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Prick Up Your Ears (1987)

Art House & International and Comedy movie directed by Stephen Frears

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What a Way to GO

  • Dec 30, 2006

What a Way to Go

Amos Lassen and Literary Pride

"Prick Up Your Ears" is a gem of a movie. It tells the true story of English playwright Joe Orton and his homosexual relationship with his talented but not so successful partner, Kenneth Halliwell. It is a solid drama and most amazing is that it is twenty years old.
Joe Orton was a daring and rebellious writer. Told through flashbacks, Orton's literary agent, played wonderful by the incomparable Vanessa Redgrave, relates her memories and reads entries from Orton's diary, beginning and ending with his horrible murder.
Born into the lower class, Orton (Gary Oldman) teamed up with an ambitious writer, Halliwell (Alfred Molina) at the Royal Academy of Drama in England,. They collaborated for years and when Orton broke out on his own, fame bit him on the neck. His plays include "loot" and "What the Butler Saw" and the charmed the critics and the public with his black comedies. At the same time he was living in a homosexual relationship which, back then, was illegal. He was also extremely sexually adventurous. The competition between he and hi s lover heightened and Halliwell dejected, feeling rejected, and very jealous hammered Orton to death in 1967 and took his own life immediately afterwards.
It was not only success de t talent that brought Orton fame. His personal charisma and luck also helped. The two men, who seemed to be talented equally were split apart when one of the pair became an award winning playwright and the other had no luck whatsoever.
Orton's death in 1976 caused quite a stir not only by the way he dies but by the fact that the nature of his relationship with Halliwell was revealed to the public.
It was Halliwell that seduced Orton when they were students and it was Halliwell who was more imaginative but a bit disturbed. After the two had begun their relationship each spent half a year in prison for defacing library books and while there Orton`s agent discovered his talent and guided him to success while Halliwell stayed behind in the shadows of his lover.
The acting in the movie is far above anything else dealing with homosexuality at the period in which it was made. In many cases, it is far above what we see today. The script is brilliant and it is very sad that the movie did not get the exposure it deserved. At times it is very raw and the death of Orton is shocking as we watch it from beginning to end. As is typical of so many British movies, it is literate and beautifully acted and photographed. Were it to be re-released today, I am sure it would find its rightful audiences and acting prizes would be handed out to the entire cast.

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More Prick Up Your Ears (1987) reviews
review by . September 25, 2006
. . . . well, maybe not lovers but more like two men who   shared a sexual history. When Ken hammered Joe to death,   it was hardly an act of love, but it was certainly an   act of history.    Unravelling the history of Ken and Joe is what Prick Up   Your Ears is about. Joe was playwright Joe Orton. Ken   was first his mentor, then his lover and finally-when   Joe's fame exceeded his-his depressed and angry drudge.   …
review by . September 08, 2004
Stephen Frears continues to deliver extraordinary films (Dirty Pretty Things, The Grifters, Dangerous Liaisons, My Beautiful Launderette, Loving Walter, High Fidelity among others) and returning now to his 1987 PRICK UP YOUR EARS not only shows this excellent film aging well, but now it shows how keenly Frears is able to depict a period in time. Set in the 1960s, Frears bases his story on the biography of Joe Orton (British playwright whose plays included 'Entertaining Mr. Sloane' and 'Loot'). And …
About the reviewer
Amos Lassen ()
Ranked #210
I am an academic who reivews movies and books of interest to the GLBT and Jewish communities.   I came to Arkansas after having been relocated here due to Hurricane Katrina. I was living in … more
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Joe Orton was briefly the embodiment of a certain kind of '60s rebel, and Stephen Frears's film adaptation of the British playwright's biography successfully conjures up that outrageous spirit. The hostile, fussy codependency between Orton (Gary Oldman) and his brooding lover Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina) forms the centerpiece of a story that features not only Orton's success and his brutal demise at Halliwell's hand, but also a vivid depiction of what gay sexuality meant in a repressive era. What really propels it are the performances--Oldman's naughty, overgrown boy could believably have written Orton's romps, and the powder-keg priss rendered by Molina helps establish motivations that the script lacks. It's always good to see Vanessa Redgrave (ideal as Orton's agent), and Julie Walters has a hysterically unrecognizable bit as Orton's exasperated mum. If the film is a bit aloof, it's also crisp and often acidly funny (Orton and Halliwell do jail time for writing luridly phony synopses in library books). Frears has done a memorable bit in bringing both a man and his time to life.--Steve Wiecking
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Director: Stephen Frears
Screen Writer: Alan Bennett, John Lahr
DVD Release Date: June 15, 2004
Runtime: 111 minutes
Studio: MGM Home Entertainment
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