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‘Maurice’ returns to the big screen 30 years later

The Merhant-Ivory classic still packs a punch

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Maurice movie, gay news, Washington Blade
Maurice movie, gay news, Washington Blade

James Wilby and Hugh Grant in ‘Maurice,’ 1987. (Image courtesy merchantivory.com)

It’s been 30 years since “Maurice,” the Merchant-Ivory adaptation of E.M. Forster’s posthumously published novel of gay love, made its theatrical debut.

A lot has happened across that time span, not the least of it being the rapid gains LGBT rights have made, climaxed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s approval of same-sex marriage. Two entire generations of gay men suffered the ravages of a deadly AIDS epidemic. In that context, it is striking to see the film again, given all we have achieved since its release.

On the screen many gay love stories have come in “Maurice’s” wake, the most famous being the closeted sheepherder saga “Brokeback Mountain” (2005). But that was a gay love story with an unhappy ending. Those with happy ones like “Maurice” include “Beautiful Thing” (1996), a tale of gay lower middle-class British teenagers, and “Weekend” (2011), about an adult pair of British bohemians. But none have quite the special charge of “Maurice,” stemming from its lush setting and aristocratic-commoner breeding.

E.M. Forster (1879-1970) has long been acknowledged as one of Great Britain’s greatest writers. But he was largely the subject of academic study until the 1980s, when film adaptations of his work made him popular.

David Lean’s opulent adaptation of his best-known work, “A Passage to India,” was a considerable success in 1984. It was followed in 1985 by Merchant-Ivory’s far more modestly scaled adaptation of “A Room with a View.” Both “Passage” and “Room” deal with sexual awakening — producing dire results in the former but highly copasetic ones in the latter. The sight of Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) suddenly kissed in a sun-drenched field in Italy by a rakishly handsome youth (Julian Sands), proved especially popular below the Mason-Dixon line where bevies of proper “Southern Belles” longed to be likewise ravished.

Beautifully made, perfectly paced and delightfully acted, “Room” was an enormous success.

But Merchant-Ivory’s next Forster step would be “Maurice,” a love story of a far more intense stripe.

Forster was an intimate friend with the radical and openly gay poet Edward Carpenter, whose life in the English countryside was completely removed from the world Forster resided in. Carpenter and his lover, George Merrill were an inspiration for the book. But the saga of “Maurice” largely reflects Forster’s own life and frustration with his class — Carpenter’s counter-example coming into view only at the novel’s end.

Originally written in 1914, then revised in 1932 and again in 1960, “Maurice” was shown by Forster only to select friends, including Christopher Isherwood, to whom he entrusted the manuscript. Forster, who died in 1970, wanted “Maurice” to be published after his passing. He didn’t believe it was possible for such a story to be released in his lifetime. And judging from the largely condescending reviews it received in 1972, it appeared he was right. “Maurice” is not only an “openly gay novel,” it’s an attack on the class from which he came and the literary culture that thought it knew him.

“Maurice” was greeted with snarky condescension — except in gay political circles where it was heartily embraced.

Merchant-Ivory’s decision to create the film was a daring one. With James Wilby, Hugh Grant and Rupert Graves at the apex of their beauty, Merchant-Ivory were not pressed to be “sensational” in the mise en scene. “Maurice” isn’t “The Boys in the Band.” But it isn’t “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (its nearest gay “relative”) either. It’s a film that’s both of Edwardian England and 1987 at the same time.

Forster was exceedingly scrupulous in making his titular hero an intelligent, but in no way “remarkable” man. Obviously well educated, Maurice (James Wilby) is not an intellectual or an aesthete “of the Oscar Wilde sort,” as he calls himself after first fully recognizing his gay desires. That isn’t clear to him right away. His love for fellow student Clive Durham (Hugh Grant) remains platonic, while edging close to the fully physical. A scene in which his professor (Barry Forster) advises a student reading a classic text aloud to skip a passage concerning “the unspeakable vices of the Greeks,” sets up a confrontation with a fellow student (Mark Tandy) who has clearly given into them. When this same student is arrested for coming on to a Royal Guardsman (notorious in their history as hustlers for the rich and famous) and goes to prison for it much like Oscar Wilde, the example of his ruined life is all Clive needs to call off his affair with Maurice.

“What is to become of me,” Maurice cries when Clive tells him it’s all over (a deeply moving moment beautifully played by Wilby).

He gets his answer when Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves), the under-games-keeper at Clive’s estate, climbs through his bedroom window at night and makes love to him. For a gay man of that era, fearful of his own desires as much as the wrath of society, this is the ultimate sexual fantasy. Yet as “fantastic” as it might seem, Forster takes it quite seriously. Because of his love for Scudder, Maurice will not simply “get over” his tortured semi-affair with Clive, he will turn his back on British society and, as Mark Twain would say “head off for the territory.” This is what Edward Carpenter did.

But it isn’t the route Forster — the man himself — took. For rather than head to the country, Forster found his own “Scudder” in town — a policeman named Bob Buckingham. That Buckingham was married didn’t complicate matters, as his wife was apparently amenable to her husband having his novelist as a love “on the down low.”

It might have been interesting (though obviously less romantic) had Forster contrived an ending to Maurice directly in line with his own life. But in the course of writing the book he made a number of significant alterations that explain why he didn’t do so.

Originally, Forster penned an epilogue depicting a meeting between Maurice and his sister Kitty some years later. Alec and Maurice have by now become woodcutters. He doesn’t explain it fully to her, but it becomes clear to Kitty why her brother disappeared. This portion of the novel would have underlined the extreme dislike that Kitty feels for her brother. The epilogue ends with Maurice and Alec in each other’s arms at the end of the day, discussing seeing Kitty and resolving that they must move on to avoid detection. Happily, for gay audiences, Foster eschewed this melodrama.

A typical critics reaction was Roger Ebert’s review of the film; he declares the ending impossible to believe since Maurice and Alec are from different classes and, he surmised, in that era would never have spoken much less formed a life together.

Clearly, critics like Ebert failed to understand Forster’s point, which is echoed not only in his own life but that of other gay artists of his era.

W. Somerset Maugham’s lovers, Gerald Haxton and Alan Searle, were both from the lower middle classes. Likewise Terence Rattigan’s lover, Michael Franklin.

Rattigan recognized the genius of a lesser class, playwright Joe Orton, whose “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” he praised. Orton, precisely the sort of lower class “lout” that attracted Rattigan sexually, was thoroughly committed to writing “well-made plays” in the Rattigan manner — though sexually radical in content. Rattigan said his ideal audience was a figure he called “Aunt Edna,” and in tribute Orton created “Mrs. Edna Welthorpe,” a comic persona he used to write cheeky letters to people regarding their “goods and services.” Had Orton not been murdered by his mentally unbalanced lover, Kenneth Halliwell, he might well have followed Rattigan’s example and ventured into the cinema.

A lot has happened since 1987. Not just that Ismail Merchant — Jim Ivory’s partner in life and art — has died (as a result of an ulcer operation) but legions of gay men died in an AIDS epidemic that, when “Maurice” was first released, was just getting its full head of deadly steam. People like Maurice and Scudder died by the score — Denholm Elliot, who played the doctor that advises Maurice, among them.

Yet the love of Maurice and Scudder persists among gay men even today. We are, all of us, either waiting by a bedroom window or climbing up a ladder into one, in a world that Forster could never have dreamed possible.

Merchant-Ivory’s film reminds us that though he’s been dead for 46 years, E.M. Forster is still very much alive in us all.

Cohen Media Group has re-mastered 30 films by the legendary Merchant Ivory Productions, including Maurice, which is set for release in select theaters this month.

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Belinda Carlisle brings a heavenly Christmas Bash December 16th

Her work evolves beyond the demands of the pop market while never losing its hooks and whimsy. it reflects Belinda’s evolving life

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Courtesy of Belinda Carlise

HOLLYWOOD – On December 16th, 7pm, the city of West Hollywood transforms into a piece of “Heaven on Earth.” An angelic supernatural deity from the sky won’t be delivering this gift, but rather an angel from iconic pop paradise.

That night, Belinda Carlisle makes a grand entrance and gives an eager audience the presence of a queen of pop, the most recent inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with her group, The Go-Gos.

It will be on that night that Belinda Carlisle hosts THE party event of the season with co-host, drag superstar, Trixie Mattel. One sings, one throws comedic shade, and a packed room at the Abbey will be losing their collective minds.  Not that the party itself isn’t all the reason you would need to get it on your calendar, the evening benefits a fantastic charity, The Animal People Alliance (APA), that intertwines the love for animals with the salve to human suffering.

Courtesy of Trixie Mattel

APA’s charter reads: “To provide high quality and compassionate care, of the highest standards, to neglected street animals in India and Thailand. We train and employ vulnerable people from the community, and pay living wages that help them improve their standard of living.”   The organization, by employing people who would otherwise be stateless and/or in poverty, has treated over 16000 street animals since 2014. Their programs for animals include rabies vaccinations, sterilizations and other emergency health aid.

Belinda sat down with me this week on the podcast RATED LGBT RADIO to talk about her life, her amazing career, her party and the strength she has achieved in standing up to both inner and outer demons.

She survives. She fearlessly opens herself up, and if anyone scrutinizes her past… she will lead the way.  She happily tells of being a member of the most successful all-women pop bands in history.  They sang and wrote their own songs, they played their own instruments. They did it on their terms. No men were needed or required. She candidly shares about her struggles with eating disorders and drug addiction. 

Belinda shows profound compassion for those struggling with addiction and darkness, “Addiction is a sickness…it is a disease of perception, you can’t see your effect on other people… It is a trap you feel you can’t get out of. Every addict has a heart and a humanity that is obscured by addiction. It is a horrible, horrible thing for anyone to go through. It is hard to remember that there is a heart under all that, there is something divine under all that darkness.”

Her interest focuses more on what came after she embarked on recovery  “My life is much more exciting since sobriety, even more exciting than the hey day with the Go-Gos. For anyone out there who is worried about aging, or life being over at a certain point—it’s not. Life is just the most amazing miracle and privilege.”

Her significance for the LGBTQ community, impacts many of the most vulnerable.  She is the mom of a gay man, activist and writer, James Duke Mason. His birth made her examine the trajectory of fame, drugs, and rock & roll in which she was on, careening threateningly close to disaster and death.

She had settled comfortably into maternal nurturement when Duke came out to her at the age of 14. Belinda had been impressed with Duke’s ability to explain the situation to her. She found out that he had been online with PFLAG for weeks learning about how to present his news to her, information to give and educated about key talking points. 

Appreciating their real life help of a young person in need, Belinda vehemently supported PFLAG, the Trevor Project and others ever since. “I am so glad I have a gay son, I can’t even tell you,” she says.

Artistically, she also continues to thrive.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally inducted the Go-Gos this year.  It was an honor 15 years in the making.  It should have been an obvious choice to put them there.

As the first all-female group making it big, they sang, wrote every note and played every instruments. The Go-Go’s, a 2020 American/Irish/Canadian documentary film directed and produced by Alison Ellwood, cast attention on the Hall of Fame oversight, and essentially made the case for how special the group actually was.

Belinda also recently released a new single Get Together a cover of the 1967 Youngbloods hit. The Youngbloods sang it at Woodstock in 1969 to make a statement about the divisions of the Viet Nam era in America.

Belinda sings it now, her voice pure, mature and as an anthem making a plea, if not a motherly order, to reconsider the divisions we are experiencing today.  She says, “We live in this age of outrage.  This song is ‘ok people, CHILL OUT’. All this divisiveness is not going to get us anywhere. It’s timely.”

Beyond Get Together, Belinda works on more new music including singles and a new album.  She continues to produce with the top song creators of the industry including award winning song writer Diane Warren and Go-Gos dates at the end of the year.

Her work evolves beyond the demands of the pop market while never losing its hooks and whimsy. it reflects the channeling of Belinda’s evolving life.  When she lived in France, she released a French collection.

As she delved into spirituality and the culture of Thailand, she released the powerful Wilder Shores, which blended a spiritual mantra into pop hooks. “Chanting is a science, it has a super power. It is not airy fairy,” she states.

The fact is, Belinda Carlisle continues arriving and thrilling.  She does not need to prove herself to anyone.  She has defined the next thirty years of her life as philanthropy.  

“I just wing it as I go along. I learned what it is like to work from the heart. Work in a way where you don’t care about any kind of outcome. That is how I am working now. I am just having fun, and doing just what I want. I am really lucky that way,” she declares.

Her party on December 16th at the Abbey appears right on track to bear that out.

Love, humanity, care of animals and a major splash of fabulousness enveloping an enthused audience.

In other words, pure Belinda.

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Listen to the full interview:

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Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the evolequals.com.

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.

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Andy Grammer partners with Trans Chorus of Los Angeles

Celebrating how important it is to live your life, your authenticity, and to feel good about who you are

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Andy Grammer partnered with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (Screenshot via YouTube)

LOS ANGELES – In honor of Transgender Awareness Week, Andy Grammer partnered with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (America’s first Trans Chorus, embracing all members of the trans, non-binary and intersex communities) for a special live performance of “Damn It Feels Good To Be Me” – celebrating how important it is to live your life, your authenticity, and to feel good about who you are. What a special moment. In conjunction with the partnership a donation has been made by Andy to the TCLA.

A note from TCLA: “The Chorus really enjoyed the song and especially performing it with Andy around the piano. It was upbeat and expressed how important it is to live your life and your authenticity and to feel good about who you are. That is the thrust of our Chorus philosophy of moving from victim to victorious.”

Connect with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles:https://transchorusla.org/

Andy Grammer – Damn It Feels Good To Be Me (featuring Trans Chorus of Los Angeles)

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Michael Kearns, the Godfather of LGBTQ+ authenticity

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level

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Michael Kearns by Keida Mascaro

HOLLYWOOD – The arc of LGBTQ+ history over the past 50 years has been one of constant upheaval and evolvement. From a period when it was both illegal and insane to be gay, through the achievement of being able to serve openly in the military, to marriage equality and the ability to create families to today’s fight against the tyranny against Trans people, the movement has not stopped to take a breath.

Michael Kearns, the first recognized “out” actor on the Hollywood landscape, has been a visible presence through it all. More importantly, he has always” been visible on the gay scene. In the seventies he epitomized the free love and erotic freedom that many gay men lived. He was featured in classic gay porn movies and did a PR stint as the face of the “happy hustler.”  

“That was my introduction to a lot of people,” Michael told me when we sat down for a chat on Rated LGBT Radio. “I kind of captured the zeitgeist of the times, the freewheeling seventies. We forget that there was that period of time when sexuality was joyful and exciting and thrilling.”

In the eighties he was visible in mainstream media as a gay man playing gay men characters. In 1983, Michael was cast in a minor role on the Cheers Emmy winning episode “the Boys in the Bar.”  He was instantly recognized for his gay sexual iconic status by LGBTQ audiences, even though the population at large did not know who he was. The casting director who fought for his casting was Stephen Kolzak, who would himself become a prominent AIDS activist before he died at 37 in 1990. Stephen casted Michael to make a statement. He wanted to signal to the LGBTQ community that Cheers had our backs. “He was one of the only ones that had the guts,” Michael remembers.

“There were a lot of stereotypes in television regarding gay portrayals. I was pegged and cast in some of those roles. I did play the stereotype, but rather than a straight guy playing those roles, I brought authenticity. I was real. Straight guys playing gay would always spoof the role. They were always ‘winking’ and signaling to the camera ‘I am not really that way.’  So, the performances are by in large horrible, even with some academy award winners. The actors were constantly saying that it was not who they were—if they weren’t making that clear on the talk shows, they were doing it in the performance itself.’ Michael says.

Michael soon morphed into an HIV positive man playing HIV positive characters, while off camera becoming a visible and vocal AIDS activist. “It was a new kind of cliché. They had to always make me look horrible. The ghastlier the better. They could not have an HIV character who looked normal—as I did when I arrived at the set. Finally, I had enough and refused to do that anymore.” Michael then immersed himself in theater where he found greater character honesty and truth.

 As gay men captured their identities in the 90s as husbands and fathers, Michael was there too—becoming one of the first gay men to adopt a child.  It is that role, as a father, that Michael has said is his greatest.

Today, Michael has been a driving force behind QueerWise, a multigenerational writing collective and performance group. Through QueerWise, Michael gives poetic voice to talent that would otherwise be voiceless. Its members include published poets, writers of fiction and non-fiction, playwrights, singers, musicians, social activists, dancers, actors artists and teachers. 

This weekend, on Sunday October 17th, QueerWise launches its latest work, The Ache for Home. 

“The Ache for Home is a video presentation of heartfelt stories from formerly homeless/unhoused individuals in and around West Hollywood. It was developed through a mentorship program facilitated by QueerWise members. The production represents citizens-turned-writers who share their inspirational stories from those glamorous streets and sidewalks, ranging from soaring self-acceptance to narratives of truth-telling defeats,” states Michael. The production can be seen on QueerWise’s YouTube Channel starting 5pm October 17.

The Ache for Home features a young cis male with a passion for music and art, who finds joy “when I can put a smile on someone’s face and give back”, a retired mixed race bisexual government worker who is a voracious reader and literacy advocate, two trans males share their experiences of living on the street, and a former resident playwright who was homeless for 44 days and nights in the city. “I am thrilled at our inclusion of transmen in this work,” Michael says. “It is a poorly represented community within a poorly represented community.”

On current controversies with media and transgender targeting, particularly the Dave Chappelle issue, Michael remarks, “I am glad it is generating passion. It is bringing up conversation on the plights of black trans women who are victimized at an alarming rate, we should not say victimized… we should say murdered. I am glad we are shedding light on that.”

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level. The Ache for Home takes its inspiration from the Maya Angelou quote, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Michael Kearns work has always encouraged us to go, and live, “as we are.” He is the amalgamation of eroticism, grief, healing, and appreciating the richness of life itself.

He is the godfather of LGBT+ authenticity. In earlier days, he may have represented sex, he may have walked us through a period of darkness and death into the arms of the creation of the new family. He has now brought us home, and when we look at him, we see a new quality.

Wisdom.

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Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the evolequals.com.

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.

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Listen to the show here:

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