Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Home, a Prick and a Phoenix

I have not read the Michael Cunningham novel but "A Home at the End of the World" the movie (2004) failed to move or even convince me. The depiction of the ménage à trois flounders on the unbelievable innocence and virtue of the bisexual man, played by Colin Farrell. The issues also seem overly simplified to one of possessiveness and jealousy among three partners, finally "resolved" when the straight woman left the two men. The film also conforms to the common double standard of depicting onscreen sex. While Colin Farrell's character is stripped naked when having sex with the woman (titillating both staight women and gay men), the character is always fully clothed when gropping the gay guy, played ably by Dallas Roberts. Roberts is also always fully clothed even in scenes depicting his tricking.

Against this American fantasy of innocence and self-sacrifice, the much older British film "Prick Up Your Ears" (1987) seems almost radical. More than a biopic of 1960s playwright Joe Orton, the film examines the fallout from the shift in power in a relationship: Joe rises from provincial innocent to acclaimed writer while his lover Kenneth Halliwell falls from mentor and aspiring novelist to a subordinate role as Joe's "wife" and friend. The bloody end of the relationship is shocking but entirely believable. The film also looks at how a writer exploits his and others' lives for his art. After his mother's funeral, Orton gives her teeth as a prop to an actor in his play about a mother's death. The film is also cleverly framed by the story of John Lahr's writing of Orton's biography. In the pursuit of his subject, Lahr sidelines his wife, though the work begins as a collaborative project. As another mark of the British film's greater realism, Orton's tricks, found at public latrines (called "cottages"), parks and bus-stops, do not look like Ryan Carnes or River Phoenix.

The only tricks in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" are magic and movie. The colors in the film are lush, even when dark. The storytelling makes no concessions to ignorance of the Potter story. Because it is that good, I wish it is longer. The acting is excellent. A coincidence I just noted: Gary Oldman who plays Sirius Black in "Phoenix" also played Joe Orton. Or, as one might say, from prick to trick.

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