Friday, September 21, 2007

Brush up your Shakespeare./ Start quoting him now.

This is a dress that would play in Peoria. Elizabethan actors, lutes, sheet music, flowers, books, and what look like perhaps plums (or onions) adorn this theatrical day dress with rhinestones sprinkled throughout. Purple, pink and french blue share the spotlight with a scribbling relaxed illustration style. Ribbons, streamers. Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight.
The theater, she said dramatically, why I was born on the stage. (Just couldn't resist a Tom Swifty, or three.)
The skirt is so detailed it would be a shame not to wear a crinoline. It's got lutes, for crying out loud. Oh, the glitz and glamor of it all.
Go get it. It would be adorable on you. B32-34, W27. Too small for a robust and hearty creature such as myself.

Just look at the details on the books:

I watched Resident Alien last night, a rag-tag documentary of sorts about Quentin Crisp, featuring all sorts of NYC downtown fixtures, Michael Musto, Penny Arcade, Fran Lebowitz. Though Mr. Crisp is affable, and the cast of characters quotable, the film plods somewhat drearily along. Long shots of Mr. Crisp making tea on a hot plate in his one room flat. Or walking around the undeveloped East Village of the late 1980's. Although that was actually a treat for me. Having moved to New York in 1987, it was great to see the city as it was, all grit and possibilites. Very unlike the large mall it has become.
If you don't know about Quentin Crisp, I suggest you run out immediately and get hold of a copy of The Naked Civil Servant. The movie with John Hurt will do marvelously. It is an excellent adaptation and includes many of the conventions of silent cinema. I love the Intertitles saying things like: "Exhibitionism is a drug. You'll get hooked!" And Mr. Hurt really channels Mr. Crisp so well it's eerie.
Quentin Crisp is a controversial figure, mostly for his quips that can be construed as self-hating. Crowned with a purple pompadour and a fedora (you try and pull that off at 90), he has said that sex in general is a mistake, and that he didn't feel like a real person in comparison with the heterosexual world, that the world hates homosexuality so much it would be better off without it. He responds to some of the flap here. As the interviewer says: He was always more than you thought he was.
He has been criticized for being a stereotype of tragic effemininity. His autobiography ends with: "Even a monotonously undeviating path of self-examination does not necessarily lead to a mountain of self-knowledge. I stumble towards my grave confused and hurt and hungry." Quentin, I'm stumbling too. I mean, aren't we all?
Yet at the age of 72, Mr. Crisp moved to New York and reinvented himself as what he called a mini-star. A mini-star is someone who controls their own life (while a star can control others). He said that all he had to offer America was his boundless availability. He would speak wherever he was invited to do so. He appeared in many movies (good and bad). He was even listed in the telephone book and would go to lunch with anyone who'd pay. (Really, a friend of mine once took him to lunch at a Polish diner.) At the age when most people retire, Mr. Crisp fashioned himself into a work of art, and surrounded himself with successful artists. No mean feat for an old queen who called himself a professional failure. His American adventure is compared to Oscar Wilde's triumphant speaking tour of the United States. Everyone fawned over how English and polite he was. His mini-star was very bright indeed. Like Oscar Wilde he toured giving a series of Q &A lectures across the U.S. Answering all questions from all comers with aplomb and even hilarity.
Interviewer said that Quentin Crisp reminded him of an elderly geisha. He called himself, at times, a martyr. But I believe his passivity and martyrdom were a complicated subterfuge. In an interview with Guy Kettelhack (the same apologia I cited earlier), he describes a total abdication of force. He said: "I once met Mr. William Burroughs. Within minutes of our being introduced, he said, 'What is worth having is worth fighting for,' and I replied, 'That which we can only maintain by force we should try to do without.' " Beautifully said, no? His life was a protest against the violence directed toward him as an openly gay man in the England of the 1930's. Instead of using the oppressors' weapons, Mr. Crisp burnished his charm, and even his weakness. He cultivated his passivity to the point where he would tell interviewers that he would say whatever they wanted. But it's a faux naiveté meant to disarm and deflect. Saintly, sure, while remaining problematic. "Camp is not something I do," he said, "it's something I am."
Am I saying that Quentin Crisp was a Gandhi in eyeliner? Well, in some ways, yeah. Won't that always be denigrated in a world that values only force? Quentin Crisp has said that we live in a masculine world. True. The greatest horror is then reserved for a man who gravitates toward the feminine. Mr. Crisp has said that in England femininity is so reviled they don't even like effeminate women.
Mr. Crisp's struggle was not so much one of sexual identity but of gender. In his heart, he wanted to be Greta Garbo. A woman he described as alluring because she was completely aloof. Perhaps Quentin Crisp's total availability was a striving for aloofness through the wrong end of the telescope.
A paradox, that Quentin Crisp. I don't feel that I can do him justice. I leave you with one of my favorite quips from the film:
"If you are an eccentric in America, people think you are selling something. Which, in fact, you are."


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