Friday, July 29, 2011

KNOW Your LGBT History - The Naked Civil Servant

Last week, I featured Partners, a hideously homophobic movie starring Ryan O'Neal and John Hurt. I remarked about how it was amazing that Hurt would agree to be in such a movie seeing that earlier in his career, he won enormous critical acclaim and awards for his portrayal of Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant.

Today, I want to talk about the latter movie. The Naked Civil Servant was a 1975 British television movie detailing the life of Crisp, a legendary figure in the gay community, and his desire to live life as a flamboyantly out gay man and on his own terms in spite of the homophobia around him. And it was a dangerous time he lived in. Homosexuality was illegal in Great Britain then.

I never met the late Quentin Crisp, but from what I've seen in interviews, he embodied a spirit of self-love and self-awareness like no other. And Hurt did him more than justice with his portrayal. As I said before, Hurt received much acclaim and a few awards. From wikipedia:

For his performance, Hurt won the BAFTA for Best Actor in 1976. The production also won the 1976 Prix Italia and in 2000 it was placed fourth in a poll by industry professionals to find the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes of the 20th century.

The best thing about Hurt's performance is even now, it holds up as probably one of the best portrayals of a gay man on screen:

Past Know Your LGBT History Posts:

 Know your LGBT History - Partners

 Know Your LGBT History - All in the Family: Cousin Liz

Know Your LGBT History - Rebecca

Know Your LGBT History - urban African-American movies

Know Your LGBT History - Charles Pierce

 Know Your LGBT History - Torch Song Trilogy

The Best of Know Your LGBT History

Know Your LGBT History - Masters of Horror - Sick Girl

 Know Your LGBT History - MadTV

 Know Your LGBT History - Gimme A Break

Know Your LGBT History - Not Another Gay Movie

Know Your LGBT History - My Beautiful Laundrette

Know Your LGBT History - The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Know Your LGBT History - I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry

Know Your LGBT History - The Gay Deceivers

 Know Your LGBT History - Reflections in a Golden Eye

Know Your LGBT History - Dynasty

 Know Your LGBT History - Milk

 Know Your LGBT History - Black Shampoo

Know Your LGBT History - Never Too Young To Die

 Know Your LGBT History - All About Eve

Know Your LGBT History - Hotel

Know Your LGBT History - The Streets of San Francisco

Know Your LGBT History - Two looks at transgender characters in films

Know Your LGBT History - Flawless

Know Your LGBT History - Mahogany

Know Your LGBT History - Beverly Hills Cop

Know Your LGBT History - Some Like It Hot

Know Your LGBT History - Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia 

Know Your LGBT History - Dirty Laundry

Know Your LGBT History - The Willie Witch Project

Know Your LGBT History - Spartacus

Know Your LGBT History - Caged

Know Your LGBT History - The Birdcage

Know Your LGBT History - Maude

Know Your LGBT History - That Certain Summer

Know Your LGBT History - Boat Trip

Know Your LGBT History - Staircase

Know Your LGBT History - Beautiful Thing

Know Your LGBT History - Armed and Dangerous

Know Your LGBT History - The Proud Family

Know Your LGBT History - Suddenly Last Summer

Know Your LGBT History - Gay TV Now

Know Your LGBT History - Stewardess School

Know Your LGBT History - Up the Academy

Know Your LGBT History - Don't be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood

Know Your LGBT History - A Different Story

Know Your LGBT History - Victim

Know Your LGBT History - The Color Purple

Know Your LGBT History - Making Love

Know Your LGBT History - A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

Know Your LGBT History - Noah's Arc

Know Your LGBT History - Ode to Billy Joe

Know Your LGBT History - Adorable Adrian Adonis

Know Your LGBT History - The Night Strangler

Know Your LGBT History - All in the Family

Know Your LGBT History - Tongues Untied

Know Your LGBT History - The Celluloid Closet

Know Your LGBT History - Querelle

Know Your LGBT History - Theatre of Blood

Know Your LGBT History - Strange Fruit

Know Your LGBT History - Designing Women

Know Your LGBT History - The Children's Hour

Know Your LGBT History - Sylvester

Know Your LGBT History - Once Bitten

Know Your LGBT History - The Boys in the Band

Know Your LGBT History - Christopher Morley, the crossdressing assassin

Know Your LGBT History - Midnight Cowboy

Know Your LGBT History - Dracula's Daughter

Know Your LGBT History - Blacula

Know Your LGBT History - 3 Strikes

Know Your LGBT History - Paris Is Burning

Know Your LGBT History - The Women

Know your LGBT History - Soul Plane

Know Your LGBT History - The Player's Club

Special Know Your LGBT History - Fame

Know Your LGBT History - Welcome Home, Bobby

Know Your LGBT History - Barney Miller

Know your lgbt history - The Jerry Springer Show

Know your lgbt history - Martin Lawrence and that 'gay guy' on his show

Know your lgbt history - The Ricki Lake Show

Know your lgbt history - Which Way Is Up

Know your lgbt history - Gays in Primetime Soaps

Know your lgbt history - Boys Beware

Know your lgbt history - The Boondocks

Know your lgbt history - Mannequin

Know your lgbt history - The Warriors

Know Your LGBT History - New York Undercover

Know Your LGBT History - Low Down Dirty Shame

Know Your LGBT History - Fortune and Men's Eyes

Know your lgbt history - California Suite

Know your lgbt history - Taxi (Elaine's Strange Triangle)

Know your lgbt history - Come Back Charleston Blue

Know your lgbt history - James Bond goes gay

Know your lgbt history - Windows

Know your lgbt history - To Wong Foo and Priscilla

Know your lgbt history - Blazing Saddles

Know your lgbt history - Sanford and Son

Know your lgbt history - In Living Color

Know your lgbt history - Cleopatra Jones and her lesbian drug lords

Know your lgbt history - Norman, Is That You?

Know your lgbt history - The 'Exotic' Adrian Street

Know your lgbt history - The Choirboys

Know your lgbt history - Eddie Murphy

Know your lgbt history - The Killing of Sister George

Know your lgbt history - Hanna-Barbera cartoons pushes the 'gay agenda

'Know your lgbt history - Cruising

Know your lgbt history - Foxy Brown and Cleopatra Jones

Know your lgbt history - I Got Da Hook Up

Know your lgbt history - Fright Night

Know your lgbt history - Flowers of Evil

The Jeffersons and the transgender community 

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Sage said...

I had forgotten just how fabulous this is. Thanks Alvin!

BJ Jackson Lincoln said...

I am going to try and find a copy. Your collection for "Know Your LGBT History" is awsome. Thanks

BJ Jackson Lincoln said...

The Naked Civil Servant is on Netflix for streaming and DVD.

glendenb said...

Eight years ago (I think), the keynote at the Utah Gay Men's Health Summit was on horizontal homophobia - the idea of homophobia within the gay community that the butch guys disdain the feminine guys and the "regular" guys hold the drag queens in contempt and so on; the speaker even extended it to the idea that tops see themselves as butcher than bottoms and there are tops out there who argue they aren't real homosexuals, only bottoms. It was thought provoking.

As I watched the clip, I realized my own horizontal homophobia was being strongly activated.

Crisp always seemed to me a caricature of a gay man - a mincing, prancing queen fluttering his eye lashes at a world that doesn't love him while tossing off arch and ironic witticisms. John Inman's Mr. Humphries from Are You Being Served? was a similar character; time and again the show portrayed Mr Humphries as having a wild out of work life with access to experiences and knowledge not available to the straight characters. At the same time, that particular gay persona is so caught up in his own neurotic expressions of his sexuality that he ends up being de-sexed and unsexed - he never gets sex because he's so busy being a faggot (and yes, I'm using that term deliberately and advisedly).

As a gay man, I struggle because such a public image of gay men is so at odds with my own very dull mundane self and the very ordinariness of the gay men I know. We're not mincing, prancing queens. That's the aspect of horizontal homophobia that trips me up. I find myself looking down on gay men such as Quentin Crisp. I think it's not simply internalized heterosexism or homophobia - it is horizontal "you make gay men look like don't think the should look" homophobia. It's why there were and are so many struggles in the community drag queens at pride parades. It's toxic but real.

Now I'm all annoyed because you made me think on a Saturday morning when I just want to sit on the porch and drink tea and read a book.

Anonymous said...

Well for me MrCrisp will always be remembered for his role in Orlando,
as the aging queen Elizabeth the first.

BlackTsunami said...


I try not to think too much about it. I feel that if someone has a naturally "mincing" personality so to speak, then he shouldn't have to change to suit society. The point is not to allow the ignorance of others to cause us to attack our own or look down on our own. Homophobes are homophobes and if folks like Crisp didn't act they did, then homophobes would find a new reason, i.e. a another gay person to blame for their own ignorance.

glendenb said...

Alvin - I agree with you, and intellectually I know what you said is 100% right. For me, what is so insidious about horizontal homophobia is how easy it is to fall into its trap. Hugo Schwyzer has written about the power of homosociality - seeking approval from people of our own gender for our own gender roles and identity.

I was at a church in Provo a while back leading a workshop on glbt issues and we talked about gender roles and the need to respect people who are gender noncomforming. I know intellectually but for some reason watching the clip from the movie I was confronted by own horizontal homophobia - a strange sense that the movie created an image of homosexuality for lots of people that is an image I certainly couldn't live. I know it's my own discomfort around the price of being accepted as an out gay man; that price is partly not being "that kind of gay." This may merit a post of its own at one utah. It's troubling how these things worm their way into our brains.

Loellie said...

Be as butch as you want, rant as loud against pedophiles as you can, call for the ban of dark rooms and criminalization of unprotected sex and believe drag-queens come directly from hell, through the eyes of a homophobe you'll always be a "poof".

Throughout the 1930s in germany, "Normal" gays and assimilated jews (you'd be surprised how many jews were nationalists and agreed that the eastern jews were a problem to be solved) received the hardest punishments for deceiving the public.

40 years ago Rosa von Praunheims "Nicht der Homosexuelle ist pervers, sondern die Situation, in der er lebt" (It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives) kickstarted gay-lib in germany along the front-line "homophobia inside the gay community".
40 years later and dispite the progress society has made, we're standing pretty much at the same point.

Not to forget Stonewall where "normal" gays where absent ;-)

However, since glen acknoledges the problem on an intellectual level, i'm sure theres hope for him understanding that it's not the drag-queens, but the media that distorts the immage of gays, allthough we've come a long way in the last coupple of years.

Then again i was terribly dissapointed by the recent bbc-biopic on Isherwood and stopped watching it about half way through.
I found it verry superficial and actually a bit disturbing. In stark contrast to "The naked Civil Servant".

Thanks a lot for this one.

Debbi Rose said...

In 1976 or 1977, I actually met Mr Crisp. He cam to a meeting of the Gay Student Union on the UCI (University of California, Irvine) campus. He was a charming raconteur and even went on to party with us afterward.