This film is the story of the spectacular life and violent death of British playwright Joe Orton. In his teens, Orton is befriended by the older, more reserved Kenneth Halliwell, and while ...
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This film is the story of the spectacular life and violent death of British playwright Joe Orton. In his teens, Orton is befriended by the older, more reserved Kenneth Halliwell, and while the two begin a relationship, it's fairly obvious that it's not all about sex. Orton loves the dangers of bath-houses and liaisons in public restrooms; Halliwell, not as charming or attractive as Orton, doesn't fare so well in those environs. While both long to become writers, it is Orton who achieves fame - his plays "Entertaining Mr. Sloane" and "Loot" become huge hits in London of the sixties, and he's even commissioned to write a screenplay for the Beatles. But Orton's success takes him farther from Halliwell, whose response ended both his life and the life of the up-and-coming playwright.Written by
Gary Dickerson <[email protected]>
Wallace Shawn, who plays John Lahr, is (in addition to being an actor) an acclaimed playwright and screenwriter. Until her 1991 death, his play agent was Peggy Ramsay, who was also Joe Orton's agent and who appears in this film as the character played by Vanessa Redgrave. See more »
When Joe's agent first meets him in 1964, she asks him how he's been supporting himself. He tells her he's on public assistance, getting £3.10 per week. But new pence weren't introduced until 1971. See more »
[Halliwell puts his hand on Orton's leg. Orton brushes it off]
No. Have a wank.
Have a wank? Have a wank? I can't just have a wank. I need three days' notice to have a wank. You can just stand there and do it. Me, it's like organizing D-Day. Forces have to be assembled, magazines bought, the past dredged for some suitably unsavoury episode, the dog-eared thought of which can still produce a faint flicker of desire! Have a wank, it'd be easier to raise the Titanic.
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"What do you expect? Many of them are Australians"
Although in some ways more theatrical/televisual than cinematic, this is one of the best British films of the 80's, and is probably Alan Bennett's most successful screenplay. Bennett and Orton have a number of things in common - a love of "found" dialogue (here mainly given to Orton's landlady) - theatrical success in the 60's (Bennett in "Beyond the Fringe") - and of course their sexuality.
The film is quite interesting in what it leaves out - anyone who has read Orton's diaries will know that "the latter part" is rather underplayed here. Also sadly missed is "Mrs Edna Welthorpe" an alter ego of Joe's who would write to newspapers denouncing his plays as filth - a rather cunning way of securing free advertising. A very interesting telephone conversation with Brian Epstein "...one of the boys is happily married..." plays with what we now know about Epstein and Lennon in a beautifully understated way.
Orton and Halliwell's relationship is counterpointed in the film by "John Lahr"'s own marriage (Wallace Shawn is great here too, as always) as Lahr's researching of his biography acts as a framing device for Orton's story. As others have commented, the dynamic of the central relationship rings horribly true to anyone who has been in a halfway similar situation.
It's interesting to speculate on what would have become of Orton had he lived. Time has dimmed the shock value of his plays to the point where they will probably never have the same effect, and despite various rumours (the Sex Pistols?) no-one has picked up the Beatles script, probably for the same reason. Live fast, die young, leave a good looking corpse? Perhaps.
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