Y’all, I think I have a problem: I’ve become a Biopic addict.
I’ve watched Prick Up Your Ears for the second time this afternoon, which was on the nice HD TV downstairs, as opposed to in bits and pieces on youtube. While viewing it in the episodic manner many moons ago, a lot hit me more dramatically or became very forgettable. The internet is giving me a terrible short-term memory, I’m afraid. Watching full length movies online is almost impossible.
Now, in case you weren’t familiar, Prick Up Your Ears is a biopic on Joe Orton, English playwright, played by the wonderful Gary Oldman. Joe was homosexual in an age when homosexuality in Great Britain meant prison, which hit me over the head the first time I viewed the film. It was like, “Yeah, okay I can understand it,” but also “No, shit! Really? They made it illegal?”
Now, that same point hits me, but more because it’s a central point to the film. Joe’s gay, and he doesn’t care. In fact, I get the feeling that he wants to get caught in the bathrooms sometimes. Which is, well, a bit awkward to watch, considering his histrionic boyfriend Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina) knows what’s going on.
So I got distracted by Molina during this viewing. I kept thinking “Now, is he over acting? Well, I suppose that’s how Halliwell was, if he was that damaged. Is he overacting?” etc etc, I do believe you get the point.
It also feels like an old British movie, if someone took British cinema and laid it out from end to end. Which works with the 1960s setting of Orton’s life, but also makes the movie feel very sad, almost waiting for something to happen. Then something happens, and it’s terrible, but it’s true: How Orton died. I remember crying when I first saw that, in a sad pathetic little way in front of the computer screen. Because I really didn’t expect it, and I had gotten attached to Joe, but felt like he hadn’t lived much. Anonymous sex, a boyfriend he wasn’t in love with (maybe never had been), and just the beginning of success.
Meanwhile, I get to read someone’s comment on IMDb who says that it’s the biopic that finally worked for her because of it’s strong narrative arc. Which I can see. The narrative being the relationship between Orton and Halliwell.
It just brings me back to another point: I’ve become addicted to biopics. The question is “Why?” and is that even a genre? It’s the Costume Drama that’s real, it’s the soap opera that actually happened, if the viewer is lucky. As much as I like them (or seem to like them– they’re the genre that takes up considerable space on my shelf at least) I can’t figure out why. Why like biopics? They usually end up lying to you about a person’s life. Immortal Beloved can show you Beethoven, but it still feeds you fiction in order to produce a narrative at all. Lust for Life shows you Van Gogh, but leaves out the whores, syphillis, close relationship with Gaugin, just because of the time it was made.
And yet, I’m addicted. I know they’re wrong, but I keep coming back to them. The question of biopics. Prick Up Your Ears, as it stands, is the most soap operatic of them all, as far as I’ve seen, in an underworld kind of way. London in a different age, experienced by people I can only understand depending on my mood.