. . . . 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. Prick Up Your Ears doesn't unravel the history of this relationship so much as it caresses its surface, playing with issues of wit and style. The play is attractive, even funny, but it never hellps us to understand what kept this unlikely pair together for 16 years.
The movie rises above the level of morbid peep show only by standing on the shoulders of three great performances. Alfred Molina as the tormented Ken and Gary Oldman as the sociable and heartless Joe keep the somewhat superficial screenplay together. Julie Walters (Educating Rita) as Joe's crazed kin almost steals the show.
In the end, Orton's inability to recognize the value that Ken had added to his life and Ken's refusal to live without that recognition leads the grisly murder- suicide with which the film begins.
"PRICK UP YOUR EARS" 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, … more
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 … more
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