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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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Everything you need to know about WorldPride 2021

Party in Scandinavia with the happiest people on Earth

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Confetti rained down in New York’s Times Square at Stonewall 50 WorldPride New York’s closing ceremony two years ago. (Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

By Mikey Rox| NEW YORK – It’s been two years since Stonewall 50 – WorldPride NYC 2019 became the largest international Pride celebration in history, but the “bye” year of 2020 wasn’t due to the pandemic. 

The global celebration has been held every odd-numbered year since 2017 given its massive logistical undertaking (with sporadic celebrations in 2006, 2012 and 2014 before then), and WorldPride Copenhagen – Malmö 2021 couldn’t have come at a better time. 

Hundreds of thousands of cooped-up queer revelers and allies will flock to the twin host cities in Denmark and Sweden, respectively, from Aug. 12-22, to party with the happiest people on the planet, a delightful distinction provided to the Scandinavian countries by the United Nations’ famous World Happiness Report. (The United States ranked No. 19 in the most recent report, FYI.) 

So what’s in store for this year’s all-out progressive-flag-flying festival? Read on for more.

Two LGBTQ anniversaries in Denmark

If you can believe it, it’s been 70 years since Danish doctors in 1951 performed the world’s first successful genital reconstruction surgery, a medical marvel that provided hope to transgender people the world over. This year is also the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Gay Liberation Front’s Danish chapter, which has been instrumental in blazing trails toward equality for the country. Look how far it’s come.

Opening ceremonies kick off in Copenhagen

In conjunction with Copenhagen Pride, WorldPride will officially start late afternoon on Aug. 13, but in adherence with COVID-19 protocols the opening ceremony won’t be held in WorldPride Square (at least not as of press time; things could – and probably will – change). That potential snafu notwithstanding, Denmark welcomes vaccinated U.S. travelers, and if any testing is needed, both PCR and antigen tests will be available free to everyone, including tourists, 24/7. Copenhagen is OPENhagen again.

WorldPride Square will be open for the rest of the fest

WorldPride Square, a makeshift village of sorts (similar to the Olympics) located within Copenhagen’s main square, will provide a gathering place for all attendees that have traveled far and wide. LGBTQ+ and non-governmental organizations spanning the globe will set up shop in the square to greet pedestrians, provide information, and invite folks to get involved. Art exhibits also will be a centerpiece of the village, alongside a street-food market and bars with plenty of space to relax. 

EuroGames will be held simultaneously

If you enjoy watching athletes compete in variety of sports that range from boxing and badminton to dancing and dodgeball, add the spectator-friendly EuroGames to your list of to-dos while you’re in Copenhagen. If you want to get hands-on, consider signing up to become a volunteer at the games, to be held Aug. 18-20; EuroGames’ website is currently accepting those applications. 

Spread out and explore other WorldPride villages

While WorldPride Square will serve as the jump-off for the 10 days of festivities, other available villages will allow crowds to spread out and explore their individual interests. In addition to Sports Village for EuroGames athletes and fans, other villages will focus on kids and families, youth, women, and the queer community, among others. Programs and content of these villages will be target-audience specific but open to everyone.

You might have a brush with royalty

Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark, Countess of Monpezat, is patron of Copenhagen 2021, making her the first-ever royal to serve in the role for a major LGBTQ+ event. Say hi if you spot her; she knows a queen when she sees one.

Despite pandemic protocol, the show will go on

Organizers have said in an official statement that despite some COVID-19 restrictions, they’re “continuing to plan for full delivery of all Copenhagen 2021 events taking into account the guidance and recommendations” of government agencies. Doubling down, organizers have promised they will not cancel or postpone events. 

Now there’s only one thing left to do: Let’s go!

Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBT lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels)

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Hollywood’s Peter Kallinteris Agency launching LGBTQ dreams

“It’s important to me to actively participate with a platform and space for the LGBTQ community. I want to make a difference and be a leader”

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Hollywood sign courtesy of the City of Los Angeles

HOLLYWOOD – Whether they’d admit to it or not the aspiration for most actors is to be sitting in the Dolby Theatre at some point in their careers, dressed in their finest fashion ensemble at the most prestigious event of the year and hear, “and the Oscar goes to [insert their name].” Conversely also true for the Emmy awards or the Tony awards, yet for many LGBTQ artists the path to that goal is fraught with obstacles and difficulties.

In 2018, a young Black actor from Atlanta, Georgia, was given a supporting role as Ethan in the surprise hit film Love Simon. That actor, Clark Moore, in interviews with host Rob Watson, journalists Dawn Ennis and Brody Levesque on RATED LGBTQ RADIO and separately with Teen Vogue’s Shammara Lawerence spoke of the difficulty landing roles like that of Ethan, but also the conflict inherent with how the film and television industry has seen LGBTQ actors.

Answering a question by Teen Vogue’s Lawerence centered on that conflict, Moore bluntly assessed the landscape telling her; “Historically, I think the reason why there haven’t been more gay roles or more gay actors playing roles that have lots of layers to them and lots of depths to them is because for whatever reason, people think that the story is done. We’ve seen the gay character. We know what he says. We know what he thinks. We don’t need to tell that story anymore, but if you think about it, we’ve had a full canon of stories about straight white men that stretch back millennia, and so we’re only scratching the surface,” Moore pointed out.

“If we can have stories about people all the way back thousands of years ago and we can still be telling the same story now about straight white men and their journey to self-discovery or redemption, there’s plenty of stories to tell of people of color and LGBTQ people and anybody who falls in the intersection of those two identities,” he added.

Yet in the age of digital moving beyond the traditional film and television as more and more content is streamed online- and there’s insatiable need by casting agencies for a wider diverse spectrum of actors, there are still obstacles in the path for LGBTQ actors, especially trans and disabled LGBTQ actors.

Enter Peter Kallinteris, who with his broad based knowledge and understanding of the critical needs of the LGBTQ actor community decided that the time has arrived to have specialized representation for that community.

“Looking to the past, Hollywood hasn’t been very kind to the Queer community. Throughout the history of cinema gay men were either played as effeminate, weak, airheads, and lesbians as tough softball or gym coaches, who are often played by straight people,” Kallinteris said. “Within the the broader culture, there are subcultures, just as within any community. They are nuances within each that will never find its way between the pages of a table read.”

“To create an authentic moment the space has to be made for those who’ve lived that life every day. Gay, Black, White or Straight ect, our experiences of the world are different depending on how we show up. In many cases that will determine our outcomes,” he noted. “Specialized representation is so important because without the lingering trauma, and continued hatred & fear toward our community the Queer division of PKA wouldn’t exist, we’d just be accepted. We have important stories to tell and will continue to be telling them. PKA is just the begging for all to feel safe and thrive.”

In a statement issued from his offices at the Sunset-Gower Studios, the former historic home of pioneering Columbia Pictures founded in 1918, Kallinteris reflected, “When I was a young Actor being gay was career ending.”

“Today it’s celebrated. It’s important to me to actively participate with a platform and space for the LGBTQ community. I want to make a difference and be a leader because I can.”

To accomplish this he launched the Queer Division of his PKA agency. “The Queer Division of  PKA was inevitable, a natural outgrowth of my own personal evolution first by coming out as gay man, from Artist to Agent. The timing was right to make an impact with talent,” he said.

“As my Agency grew I was able to gleam that there was a space beginning to open up by which I could represent the full spectrum of Queer humanity & sexuality within the arts. Not as one dimensional static caricatures, but as beings who’s emotions run the full gamut of the human experience. This was very exciting to me, I have a opportunity to effect change. I wanted to be apart of history Pioneering a movement,” he added. 

He said that his message to LGBTQ artists is simple. “I want talent to know they will be given the opportunity to be who they are, live their truth and work for who they are without rejection, humiliation, fear, or hopelessness. People perform at their best, live at their best. And do their best when they are happiest.  PKA is not just a brand, we are the LGBTQIA community. If life imitates art, then let’s represent it boldly!”

His expectations of the film and television industry’s reaction? “My inspiration to launch the Q.D. is truthfully representing talent that reflects the current needs for the industry, and to remain a permanent fixture within the industry that continues to grow stronger. I want the industry to understand I’ve created this environment specifically for the Queer community. I’m happy & honored to be the first Agency that represents this community in this way,” Kallinteris said.

Last week, PKA, whose clients include, Justin Jedlica (TV personality), Steven James Tingus (President George W. Bush’s lead for disability research and policy for eight years), Kate Linder (The Young and the Restless), Albert Lawrence (IMDB Host), Deric Battiste aka DJ D-Wrek (MTV’s Wild ‘N Out), and Leslie Stratton (The Swing of Things, Truth or Dare), announced the launch of the Queer Division in a video.

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Julia Scotti, the movie, is just Funny That Way

Life is funny that way—not working out quite the way we thought it would. And that is ultimately the point

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Graphic courtesy of Susan Sandler

WHITING, NJ. – “You are a piece of work, Julia!” Simon Cowell blurted during her landmark America’s Got Talent debut.  Julia Scotti had just completed her audition for the show that ended not only with a standing ovation, but with the revelation that she had once upon a time been a stand-up comedian named Rick. As that news crossed the faces of the four judges, their collective jaws dropped. “I mean like you come out as the nice little granny school teacher all sweet and then you go into your routine and like WHOA. Talk about surprises – they are never ending with you, are they?” Cowell finished.

With Julia Scotti, the surprises never end.

Her latest surprise for the public is a gem of a film, Julia Scotti: Funny That Way.  It is a documentary of her journey from the days of Rick, the up and coming comic who performed on bills with Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld to Julia, who is wowing millions.

Of her transition, Julia has remarked. “It is NEVER an easy process whether you’re a public figure or not. You are essentially killing your old self and ending your old life. And with that comes the history you’ve built with friends and family. Some are very accepting, but most are not. That is why the suicide attempt rate for Trans  folk is still at 41%.”

Funny That Way does not spare us the heart-breaking fallout from the virtual “death’ of Rick Scotti.  Filmmaker Susan Sandler weaves Julia’s story, the losses and damage, to her rebirth, healing and the reuniting with her kids after a 15-year estrangement.

Julia and Susan sat down with us on the podcast Rated LGBT Radio to talk about the film.  “This is a story and like all stories, there is a beginning and a middle and an end. In the end, I want the audience to know there is HOPE. It is bumpy at times, joyous at times.  It is not just isolated to my life. You can have that in your life when you walk through that door of your own truth and come out the other side and when you look back on all you went through, you go ‘what the hell was I so afraid of?’ Look how happy I am.” Julia explains.

Susan had never directed a documentary before, but as one of Hollywood’s master story tellers, and a Golden Globe nominee, she was unfazed.  “The impetus behind this film was falling in love with Julia, her, then and now.  If you are working from a really rich, complex, compelling character –which is Julia—that is the GIFT. All of my nerve endings, my story telling, told me this was dynamic documentary, and that’s the form in which I wanted to tell it.”

Susan took five years to research, document and interact with Julia’s past.  She went through old footage of Rick Scotti’s stage acts and restored many of them so they could be used in the film. She brought on composer Matt Hutchinson for a beautiful score, and animator Sam Roth for whimsical cartoons that tie the story together.

Before the filming started, Julia had just re-connected with her son Dan, and daughter Emma.  A decade and a half ago, when Julia announced to her then spouse that she was in fact a woman transitioning, her then-wife retaliated by taking their kids away.  Dan and Emma spent their whole adolescence not knowing Julia at all. The story of that pain is told in Funny That Way.  Susan wanted to show the relationships real-time in the film as they came to reconnect with Julia. “We were just at the beginning stages of reconciling,” recounts Julia. “I did not want them feeling like I was just reconnecting with them because I wanted them in this film. I did not want to distance them even more.”

Dan and Emma were onboard, however.  Also on board, albeit only by phone, was Kate. Kate was  Julia’s last wife, described as Julia’s “love of her life”. Kate supported Julia emotionally and spiritually through out the entire transition process.  One of the most poignant moments in the film was Julia hearing Kate describe the end of their relationship.  Kate’s support was significant, but once Julia became fully Julia, it was evident to both that their relationship had changed and they had to let it go.

Susan captured many live moments of Julia’s evolving life.  She caught the very first time that son Dan ever called Julia “his mother” and the effect was pronounced.  Also caught in the film was a moment when Julia and Dan are watching Rick’s old stand up routines.  One such performance  takes Julia by surprise—it was a routine that she had not remembered ever doing.  It was a set where then Rick expressed his revulsion to transgender women in no uncertain terms.  Julia sat shocked.

“My sensibilities have been ‘woked’, I think that is the term for it.” She told me about that experience. ”Thinking back, I was going through issues and aware that something was not right internally. It frightened me to no end.  Looking at that clip, I am totally ashamed of what I did. It embarrassed me.”

“I knew it was me. I knew I was there. But I don’t feel a connection with that person.  That is the truth.”

The film does not dwell long on the past shames and regrets.  It arcs to the present where an adult daughter gets to see her parent’s comedy routine for the very first time.

Some of the greatest joy in the film is witnessing the growing relationship between Julia and son Dan. Dan is sweet and compassionate, and they both have a deep love of comedy.  Through their discussions and collaboration on things funny, we witness something decidedly not funny, the deep re-kindling love they have for each other.

The film will make you laugh, and cry, and laugh again.  New clips of Julia’s now famous turn on America’s Got Talent shows her more personal reflective moments over a life changing triumph.

The only regret director Sandler has about the film is how it will be brought to the public. “I am happy to be brining the film now for the people who have an appetite for it. For the truth, the humor, the complete emotional honesty.  But I mourn. I mourn the moments not being able to sit with you in a theater. And experiencing the film with you. It was supposed to be seen by audiences, and then give them the opportunity to go down the street and see Julia live at a club.”  But, life is funny that way—not working out quite the way we thought it would.   And that is ultimately the point.

Editor’s Note: The film was originally slated for theatrical release which was delayed then put off by the coronavirus pandemic.

Julia Scotti: Funny That Way is available now on digital platforms! That means you can rent or buy it online, at places like iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play and more.

Here’s the full list of where you can find it. 

DIGITAL

iTunes
Amazon
Google Play
Xbox
VUDU
FandangoNow
Vimeo On Demand

CABLE / SATELLITE

iN Demand Movies
Verizon
AT&T
Vubiquity
DirecTV
Dish
Telus

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