The Crispian Crisp and the Hurtian Crisp
January 22, 2010 6:07 PM   Subscribe

Mr. Quentin Crisp and Mr. John Hurt. Mark Simpson conducts a kind of comparative iconography of John Hurt as Quentin Crisp in the intertitle-replete Naked Civil Servant and, 33 years later, as Crisp again in An Englishman in New York. “[A]s an effeminate homosexual, he was imprisoned inside an exquisite paradox, like some kind of ancient insect trapped in amber: Attracted to masculine males – the famous Great Dark Man – he cannot himself be attracted to a man who finds him, another male, attractive because then they cannot be the Great Dark Man any more.”
posted by joeclark (28 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
So how does his role selling a magic wand to Harry Potter figure in?
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 6:44 PM on January 22, 2010

The Simpson article is very good and brings up a couple of things about Crisp's homophobia I have wondered about myself.

I wish that someone would write about his predictions (made in the early 1970's) about fame and style. In a couple of essays he essentially predicted the rise of the fame monster and reality television 30 years before it happened.

Love this guy, even with his quirks.
posted by Tchad at 6:45 PM on January 22, 2010

And those essays would be…?
posted by joeclark at 6:57 PM on January 22, 2010

In How to Have a Lifestyle, he goes on for two or three chapters (I feel like the book is less a series of consistent chapters than a series of closely related essays) about the need to be always "on". His overriding point is that public recording of our lives will not stop and will involve a number of different media, and is never innocent. It will eventually, he thought, be everywhere and mean that all of us will be aching to have our lives vindicated by it.

I had thought of trying to make an FPP at some point, but I thought that the language he uses and the way he phrases things would be misunderstood here.
posted by Tchad at 7:03 PM on January 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Well, you’re already calling him a homophobe, so I could see how that would happen, yes.
posted by joeclark at 7:05 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I could see how one might confuse some of Crisp's obvious self-loathing with homophobia, although I don't think that the casual meaning of the term "homophobe" applies to him at all. He did have a lot of very challenging things to say about his relationship with his own queerness, and I don't think it's a very strong leap to say that his confrontational nature about being an effeminate homosexual may have stemmed from his own feelings of conflict about it himself.

That said, I adore Crisp. He was on a book tour here in the states, and a friend of mine in a large city worked at a bookstore and was given the task of looking after Crisp for the day. Apparently he wanted to go out and about to some of the rougher bars, and my friend stopped to pick up a (decidedly rough-n-tumble) friend to take him along. When my friend pulled up to the heavily barred house in which his cohort lived, Quentin remarked, "oh, does he live in a jail?"
posted by hippybear at 7:11 PM on January 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

I love both Quentin Crisp and John Hurt. Both in a sexual way. As well in a "I wish you were both fuck buddies of mine" way.

I guess now you would call them imaginary friends with benefits.

posted by Splunge at 7:45 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

On the radio this morning, I heard a film critic reviewing the new movie 44-inch Chest, which has an absolutely amazing ensemble cast and which features Hurt as an unreformed and unrepentant homophobe (sparring with Ian McShane, whose character is gay). The critic was just delighted by the irony of Hurt playing a homophobe....
posted by mr_roboto at 7:49 PM on January 22, 2010

Thankfully all of the fucks are below the fold on this one.
posted by Splunge at 7:52 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Referring to a gay man's internalized homophobia without using the word "internalized" doesn't mean you're calling that gay man a homophobe. We've all got our own baggage associated with masculinity and how we fetishize it regardless of whether or not we're into trade. (I'm making this comment B.C., so I apologize if I'm not being very clear.)
posted by crataegus at 7:56 PM on January 22, 2010

All of my fucks are below the fold.
posted by yesster at 8:00 PM on January 22, 2010

I don't believe that any of Quentin's comments were self-loathing. He seemed to be about getting a rise out of people. There is a difference about the time that he lived through and now that might make sense to one who did some searching. If I am wrong I'd rather not know. I see him as a fighter not a fool.
posted by Splunge at 8:01 PM on January 22, 2010

As someone who walked home in a full 3-piece with silk tie, black boots and a beautiful flowing lavender scarf, allow me to say Oh Mary Please.
posted by The Whelk at 8:01 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: All the fucks below the fold.
posted by Decimask at 8:03 PM on January 22, 2010

As someone who walked home in a full 3-piece with silk tie, black boots and a beautiful flowing lavender scarf, allow me to say Oh Mary Please.

So what were you wearing when you walked out of your house?
posted by Splunge at 8:03 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, dear. I hope that what I wrote wasn't taken wrong.

I absolutely adore this man. I found out him through a friend who actually knew him IRL (carried on a brief written correspondence with him in the early 90's) and saw me flailing around as a young gay man and thought I could use a little Crisp in my life. He is one of the biggest positive influences in my adult life. But there were some very dark things he said - especially as he got older - about the nature of being a gay man and how one should operate in and navigate through the world.

This is some of the same stuff that Simpson is talking about.

He doesn't address some of the interviews he gave and articles he wrote later in life, though. I have never been able to really wrap my head around them - on one hand he is one of my ultimate heroes - a man who is unapologetically gay and out as well as someone who was on record saying that if there were a gay gene, we should know about it so that the pregnancies could be terminated.
When the mess hit the fan, he then said:
I am an abortion enthusiast.... I do not like being homosexual, this is the cause of another kind of conversation. I am regarded as hating homosexuals which is not true. I hate nobody, not even the people who hate me. But surely dislike even revulsion from certain sexual practices is purely a personal matter. So I shall not write my diaries on Internet unless I can be guaranteed some freedom from this harassment. I find this disturbing and never dreamed that this would happen.

He got a lot of flak for that, some of it deserved and some of it not. But he defended himself and held his ground. If I remember correctly, he actually stopped writing that diary because of the hate mail. That was a shame.

So he is a complicated hero for me and I don't think using the word homophobic is either a slur or unjust here, even if he wouldn't have used it. I think it is fair, but I think Simpson's piece addresses this better. He doesn't hate gays, but there is this longing for something... better. Something less messy and convoluted. I think that it is more than self-loathing when you compare being gay to being partially dismembered and losing your luggage in a plane crash.

Personally I think the genius he had for living overrides the negative parts of his personality. And that is what makes him so special for me. If I can say the same thing at the end of my life it will be worth it.

And, on preview, Hippybear gets closer to what I am saying.
On 2nd preview, so does Crataegus - I should have written internalized homophobia.
posted by Tchad at 8:04 PM on January 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

Something less messy and convoluted.

Impossible. And it makes me glad!
posted by Splunge at 8:07 PM on January 22, 2010

One time I was standing on the corner of 12th & Broadway, smoking a cigarette, when this short muscled-up guy walked past, looked me dead in the face and said "I used to hang out with Quentin Crisp," He paused for a few beats, "and the Hells Angels."

Man kept fast company.
posted by jonmc at 9:11 PM on January 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Quentin lived on my block. It's called "the Hell's Angels Block" because their headquarters is here.
posted by bhnyc at 9:46 PM on January 22, 2010

Thanks for a great post. I remember watching The Naked Civil Servant as a teenager when it was on PBS and becoming fascinated with Crisp. After reading Crisp's book on etiquette, Manners from Heaven, I have no trouble believing what Simpson has to say about his idealization of straightness and his complicated relationship with homosexuality and Gay Lib and so on. There's a bit in the book about Crisp's trip to visit a man at his home in Canada (I think) which turns out to be a heavy swinging scene and Crisp's reaction is very much what you'd expect from the Simpson essay. Of course, a lot of the book is devoted to the idea that sex is bad (more or less directly), so it's not like he seems to be endorsing straight sexuality, either, so much as heteronormative romance.
posted by immlass at 9:58 PM on January 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

It is a great essay, and I think the author is bang on the money about the flaws with An Englishman... Thanks, joe clark.
posted by Abiezer at 10:21 PM on January 22, 2010

i remember visiting nyc as a child of twelve, with my mother. first time to the big city, and on the first day there, in times square, i saw a couple who were about in their early thirties. they were very effeminent, and their hair was heavily bouffant-like, and lavender rinsed. as a suburban boy from buffalo, this was an eye opener. and even though i knew i was what they termed gay, i just couldn't relate to these two at all. i couldn't imagine how i was supposed to be that. of course this was 1959, and a few years before the 'sexual revolution", and the turbulent sixties. some years later, and well after i had embarked on my journey as a young gay man living in nyc, i remembered them, and realized they were probably a remarkable couple. growing up in post war america, well before gay rights. it was probably easier, living in new york, to be any type of gay man. even in those decades.
posted by billybobtoo at 1:59 AM on January 23, 2010

Tchad, thanks for your insightful comments.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:44 AM on January 23, 2010

I once almost crashed into Quentin Crisp on my bicycle when I turned onto 2nd Ave and he was crossing the street. I recognized him instantly and said "Quentin?" He smiled, pleased to be recognized.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:36 AM on January 23, 2010

He doesn't hate gays, but there is this longing for something... better. Something less messy and convoluted.

Does he hate being gay, or does he hate being alive?
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:40 AM on January 23, 2010

I doubt he “hate[s] being alive,” as Quentin Crisp is long since dead.
posted by joeclark at 10:55 AM on January 23, 2010

If he hates being alive and is long since dead then he has other problems to worry about.
posted by The Whelk at 11:07 AM on January 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Following the lead of Tchad, I have blogged about How to Have a Life-Style. Mr. Crisp did indeed presage the present.
posted by joeclark at 1:23 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

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