prick up your ears

A screen, pitch black. A letterbox opens, two eyes peering through all gloryhole curious. Pull back, sharply yanked. The door caves kicked in. Trilbied police thunder through. “Dear oh dear oh dear. Somebody here’s been playing silly buggers” smirks a suave D.C. surveying the still warm corpses of playwright Joe Orton and his murdering, then suicidally jealous lover Kenneth Halliwell. Prick Up Your Ears. Stephen Frears’s 1987 film of the same name was an assault on all senses and sensibilities.

John Lahr, The Orton Diaries, cover

John Lahr’s biography of Orton was first published in 1978 but it was the twin pronged late 1980’s arrival of the unexpurgated paperback of The Orton Diaries and Frears’ motion picture that shifted the emphasis from Orton’s plays to the surly, nascent Queer aesthetic of his life itself. The Diaries’ cover with it’s Pop Art oils of Orton’s smirking, naked torso carried the simple nine word review “Buy two copies; one is sure to be stolen” and made for dangerous, knee trembling teenage purchasing in Guildford W.H.Smiths. After 5 years of clumsy AIDS terror ad campaigns, of Red Wedge and Bronski Beat, complimentary condoms and having to explain to well meaning, caring adults what rimming was before you’d even had The Sex, Orton proved to be an intoxicating, lawless and brutally sexy icon. Overnight he became the poster boy for tight T’s, indigo Levis with 6 inch turnups, converse baseball boots. Oh yes, and Cottaging. Lots of it. The film told not only this, Joe’s story but managed to evoke a battered Post War London more anti-vivid in it’s muted greys and mossy greens than any Pathe newsreel.

by Dom Agius 12/o6/o9

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