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Rupert Everett goes Wilde in ‘The Happy Prince’

An Oscar-worthy turn as writer, director and actor

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Colin Morgan and Rupert Everett in ‘The Happy Prince.’ (Photo courtesy Front Row Features)

When it comes to classic literary figures, there are few that still lay claim to as much widespread name recognition as Oscar Wilde.

This is especially true, perhaps, within the LGBTQ community, where Wilde is considered an icon, a kind of gay great-grandfather whose flamboyant style and scandalous sensibilities have inspired generations of young queer people to live their own truth.

Even so, many people – if not most – are less familiar with the body of work he left behind than they are with his tragic personal history.

“The Happy Prince,” a new film about Wilde’s final days, is not likely to change that.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Wilde – who like countless men of his time was closeted and married to a woman – was having a love affair with the young Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, whose father was the Marquess of Queensbury. When the Marquess publicly called out Wilde as a “sodomite,” Wilde attempted to sue him for libel – which backfired when the Marquess produced proof in court of Wilde’s same-sex liaisons. Because homosexuality was illegal at the time, the author was then tried and convicted for “gross indecency” and sentenced to two years in prison. Upon his release, with his health shattered and his reputation destroyed, he fled to France, where he briefly lived in poverty before dying at the young age of 46.

“The Happy Prince” – written and directed by out actor Rupert Everett, who also stars as Wilde – takes its title from a short story included by the author in a book of children’s fables. In the film, this bittersweet tale is spun by the author, in installments, to a pair of young companions – but apart from those segments, and a few pertinent lines from his final work, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” the film draws very little from Wilde’s writings.

Instead, it takes a speculative journey into the mind of the great author as he lives out his last years – grappling with his conscience, re-examining his relationships, remembering his past, and coping with his declining health, all while maintaining his characteristic bemused detachment, and indulging in as much decadence as he can beg, borrow or manipulate his way into.

It’s a highly effective approach to a subject that is bigger than a two-hour movie can accommodate with integrity.  Unlike most biopics, “The Happy Prince” eschews the usual formula of trying to cover an entire famous life in favor of focusing on a short, key period; by so doing, it avoids the usual pitfalls of contrivance and cliché that often give such films an inauthentic feel, allowing Wilde’s essence to be distilled into a sort of snapshot – illuminating his humanity, rather than his importance.

Everett fares well in his debut as a writer and director.  His film – a passion project ten years in the making – maintains the aesthetic of a period piece without becoming stodgy, and his ever-fluid camera allows for imaginative flights of fancy which transport us in and out of Wilde’s memories and fantasies without confusing us.  His screenplay sharply weaves the ongoing themes of Wilde’s life and work – the embrace of hedonism, the prodigious classical knowledge, the egalitarian humanism that contrasted his savagely sly observations of society – into an intimate character piece which examines the great man as he confronts his conflicted nature in the face of his own mortality.

His most impressive work, however, is in front of the camera.  Almost unrecognizable under makeup and prosthetics, he gives the performance of his career; complex, conflicted, cruel and combative yet caring and compassionate, he delivers an insightful and layered look at this legendary figure that makes him not only likable – at times despite himself – but entirely relatable.  Above all, he captures the bravado and wit for which Wilde is perhaps most famous, and shows us a man determined to be completely himself even during the most difficult and degraded time of his life.

Surrounding him is an excellent supporting cast. Colin Morgan provides a “Bosie” as charismatic and appealing as he is vain and shallow; contrasting his fickleness are the easy charm of Colin Firth and the earnest sincerity of Edwin Thomas as the last remaining loyal friends from Wilde’s circle; and Tom Wilkinson has a show-stealing turn as an Irish priest.  The only disappointing note comes from Emily Watson – a superb actress, but saddled here with the dour and thankless role of Wilde’s wife, Constance.

Seen simply as biographical fiction, “The Happy Prince” is a solid enough film – but it would have little contemporary relevance without its keen awareness of the homophobia at the very root of its story.  Within the context of its late Victorian setting, it explores the subject with an immediacy that will resonate with every queer audience member who has ever felt the humiliation, shame and fear of living in an environment of bigotry.  In one particularly harrowing sequence, Wilde and his cohorts are taunted and chased by a gang of young men; it’s an unexpected interruption, a jolting reminder of the stories of anti-gay violence that pop up in our news feeds today.  The fall from grace experienced by Wilde after his sexuality was exposed is easily intellectualized by historical distance, but situations such as this one – and others throughout the film – make it chillingly personal.

This layer of social commentary gives “The Happy Prince” an added weight; but ironic though its title may be, it’s ultimately a pleasing affair.  It is, after all, nearly two hours spent with one of the brightest wits in history, a larger-than-life personality who said, “Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about.”  Thanks to the loving treatment he gets in the hands of Everett and his stellar cast, it’s the most enjoyable tale of degradation and despair you’re likely to see this year.

“The Happy Prince” is now showing for a limited release in Los Angeles.

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Movies

Celebrate Judy Garland’s centennial by watching her movies

The dazzling force of nature made 34 films

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‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ is one of Judy Garland’s iconic film roles.

When the world ends, aficionados will still be watching their favorite Judy Garland movies.

Queer icon Garland was born 100 years ago this year (on June 10, 1922).

Everyone knows how tragic much of Garland’s life was. MGM feeding her uppers and downers when she was a child. Bad luck with husbands. Getting fired from movies because of her addiction issues. Her death at age 47.

You can’t deny that Garland’s life was often a mess. Yet, it’s too easy to encase Garland into a box of victimhood.

Contrary to the misperception of her as a sad figure, Garland wasn’t a morbid person. She was a fabulous comedian and clown, John Fricke, author of “The Wonderful World of Oz: An Illustrated History of the American Classic,” told the Blade in 2019. Lucille Ball said Garland was the funniest woman in Hollywood, Fricke said. “‘She made me look like a mortician,’ Lucy said,” he added.

In the midst of the sentimentality and morbidity shrouding her legacy, you can readily forget Garland’s prodigious talent and productivity.

Garland was a consummate, multi-faceted, out-of-this-world talented performer. She (deservedly) received more awards than most performers would even dream of: two Grammy Awards for her album “Judy at Carnegie Hall,” a special Tony for her long-running concert at the Palace Theatre and a special Academy Juvenile Award. Garland was nominated for an Emmy for her TV series “The Judy Garland Show” and for Best Supporting Oscar for her performance in “Judgment at Nuremberg.”

Garland, a dazzling, force of nature on screen, made 34 films. There’s no better way to celebrate Garland’s centennial than to watch her movies.

Garland was renowned for connecting so intimately with audiences when she sang. She’s remembered for her legendary musicals — from “The Wizard of Oz” to “Meet Me in St. Louis” to “A Star is Born.”

But if you watch, or re-watch, her movies, you’ll see that Garland wasn’t just a singer who sang songs, and sometimes danced, in production numbers in movie musicals.

Garland was a talented actor. She wasn’t appearing on screen as herself – Judy Garland singing to her fans.

Whether she’s tearing at your heartstrings as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” performing brilliant physical comedy with Gene Kelly in the “The Pirate,” breaking your heart with “The Man that Got Away” in “A Star is Born” or unrecognizable as Irene Hoffmann in “Judgment at Nuremberg,” Garland is acting. Her performance etches these characters onto your DNA.

Picking Garland’s best movies is like deciding which five of your 20 puppies should go on an outing. But, if you’re cast away on a desert island, take these Garland movies with you:

“Meet Me in St. Louis”: This luminous 1944 musical, directed by Vincente Minnelli, has it all: Garland in top form, the Trolley song, Margaret O’Brien, along with a stellar cast, and the best Christmas song ever.

“The Clock”: This 1945 movie, also directed by Minnelli, showcases Garland as a gifted dramatic actress. Shot in stunning black-and-white near the end of World-War II, the movie is the story, set in New York City, of a young woman (Garland) and a soldier on leave (Robert Walker) who fall in love.

“Easter Parade”: Sure, this 1948 picture, directed by Charles Walters, is thought of as a light musical by some. But, who cares? It’s in Technicolor, and Judy’s in peak form – dancing with Fred Astaire.

“A Star is Born”: If you don’t know the story of this 1954 film, directed by George Cukor, starring Garland and James Mason, you’re not a member of queer nation. There have been other versions of “A Star is Born,” some quite good, but this is still the best. Garland should have gotten an Oscar for this one.

“Judgment at Nuremberg”: This 1961 film, directed by Stanley Kramer, will never be a date night movie. It’s long (3 hours, 6 minutes), grim (about Nazi crimes) and Garland is only in it for about seven minutes. But the story is gripping and Garland’s performance is mesmerizing. When you watch her as Irene, you won’t be thinking that’s Judy Garland.

Happy centennial, Judy! 

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Books

New ACT UP book is part history, part memoir

‘Boy with the Bullhorn’ chronicles hard work, grief, anger

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(Book cover image courtesy of Fordham University Press)

‘Boy with the Bullhorn: A Memoir and History of ACT UP New York’ 
By Ron Goldberg
c.2022/ Fordham University Press
$36.95/512 pages

The sign above your head shows what’s going on inside.

Last night, you made the sign with a slogan, firm words, a poke to authority – and now you carry it high, yelling, marching, demanding that someone pay attention. Now. Urgently. As in the new book, “Boy with the Bullhorn” by Ron Goldberg, change is a-coming.

He’d never done anything like it before.

But how could he not get involved? Ron Goldberg had read something about ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, and he heard they were holding a rally near his workplace. It was 1987, he’d never participated in anything like that before, but whispers were everywhere. He and his friends were “living under a pervasive cloud of dread.”

He “was twenty-eight years old… scared, angry, and more than a little freaked out” about AIDS, he says.

Couldn’t he at least go down and hold a sign?

That first rally led Goldberg to attend a meeting, which, like most, as he came to realize, were raucous and loud and “electric.” Because he was “living fully ‘out and proud’,” and because he realized that this was an issue “worth fighting for,” he became even more involved with ACT UP by attending larger rallies and helping with organizing and getting his fellow activists fired up. He observed as women became involved in ACT UP, too. Monday night meetings became, for Goldberg, “the most exciting place in town.”

There, he learned how politics mixed with activism, and why ACT UP tangled with the Reagan administration’s leaders. He puffed with more than just a little ownership, as other branches of ACT UP began spreading around the country. He learned from ACT UP’s founding members and he “discovered hidden talents” of his own by helping.

On his years in ACT UP, Goldberg says, “There was hard work, grief, and anger, surely, but there was also great joy.” He was “a witness. And so, I began to write.”

Let’s be honest: “Boy with the Bullhorn” is basically a history book, with a little memoir inside. Accent on the former, not so much on the latter.

Author Ron Goldberg says in his preface that Larry Kramer, who was one of ACT UP’s earliest leaders encouraged him to pull together a timeline for the organization and this book is the result of the task. It’s very detailed, in sequential order and, as one reads on, it’s quite repetitive, differing basically in location. It’s not exactly a curl-up-by-the-fire read.

Readers, however – and especially older ones who remember the AIDS crisis – won’t be able to stop scanning for Goldberg’s memories and tales of being a young man at a time when life was cautiously care-free. The memories – which also act as somewhat of a gut-wrenching collection of death-notices – are sweet, but also bittersweet.

This book is nowhere near a vacation kinda book but if you have patience, it’s worth looking twice. Take your time and you’ll get a lot from “Boy with the Bullhorn.” Rush, and it might just go over your head.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Sports

Trailblazing Scots pro soccer athlete comes Out and inspires others

Murray, 30, came out during an interview posted on the website of his club, saying “the weight of the world is now off my shoulders”

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Screenshot/YouTube

EDINBURGH – Two weeks after making headlines as the first-ever senior Scottish pro soccer player to come out as gay, Zander Murray is revealing the impact his courageous decision has had on at least one closeted player. Murray tweeted a message he received that shows the difference an athlete coming out can make. 

“I just wanted to tell you that you’ve been a massive inspiration for me to come out to teammates and family,” the anonymous player told Murray, according to the tweet. 

“As a young footballer I find it difficult to be myself as it is but being gay and keeping it secret was so challenging. It felt amazing when I told my teammates, they were super supportive.” 

Murray shared the message with a heart emoji and the words: “Makes it all worthwhile young man.”

Murray, 30, came out during an interview posted on the website of his club, the Gala Fairydean Rovers, on September 16, explaining “the weight of the world is now off my shoulders.”

Screenshot/YouTube

As the Los Angeles Blade has reported, Jake Daniels of Blackpool came out as gay in May, the first U.K. male pro soccer player to come out in more than 30 years. Justin Fashanu was the first in Britain men’s soccer to come out back in 1990. Homophobic and racist media reports drove Fashanu to suicide eight years later. 

Reaction to Murray’s coming out last month has been “incredible,” he’s told reporters. One of those reaching out to congratulate him was Olympic gold medalist Tom Daley. The U.K. diver sent him a DM, Murray told a British interviewer. 

“He messaged me while I was on my way back from football training in a car with four boys. I had tears in my eyes seeing his direct message, and I messaged him back.

“I said, ‘Look I am in a car on the way back from football with four boys and I’ve got tears in my eyes and I don’t even care.’”

Prior to coming out, Murray had been “living in fear 24/7,” he told Sky Sports. “I can’t explain it. You’re hiding your phone in case you get messages from friends, constantly double-checking if you have a team night out, you’re cautious with what you’re saying.

“It’s very hard, especially for myself, I’m a character in that dressing room. I’m not quiet in that dressing room, I like to have the banter and to get stuck in, so very challenging.”

But Murray said he couldn’t have decided to come out “at a better time, at a better club.” So why now? He posted the answer on Instagram with several bullet points, including:

  • “Gay male footballers in the UK need role models. 
  • Majority are terrified to come out to friends/family/teammates (trust me a few have reached out already!).”

STV Weekend News Sunday, September 18, 2022 Zander Murray

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