Wednesday, March 7, 2012

An Evening with Quentin Crisp....

When the movie Milk came out a few years ago, I had no intention of going to see it.  I really had no idea what it was about, and I certainly had no idea who Mr. Harvey Milk was.  I wasn't even aware it had anything to do with gay rights... I just knew it was a political movie starring Sean Penn... who looked anything but sexy in that role.

It wasn't until it was being released on DVD that I became aware of the story line and decided to watch the film.. which has since been added to my ever growing list of amazing movies.  Since then, I have also researched the life of Harvey Milk via the Internet to learn more about this amazing man and what he stood for.

Recently I discovered a man who was a famous - he would say INFAMOUS - gay icon of the twentieth century, Mr. Quentin Crisp.

If you're under the age of 35, you may not have ever heard his name before.  I know I hadn't.  Since I rarely watch television anymore... the Netflix database has become quite good at choosing movies and programs I would find interesting.  And so "it" decided I might like a movie called An Englishman in New York.

The image for the movie depicts a thin old man (British actor John Hurt) wearing an over-sized floppy fedora, with a scarf tied around his neck -- with makeup on.  "Ugh, another movie depicting gays as feminine." was my first reaction.  True, I love films such as "Too Wong Foo - Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar", but I'm kind of over the whole "gay = wants to be a woman" representation.  But hey, the Netflix database can't be wrong.  So I watched the film.

Within five minutes I was hooked.  It was one of those movies that pulled me in and I got lost in the storyline.  I didn't want it to end - in fact, I have re-watched it three times since.

An Englishman in New York is about the later years of the life of author and public speaker, Mr. Quentin Crisp.   I couldn't help but be captivated by the life of this simple man who lived life to be himself.

He spoke often about developing one's own "style" - the way in which we live our lives and present ourselves to the world.  For Mr. Crisp (at least by my interpretation), how we view ourselves and present ourselves to others is far more important than the opinions of "society".  Our "style" is our lifelong self development of image and personality.. and finding happiness in one's self rather than being so reliant on others.

Again, this is what I got out of it.

Mr. Crisp wrote an autobiography of his earlier life - growing up in extremely homophobic Great Britain - of the 1930s ... which was also made into a movie in the 1970s called, The Naked Civil Servant.  He presented himself openly as a homosexual - wearing makeup, coloring his hair and painting his nails in order to expose the world to the reality that homosexuals do exist and are active parts of the world at large.  For this, he was often beaten on the streets and even arrested for simply being himself - exhibiting his own style in a world where deviation from the norm was not only frowned upon, but even illegal.

For most such a life may have caused a person to retreat from the world and shut down... not Quentin Crisp.  He continued to live his life following his own sense of style and self worth.  He did not turn angry or bitter - but shared his experiences and insights with others.. with anyone who would listen.

Coming to the United States in the late 1970's, he fell in love with NYC and its sense of individuality.  He quickly felt right at home and developed a new life as a renowned public speaker - author - actor - and gay icon (though I'm sure he might cringe at the latter).  His interviews and talks are available on - and he still has quite a devoted audience, some 13 years after his death.

While I may not agree with his EVERY word, I think he had some keen insights on humanity - especially the value of ones own self and nurturing what makes one unique and happy - drawing identity from our personalities rather than only what we do for a living or the society in which we live. -- And naturally, I adore his whit and sarcasm.

His entire life, his telephone number and address were made public in the local telephone book - the latter portion of his life - the Manhattan Directory.  People were always welcomed to call him and chat - or send him letters to which he would generally reply with some sort of response.  He thrived on human interaction and kindness.  It's a shame he wasn't alive now... I would have definitely called him to say "hello"!

Some quotes from Mr. Crisp:

Fashion is what you adopt when you don't know who you are.

It's no good running a pig farm badly for 30 years while saying, 'Really, I was meant to be a ballet dancer.' By then, pigs will be your style.

Never keep up with the Joneses. Drag them down to your level.  It's cheaper.

The consuming desire of most human beings is deliberately to plant their whole life in the hands of some other person. I would describe this method of searching for happiness as immature. Development of character consists solely in moving toward self-sufficiency.

The young always have the same problem - how to rebel and conform at the same time. They have now solved this by defying their parents and copying one another.

There is no need to do any housework at all. After the first four years the dust doesn't get any worse.

Never tell your mother anything; whatever you say will one day be used against you.

The curiosity of the neighbors about you, is a tribute to your individuality, and you should encourage it.

Of course I lie to people. But I lie altruistically - for our mutual good. The lie is the basic building block of good manners. That may seem mildly shocking to a moralist - but then what isn't?