There have been few films as truthful about the state of MerryEngland as Derek Jarman’s Jubilee. Here is a world bought by bankers, sold by politicians, all with public money. A world where everything has its price, and liberty is defined by our Right to Shop. A world best described in the film by the wonderful creation, Borgia Ginz:
“You wanna know my story babe. It’s easy. This is the generation that grew up and forgot to lead their lives. They were so busy watching my endless movie. It’s power babe, power. I don’t create it, I own it. I sucked and sucked and I sucked. The media became their only reality and I owned their world of flickering shadows. BBC. TUC. ITV. ABC. ATV. MGM. KGB. C of E. You name it, I bought them all and rearranged the alphabet. Without me, they don’t exist.”
After its release in 1978, Jubilee was denounced by some of the people who should have supported it, but were horrified by its nihilism. Jarman explained his motivation to the Guardian‘s Nicholas de Jongh:
“We have now seen all established authority, all political systems, fail to provide any solution - they no longer ring true.”
As true today, as it was then.
Here is Jordan as Amyl Nitrite, giving it laldy with her rendition of “Rule Britannia”.
Derek Jarman rarely hedged a question, he answered each one as truthfully as he could. From the opening question in this interview with Jeremy Isaacs, Jarman’s candor and honesty is refreshing:
Derek Jarman, painter, writer, film maker; and in my view one of the most distinguished of our time, gardener. When you discovered at the end of nineteen eighty six that you were HIV positive you decided to let that be known; why?
Jerry, I did it for myself, really for my own self respect because my whole life had been a struggle to actually make my life open and acceptable. I found myself potentially in a form of a ghetto, really, of frightened and unhappy people, who felt that they couldn’t actually tell the truth about themselves. So I did it for my own self respect. I didn’t do it for anyone else. If it was any help for anyone else I’d be delighted.
Have you always been able to be open about your sexuality?
No, definitely not. I think it’s something that I actually struggled to be open with. Certainly when I was a young man in the fifties, in the sixties it was very, very difficult and I think that gave me a sort of a slight edge you know. It was difficult finding the whole centre of one’s life really; illegal in fact ‘till I was twenty five, so it was difficult, particularly difficult with parents, maybe not amongst friends. Eventually at twenty two I met people, and then after that it was a sort of a clique if you like, a gay Mafia.
Jarman goes on to talk about his childhood, his parents, his work as a painter, a set designer (on Ken Russell’s The Devils), to his own films, his garden, and how he would like to be remembered:
How do you want us to remember you?
Well, I think it would be marvellous to evaporate. I wish I could take all my works with me; that’s what I’d like to happen, to just disappear completely.
Originally aired in March 1993, this version of Face to Face was re-shown after Jarman’s death, and has a beautiful eulogy from Isaacs at the beginning.
The rest of this classic interview with Derek Jarman, after the jump…
Dirk Bogarde was cool. He had style. I knew that as soon as I saw him in one B&W ‘50’s movie, loafing around a beach, chatting to his bikini-clad co-star, wearing white trousers, white shirt, white socks and plimsolls. Who else could carry that off? Okay, Cary Grant could, but Grant would have added a cravat, and topped it off with a checked linen jacket.
It’s telling that Bogarde wore such clothes in a beach scene - surrounded by naked flesh cooking under a studio sun - he maintained a distance, an image, a decorum, an untouchability. He was actually hiding who he was, hiding behind his clothes; and that distance, rightly or wrongly, made him seem cool.
Bogarde started off in theater before making his impact as the cowardly killer of P.C. Dixon (Jack Warner) in The Blue Lamp. Warner went on to become a stalwart of TV with Dixon of Dock Green, while Bogarde became the Rank Organization’s prime beefcake, the biggest British star of the 1950s, with a string of audience-pleasing movies. While these films brought fame and fortune, they sold short his very real talents as an actor.
This was to change, when in 1961, Bogarde made Victim, the highly controversial film that moved his career in a different, more intelligent, more worthy direction.
Victim dealt with the then-taboo subject of homosexuality, telling the story of a man who falls prey to a blackmail gang. It was the first film to use the word “homosexual” and caused considerable outrage amongst those angry letter writers of Tunbridge Wells, but it did help change opinions, and was a step in the right direction to Britain decriminalizing homosexuality in 1967.
Worried that Bogarde (who was himself gay) might lose some of his mass of adoring female admirers, Rank roped him into this promotional interview for Victim, where the actor talked about his career, his ambitions and hopes for the future. It’s a fairly candid interview for a man who, in his later years, fictionalized most of his life.
Dirk Bogarde would have been 90 this week, and for me, he’s still cool as fuck.
I started reading Christopher Isherwood in my late teens, when I became a “paying guest” to an elderly spinster, who lived in an old tenement in the west end of Glasgow. She lived in the top floor apartment, where I rented the large front room, with a view onto the oval-shaped park below. My landlady was in her late seventies, bird-like, translucent skin, who whistled and took snuff in large pinches, sniffed from the back of her hand. She had inherited the apartment from her sister, and the interior had remained unchanged since the 1930s. The hallway with its bell-chimes for Maid, Bedroom 1, Bedroom 2, Parlor, and Dining Room, all still worked. In the kitchen was a range, and a small scullery with its fold-down bed, where the servant would have slept. Coal fires were in all of the rooms except mine. Of course, there was the occasional modern appliance, a TV, a one-bar electric fire, and an electric cooker, which was still in its plastic wrapping, and not to be used “under any circumstances”. Food was cooked over something that looked like a bunsen burner (what my landlady called “a blackout cooker”), and chilled products were kept in a larder. As for hot water, well that was never available, as the boiler was kept under lock and key, and toilet paper was sellotaped, to ensure I bought my own. The front door was locked at eight o’clock and the storm door bolted at nine. After ten, she never answered the door.
At the time, I was reading Goodbye to Berlin, which as you can imagine very much suited my surroundings. Like Isherwood’s character, Herr Issyvoo, I was surrounded by “the tarnished valuables and second-hand furniture of a bankrupt middle class.” A mantel-clock, a heavy glass ashtray, a green baize card table, orphaned figurines of a shepherd boy and shepherd girl, tending to their flocks, a large wooden bed (one leg broken) made in the 1920s. But perhaps, most significantly, was the fact my landlady had worked in Berlin as a furrier for a department store during the 1930s, and she often told me tales of her time in Germany. “Oh those Hitler Youth,” she once said, “Such smart uniforms, but the terrible things they did.”
At times it all made me feel as if I was living in Ishwerwood’s world, as in the evenings I would hear the whistles out in the park below. But unlike Herr Issyvoo, these were not young men calling up to their girlfriends, but dog owners calling to their pets.
The son of landed gentry, Christopher William Bradshaw Isherwood was born in 1904, at the ancestral seat of his family, Wybersley Hall, High Lane, England. His father was an army officer, who was killed during the First World War. His mother, Kathleen, had a fractious relationship with her son, and she later featured in his stories.
At school he met and became life-long friends with W. H. Auden and Edward Upward. He attended Cambridge University, but found he had no interest in his studies, and was sent down for writing a facetious answer to an exam question. It was while at university that he became part of the famous literary triumvirate with Auden and Stephen Spender, who were hailed by the Left as “intellectual heroes.”
Instead of studying, Isherwood wrote an anarchist fantasy with Upward, centered around the fictional Mortmere:
...a village inhabited by surreal characters modelled on their Cambridge friends and acquaintances. The rector, Casmir Welken, resembles a ‘diseased goat’ and breeds angels in the church belfry; his sidekick Ronald Gunball is a dipsomaniac and an unashamed vulgarian; Sergeant Claptree, assisted by Ensign Battersea, keeps the Skull and Trumpet Inn; the mannish Miss Belmare, domineering and well starched, is sister to the squire, and Gustave Shreeve is headmaster of Frisbald College for boys.
Though none of the stories were published at the time (and Upward destroyed most of them later on), it was the start of Isherwood’s writing career, and led on to his first novel All the Conspirators in 1928.
Stifled by England, Isherwood followed in his friend Auden’s footsteps and moved to Berlin. It proved an historic re-location, one that inspired the first of Isherwood’s important novels Mr Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye to Berlin. Literature aside, Isherwood’s main reason for going to Berlin was “boys” - blonde, working-class youth.
Isherwood supported himself in Berlin by working as an English tutor, and he used this experience to form the basis for his Berlin stories, and the creation of his eponymous central character. “I am a camera,” Isherwood famously wrote at the start of Goodbye to Berlin, for he saw Herr Issyvoo as “unobtrusive, sexless,” someone who could only observe, and examine the lives of those around him. When later asked why he had not been more explicit about his character’s homosexuality, Isherwood said that if he had come out, then it would have been “a production,” something that would have “upset the apple cart” for the other characters. The poet Stephen Spender claimed Isherwood once claimed he couldn’t imagine how people behaved when he was not in the room.
During the 1930s, Auden and Isherwood wrote a series of plays together, The Dog Beneath the Skin, The Ascent of F6 and On the Frontier, which dealt with their own identities and the idea of masculinity as exemplified by a hero. They also traveled to China to cover the Sino-Japanese War, and published a diary of their exploits. It was this war that convinced Isherwood to become a pacifist.
Perhaps because of the horrors the pair had witnessed in the East, Auden and Isherwood traveled to America in 1939, just before the Second World War began. It was an event that led the two writers to be castigated as “cowards” and “deserters”, for leaving their country in its moment of need - as if Auden or Isherwood’s presence would in some way stop the advance of Germany. Auden stayed in New York, living in a house with the stripper and pulp writer, Gypsy Rose Lee, and novelist Carson McCullers; while Isherwood moved to the west and California, which he described as more “dreamy and strange”, more theatrical.
Here he reworked some of his Berlin stories, but he lacked the zest to keep him inspired. Like many other writers, Isherwood turned to Hollywood for financial security, but had the sense to realize he wasn’t “some great genius prostituting [himself]”:
“I always realized it was very good training, and it made you realize things that you often lose sight of, by getting so arty and literary, that is to say, the fundamentals of telling a story, and the very simple things of putting A before B, and B before C, and getting it all sorted out, and telling it in a direct visual way, and that is always you can learn by working for the movies, and it doesn’t matter what it is.
Auden thought it nice work if you can get it, and said “At least you sold dear what is most dear.” Isherwood scripted a Rage in Heaven (1941), starring Ingrid Bergman and Robert Montgomery and The Great Sinner (1949), starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner. Later, in the 1960s, he co-wrote the screenplay, with Terry Southern, for the classic film version of Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One (1965), and then co-wrote, with Don Bachardy, a memorable take on Mary Shelley’s gothic horror, Frankenstein the True Story (1973), with James Mason, Michael Sarrazin,Jane Seymour and David McCallum.
During all this time, he continued to write novels, most notably Prater Violet, based on his first dealings with film-making and the rather brilliant, but under appreciated, Down There on a Visit. On a more personal level, in 1953, he met Don Bachardy, the man who became his life-long partner.
In the sixties, Isherwood achieved considerable success with his “devastating, unnerving, brilliant book” about middle-age, A Single Man. The novel’s central character George, is like Isherwood, and describes a day in his life, when he no longer fears annihilation but survival, and all the debilitating side affects old age will bring. Isherwood said the book was about:
“...middle age, because what I wanted to show was the incredible range of behavior in middle age, part of the time on eis quite tending towards senility, and other times one is rash that is way a way boyish, and apt to indulge in lots of embarrassing behavior, at the drop of hat.”
In the 1970s, Isherwood returned to the Berlin of his youth with his autobiographical memoir Christopher and His Kind, it was a crowning achievement to a literary career that had already delivered at least three or four of the twentieth century’s best novels.
Gore Vidal has said Isherwood is “the best prose writer in English,” which is perhaps true, as Isherwood’s writing is subtle, clever, and is always fresh, even after repeated readings.
This documentary A Single Man: Christopher Isherwood 1904-1986 wa smade not long after his death and composed from a selection of interviews from British TV from the 1950s-1970s.
For fans of Isherwood, the BBC has just completed a drama Christopher and his Kind, adapted form Isherwood’s book, starring Matt (Doctor Who) Smith in the title role, which will be broadcast later this year. Further information can be found here
The rest of ‘A Single Man: Christopher Isherwood 1904-1986’, after the jump…
The cost was a nervous breakdown - contemplating the wallpaper: “Just rocking to and fro, you know, the days merging, the seasons coming and going.” It’s David Hoyle talking to London’s Time Outmagazine back in 2006. Hoyle is a performance artist, actor, and writer, he was talking about the cost of being The Divine David - his caustic alter-ego.
“In a way the Divine David became the patron saint of decadence and nihilism and all the rest of it, and it’s hard for that not to affect your own actions,” Hoyle recalls. In the end, he felt, the character was doing him more harm than good. “As much as I used to say, ‘Oh yes, you have to be very sure of your identity to be doing all this business,’ I don’t think I actually was. If you’re used to creating aliases and camouflage and all that sort of palaver, eventually you have to peel it all away and work out who you are.”
The Divine David Presents first appeared on British TV screens in 1999, and offered a series of his thoughts, views, pastiches and whatever came into his head about lile, sex and everything in between. Television was never to be the same again for The Divine David pushed boundaries and challenged perceptions - wait, that description is the kind of media cliche The Divine David would hate - let’s just say he fucked with his audience, and sometimes he fucked with himself, as he once explained to Joe Coleman:
DD: I’m very suspicious of actors and actresses… anything that I do as Divine David is not acting, it’s being. When I say something like ‘I’d like to stab you in the neck’, I really mean it. I said I wanted to rip people’s spines out so they could make attractive pendants and earrings…
IW: David has done a performance where he tried to rip his own spine out on stage…
DD: I just decided ‘I’m gonna do it’, I had Siouxsie and The Banshees singing Through the Looking Glass: “even the greatest stars dislike themselves in the looking glass”. I was laughing my head off. I broke a glass and thought “I’ll shove in it my back and try to rip my spine out”, so I just got it and shoved it in… there were people being sick… it challenged their ideas of themselves to such an extent. But I think that, ultimately, can be quite liberating.
His TV series on Channel 4 brought him some mainstream success, but Hoyle was “mired in drink and drugs,” and to save himself, decided to kill off The Divine David in an ice-show spectacular at the Streatham Ice Arena in London. He then moved back to Manchester, “At the end I was pretty burnt out.” And that’s when the breakdown happened.
Hoyle was born in Blackpool, the seaside city famed for its lights, its shows, its candy rock, its kiss-me-quick hats and its Tower. As a gay child, living in Blackpool was “horrendous. Going to school everyday was like “was like walking to your death on a daily basis. Knowing that you were going to get assaulted, knowing that you didn’t have anybody to talk to.” As he told The Times there was no one to turn to, even his teachers were unsympathetic:
“They would watch as my bag was emptied out of the window, three storeys up. They would allow it because they believed that by subjecting me to violence it would make me heterosexual. Your life is a nightmare but you can’t tell them why, because what you are is so massively wrong that what people are doing by assaulting you is the right thing. You should be assaulted for being a homosexual. That’s what was going on in my mind.”
Hoyle coped by turning his pain into comedy. At 17 he made his stage debut at a working men’s club, the Belle Vue.
“I created this character who was the illegitimate offspring of the Duke of Edinburgh and Dorothy Squires. His name was Paul Munnery-Vain, taken from the pulmonary vein in your heart.”
He was a success, and you know the rest was…as they say, and started Hoyle onto his brilliant career.
Then in the 1990s, Hoyle developed the Divine David, a “queer cultural terrorist,” who satirized the lifestyles many of his audiences held dear - gay-community narcissism, the chauvinism of drag artists, sexual politics, celebrity culture and sex. Hoyle was not just mining the world around him, but using up large chunks of himself - and it came at a cost.
Six years after Divine David’s death-on-ice, David Hoyle returned to “straight” performance, and world domination with more brutal, brilliant, emotionally charged and bitingly funny shows. As the writer Paul Darling recently commented, “David Hoyle is a political/comic/philosophical/poetic GENIUS and we’re lucky to have him.”
And here’s where it started with Hoyle as The Divine David.
More Divine David and Bonus Clips of David Hoyle at home after the jump..
Dangerous Minds is a compendium of oddities, pop culture treasures, high weirdness, punk rock and politics drawn from the outer reaches of pop culture. Our editorial policy, such that it is, reflects the interests, whimsies and peculiarities of the individual writers. And sometimes it doesn't. Very often the idea is just "Here's what so and so said, take a look and see what you think."
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