind (BBC)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1651062/

 

(from imdb) In 1931 budding author Christopher Isherwood goes to Berlin at the invitation of his friend W. H. Auden for the gay sex that abounds in the city. Whilst working as an English teacher his housemates include bewigged old queen Gerald Hamilton and would-be actress Jean Ross,who sings tunelessly in a seedy cabaret club. They and others he meets get put into his stories. After a fling with sexy rent boy Caspar he falls for street sweeper Heinz,paying medical bills for the boy’s sickly mother, to the disapproval of her other son, Nazi Gerhardt. With Fascism rapidly rising Christopher returns to London with Heinz but is unable to prevent his return to Germany when his visa expires.

Review by Erastes

A visually beautiful film, which draws you into to the Berlin of the early 30’s, Christopher and his Kind is the dramatised version of the book of the same name which was not published until 1976. Becoming a figurehead for the growing gay movement, Isherwood reflects on his earlier life, particularly his relationships in Berlin and decides to add to the existing canon by writing Christopher and his Kind.

With immensely clever set direction and some CGI which did now and then show the join, it looks and feels like an immensely lavish production. There are all the familiar scenes we expect in a film like this in this era, steam from the trains billowing onto the platform, scary and omnious scenes with the Nazi flag flying from every building, book burning and the like. It’s cleverly done and you hardly notice that it’s actually done in small scale, but it looks like it’s done with a cast of thousands.

The cast is wonderful–Matt Smith could have overshadowed the piece with his performance, but he’s nicely tempered by the dour and slightly clingy WH Auden (Pip Carter), Isherwood’s domineering mother Kathleen (Lindsay Duncan) of whom Christopher takes no notice but has an more extreme effect on Isherwood’s younger brother Richard (Perry Millward) (who was also homosexual.)

Imogen Poots has large shoes to fill as Jean Ross (the woman who Isherwood immortalised into the unforgettable Sally Bowles) and here she is much more like her actual incarnation. Many American viewers will probably be surprised not to find Bowles is American!  Poots does a grand job, from her chewed green lacquered fingernails to her brittle strength to her not-brilliant singing ability! There’s a marvellously campy performance by Toby Jones as Gerald Hamilton (the inspiration for Mr Norris in the books) who double-entendres his way through his first meeting with Isherwood and enjoys every perverted pleasure Berlin can throw at him.

Of course, only having an hour and a half to play with, there’s a lot condensed here, and some people might say that there’s not enough time  spent on the political situation and it’s top heavy with the gay scene and gay sex, but that’s rather the point of the book. Isherwood wanted to show the reasons he went to Berlin, and he gives those reasons very succinctly at the top of the film:

It’s 40 years since I first wrote about my time in Berlin, and the book I’m now writing is perhaps an attempt to set the record straight, well,as straight as it’s possible to be. I destroyed my Berlin diaries you see, so have had to rely a good deal on memory. As to why  I went in the first placy, my friend Wystan Auden was there and encouraged me to join him. I could say that I went there because of what was happening politically, but in fact I went because of the boys. To me, Berlin meant boys

Smith, in recent interviews–and very sensibly–has said that he wanted to show that he’s not just The Doctor and he does that in spades in this film. I don’t think anyone was in doubt of his talent, but here he really drives home that he’s an old soul in a very young body. He absolutely convinces as the rather remote Isherwood, who says in an interview with the Jewish Landau, that he has his sympathies but he finds it hard to work himself up to the pitch required to “do something” about what’s happening in the city.  “I rather suspect I’m best equipped to observe and record.”

This is certainly borne out by Isherwood’s prescence in the city. He seems to glide along on the surface and never really engages with the maelstrom. I don’t criticise him for this, for I’m sure, being, like him, a Brit, with the luxury of simply being able to walk away when things got too hot, I would do the same.

Fan of the era, or Isherwood or Matt Smith, or simply gay history, this is a must-see, must buy.

 

Film Review: Frankie Howerd: Rather You Than Me

In the 1950s Frankie Howerd, the famous radio and film comedian, meets a young waiter Dennis Heymer, who,like himself,is a closet homosexual. Their relationship blossoms into a partnership, rather than a purely sexual one, and Dennis becomes Frankie’s manager. By the early 1960s however things are looking bleak for Frankie. He has lost popularity with mainstream audiences and suffered a nervous breakdown.He is full of self hatred about his appearance – he wears a wig – and his homosexuality, putting huge stress on his relationship with Dennis. Matters are not helped by the death of Frankie’s mother Edith. However, Frankie is able to reinvent himself as a satirical comedian, with a gig at Peter Cook’s Establishment Club and his fortunes soar,with successful television comedies and a well-publicised appearance at the Oxford Union.


Imdb page

Director:John Alexander

Writer:Peter Harness

Stars:David Walliams, Rafe Spall

Review by Erastes

I went into this with a little trepidation because I am a huge fan of Frankie Howerd and wasn’t sure if someone so entirely unique could be done with the respect I feel he demands. While I never really thought Walliams captured Howed as perfectly as Michael Sheen did in Fantabulosa! it was clearly a studied and well-prepared performance, and going on the reaction of Dennis Heymer, Howard’s lover and manager (see further reading at the end of the review) it was certainly convincing for those who knew him well.

There’s two aspects to this film that I liked a great deal. Firstly that Williams didn’t do an out and out impression of Howerd, and other than prosthetics to imitate Howerd’s baldness (strange how I never really acknowledge his wig, when it was so very obvious) he relied on performance to play him, rather than make up. Secondly, that although the film touched on much stress–such as Howerd’s denial that he was homosexual, (despite being notorious for trying it on with every pretty boy who passed his way) his treatment to be “cured” and clashes between Heymer and himself–despite this, I felt the overall tone was quite upbeat and the ending in particular had me smiling like a loon.

The affection between the two men comes over well–even if there may have been more love from Dennis’s side than Frankie’s–it’s hard to tell over time and distance. The whole thing does seem a little rushed, which is hardly surprising seeing as how they cram 20 odd years into the film, and would have worked better as a three-parter perhaps. You would almost believe from this that Howerd had no friends other than a fag-hag and Dennis and never socialised, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

It’s a little bleak, and certainly does not hold the glamour of something like “Mad Men” – because it’s set in austere 1950’s Britian, still reeling from the war and rationing. Howerd was one of the best paid entertainers and he lives in a brown-coloured flat such as Mad Men’s Don Draper wouldn’t rent for his maid. There was glamour there, in fact Dennis says “I’m not in this for the glamour” – but it’s not really shown on screen, and a touch of that, mixing with the Carry On crowd and the Krays, might have enlivened this up a smidge.

But on the whole it was a solid and interesting watch, especially, if like me, you grew up not having a clue that Howerd, who portrayed himself as a lech in films, was homosexual.  I wasn’t convinced by Walliams’s performance, but there’s no doubt of the man’s depth of talent.

Further reading: There’s an indepth article here as Dennis helps Mark Walliams and Rafe Spall prepare for the film. Frankie Howerd’s lover breaks his silence.

Review: Out at the Movies: The History of Gay Cinema

Over the decades, gay cinema has reflected the community’s journey from persecution to emancipation to acceptance. Politicised dramas like Victim in the 60s, The Naked Civil Servant in the 70s, and the AIDS cinema of the 80s have given way in recent years to films which celebrate a vast array of gay life-styles. Gay films have undergone a major shift, from the fringe to the mainstream and 2005’s Academy Awards were dubbed ”the Gay Oscars” with gongs going to Brokeback Mountain, Capote and Transamerica. Producers began clamouring to back gay-themed movies and the most high profile of these is Gus Van Sant s forthcoming MILK, starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, the first prominent American political figure to be elected to office on an openly gay ticket back in the 70s. So loved was he that his brutal and homophobic assassination by ex-policeman Daniel White sparked the biggest riots in gay history.

The book also includes information on gay filmmakers and actors and their influence within the industry. Interspersed throughout the book are some of the most iconic scenes from gay cinema and the most memorable dialogue from key films.

With a foreword by Simon Callow.

Review by Erastes

I wouldn’t consider this as a research tool, it’s more like a box of chocolates. Rather than a weighty tome dealing with the subject on a serious level, it’s more a coffee-table decoration and one that lets you pick it up, delve inside and read their view.

Sadly, I didn’t find it a “history” rather than a rainbow coloured meander down a yellow brick road. And that is probably its aim–for a book to truly do justice to subject it would need to be about four times the length.

Despite a very lengthy foreword by Simon Callow I felt disappointed by this book for several reasons.  Many of the films I wouldn’t consider gay at all–but simply “films that have become favourites of gay men.” Films like Mildred Pierce are included, I assume, because Joan Crawford has become such a huge gay icon. But the film itself? Not gay in the absolute slightest. And “The Women” is listed–again, because of the performances and gay icons within and gay men love the film, but neither film is one I would consider to be “gay cinema.”

As well as films that were included–and many of which were awarded their “gay oscar ” accolade at theend–there were notable omissions–the main one being “The Celluloid Closet” which baffled me, unless it was consdered to be a rival. I feel it was an important enough film to at least be mentioned.

It’s an attractive book, with a beautiful layout, lush with photographs and I can’t fault it in that respect. Each era is nicely handled, and not one era is top heavy. It is certainly informative, I just don’t think that it’s as informative as it should be, given the title.

It strikes me like someone’s favourite list, and not a tome for serious study. But it depends what you are coming to this book for, I suppose. If you want a book you can flip through and read snippets about star gossip and what the author thinks gay men take from the “not gay” films–interspersed with actual gay movies, but missing several important films out entirely–then you’ll probably enjoy it. It’s probably suitable for leaving on your coffee table for your friends to leaf through, but if you want a concise book for research on the subject, don’t waste your money.

Amazon UK Amazon USA

Film Review: Bent by Martin Sherman

The powerful and moving film adaptation of Martin Sherman’s award-winning stage play. For almost 20 years, Bent has stunned theatre audiences around the world. Now adapted for the big screen by the author himself, this inspiring tale of love over oppression has even greater power and poignancy. Set amidst the decadence of pre-war fascist Germany, Bent is an emotional tale of love, as three homosexual men fight for survival in the face of persecution.

Directed by Sean Mathias
Produced by Michael Solinger, Dixie Linder
Written by Martin Sherman (play & screenplay)
Starring Clive Owen, Lothaire Bluteau, Brian Webber, Rupert Graves, Ian McKellen, Mick Jagger, Jude Law

As you can imagine, this isn’t the easiest of watches, so don’t get it expecting a comfy watch with the popcorn. It starts with decadent scenes of the gay/bi scene in 1934 Berlin, where Max (Owen) – who is obviously a bit of a player, a deal-arranger, well known in the set, has a debauched night at Greta’s (Jagger) club where he meets a beautiful young Nazi soldier, Wolf (Nikolaj Waldau) and has sex with him, both in the club and back at his house, to the disgust of his live-in lover Rudy (Webber).  Things go downhill from here and spiral into the worst possible solution.

I understand, from my researches on the piece, that the plot of the beginning of the film has been changed from the play.  In the play, it’s more of a political emphasis–Max is a politician and brings members of the Sturmabteilung back to his flat, whereas in the film, he just brings the beautiful Rudy back for a good shagging, who turns out to the boyfriend of the co-founder of the Sturmabteilung, the homosexual Ernst Rohm, who was murdered by Hitler (who had up to then, been a close friend), triggering The Night of the Long Knives.

However after that, the film and play seem to coalesce, (without having seen both, this is assumption, but it seems so.)

Owen isn’t my favourite of actors, as he isn’t–in my opinion–a character actor, but he manages well in the part. He’s convincing as the decadent, self-assured Max in the pre-arrest days and in good method fashion, he loses a lot of weight for the role, as he ends up in Dachau, and chooses to pretend to be a Jew, to wear the yellow star, considering that a lesser wrong than being a queer, and to wear the pink triangle.

There’s not a badly cast role in the film, actually.  Even Jagger, who I seriously didn’t recognise, and who I have never rated as an actor at all, does marvellously, and Sir Ian McKellern steals the show in his one short scene as “Uncle Freddie.”  Sir Ian, incidentally, played the Max role in the original stage production in 1979, so this was a nice touch.

The most affecting scenes are those, naturally enough, between Max and Horst (played brilliantly by Lothaire Bluteau) on the way to, and within the walls of, the notorious death camp of Dachau.  Even though this is set before the Second World War itself you never get any sense of hope, and that makes the restricted interractions between the two men poignant and very hard to watch.  But they are well worth watching, as the scene where they do their first sex scene is heart-warming and beautiful.

The play itself, which caused outrage and acclaim when first put on, helped the exposure of the homosexual treatment by the Nazis enormously, and since then, much research has been done into their fate, leading to a greater knowledge for all, and I think, a wider acceptance and understanding.

For me, the seminal line in the play, is where Owen says “I love you. And what’s wrong with that?”  It’s very obviously a challenge to the world, calling out through history, and it works as well now as it ever did.

So no, not an easy film to watch at all. But I urge you, if you haven’t seen it, to do so.  In these days, twenty years on, when gays are STILL fighting for rights, for their lives, it is as relevant today as it was when it was first staged.

Bent on IMDB

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