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Quentin Crisp was the frilly British poufter who ceaselessly spouted aphorisms, his wit hiding the fact that he had come of age through oppression and abuse in puritanical England. In the ’70s, he came to New York to do a live show and stayed, showering us with his wisdoms, hats, and weird viewpoints.
And now, he’s come back to rule at the Tribeca Film Festival, where those later years have provided fodder for a fascinating film. I just saw An Englishman in New York, which is about Quentin’s Gotham years, with John Hurt–who already perfected him in the 1975 TV movie Naked Civil Servant)–as the epigram-spewing, gracious, yet sometimes offensive Brit.
The film accurately shows Crisp’s immersion into the gay New York culture as an observer (and critic for the New York Native), and also documents his tripping up by labeling AIDS “a fad,” adding that homosexuals are always complaining about some ailment or other. Much like that other queen–the one played by Helen Mirren–he then finds hhimself in an ethical quandary as to whether to undo his gesture, apologize for it, explain it, or let it be.
Hurt is absolutely brilliant in the role, as expected, capturing all the grandeur, charm, and defense mechanisms. The only drawbacks are that Crisp’s witty sayings sometimes seem contrivedly woven into conversation (though that’s usually how he DID talk). And that Cynthia Nixon tends to downplay the abrasiveness (and I’m using that word in a good way, sort of) of performance artist Penny Arcade. Still, I’m very glad this Englishman came back to New York one more time.