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An Englishman In New York, one of the year's best
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An Englishman In New York, one of the year's best

by Nevin Jefferson - SGN Contributing Writer

The 14th Seattle Gay and Lesbian Film Festival opened with An Englishman In New York, a very powerful and epic telling of the story of Quentin Crisp. He wasn't your ordinary fruit; he was a Gay, proud man who wasn't afraid to be himself, and did just that - even after being beaten numerous times. Crisp would eventually become a voice of authority for the Gay world.

This true-to-life story came alive on the screen thanks to an extraordinary performance by John Hurt as the witty, prolific, influential Gay pioneer who becomes a pop culture icon right before your eyes. John Hurt's performance is riveting and breathtaking. Much of the film's dialogue comes from Crisp's own writing and performances.

The movie opens as Quentin is flying high on international fame before landing low in New York. In one of the opening scenes, Quentin is walking through the streets of the city in his full splendor. He's complimented by a big and beautiful middle-aged black woman who hails him with praises of love, respect, and admiration. He is genuinely touched by this, and he takes off with more sashay in his hips - giving new meaning to swishing in the streets.

When Quentin is granted a resident alien status based on his unique qualities, the uniting of the city and the Englishman is a match made in heaven.

After performing his one-man show How to Be a Happy Person, he's approached by Connie Clausen, superbly played by Swoosie Kurtz. She tells him that she wants to make him a star and launches his career in an off-Broadway one-man show. The two begin a strong mutual friendship that flourishes as Connie gets him on every TV talk show and radio show.

Connie books him on a black radio station, where the very flaming Quentin is surrounded by hardcore ghetto brothers and a tough-as-nails militant DJ. They accept him for who and what he is and make him an "honorary brother." The listeners from the hood calling in for advice love both the man and his advice. Several scenes later, Quentin goes to a leather bar and is 86ed because he isn't dressed to their code. Our cult darling becomes the epitome of an effeminate Gay man with effeminate ways, complete with makeup and trademarks that consisted of ascots galore, his signature ring, and hat. His frankness, arrogance, and honesty wows some, and pisses off others. When he claims same-sex love is impossible, he's attacked by Gays for "playing to straights."

Quentin becomes a movie reviewer for Christopher Street magazine, run by Philip Steele (excellently played by Denis O'Hare). The two strike an agreement that touches on the richness of the U.S. film culture of the time compared with today's times. Steele allows Quentin the freedom and liberty of criticizing the movies he wants to. Steele writes the reviews, which consist of the thoughts and opinions of Quentin, during a conversation between the two at a greasy spoon. Philip, already a fan of Crisp's, becomes his best friend, and a platonic relationship slowly builds between the two. Quentin's spontaneous words of wit and wisdom earn him a high place in the Gay community, but then one of his comments gets him in trouble: His statement during one show that "AIDS is a fad, nothing more," and his refusal to recant or campaign for Gay rights. "It is my policy never to lie, never to defend," he famously said.

Of course, this causes all hell to break loose with his career. His Gay audience, who has started to really suffer from the AIDS epidemic, turns away from him. Crisp is dropped by his agent and editor after their pleading with him to retract proves fruitless.

Crisp's eyes are opened when he gets to know young artist Patrick Angus (in a fantastic performance by Jonathan Tucker), who is dying of AIDS. Crisp keeps his promise to the artist by having his work shown in a gallery.

Well into the Clinton era, Quentin wakes up to find a lady in his apartment. She assures him that he's not dead and she's no angel; his door was just unlocked. The lady is performance artist Penny Arcade, marvelously played by Cynthia Nixon. She takes Quentin back to the stage with moving material that takes him into his 10th decade, and once again he wins over the Gay community.

Steele returns to the tiny and shabby apartment to find Quentin living on the champagne and peanuts circuit. Steele devotedly looks after the now-failing Quentin, who's enjoying his final bow. He tells his friend that he has a million dollars, and they ask why he doesn't spend any of it. Quentin tells him that he contributes to the AIDS foundation amfAR so he can meet Elizabeth Taylor.

The grand finale is a virtual Sermon on the Mount in a Gay bar in Tampa, Fla. This is a brilliant film that's one of the best films of the year and decade. This is a must-have in your DVD collection and it makes a great gift for the holidays.

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