John Cameron Mitchell Revives a Gay Classic: “Entertaining Mr. Sloane”

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Entertaining Mr. Sloane film

John Cameron Mitchell will host a rare screening of the Joe Orton 1970 cult classic — Entertaining Mr. Sloane. The film will screen only once, Tuesday night at the Quad Cinema.

“Joe Oton is a favorite,” says the creator and star of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. “My favorite theater makers were Beckett and Pinter. Joe Orton came out of all of that with his particularly queer bomb-throwing questioning of conformity added to it. Obviously he was more in the comic realm. I’ve loved Orton since I was in high school.”

The plot revolves around a handsome young boarder who suddenly turns the home he’s visiting upside down with sexual tension. Sloane is something of an enigma, but sexually… precocious, as he flirts with both the lady of the house and her brother.

The screening is part of an ongoing LGBTQ series called Coming Out Again, co-presented by NewFest and the Quad Cinema, which tracked down the 35mm print.

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Orton’s Legacy

Insofar as Mitchell is concerned, Sloane “is the only movie of his that’s any good. I just love the film, and I love (British actress) Beryl Reid. I haven’t seen Loot, but people say it’s not that good. I did act in What the Butler Saw, which is his best. But my Mom’s British. so there’s that.”

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Orton, Mitchell explains, is “also a kind of dirty punk grandchild of Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward, who couldn’t always say publicly what they would say with their friends.

“Wilde still wanted to be accepted by those people. As did Noel Coward. They wanted to be amongst the hoi polloi. But they were also the court jesters of that era. So the King always likes someone who can irreverently tell the truth, but still not have the power to hurt. So Wilde was questioning the rules of propriety and sexism in high society and class. Noel Coward not as much, but he definitely was also poking fun in a gentle way. Because they were elitists, too.”

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By contrast, “Joe Orton was much more blue collar, and closer to someone like John Lennon. So it’s ironic that The Beatles commissioned a screenplay from Orton, and it was too radical even for them. He had them playing cross-dressing terrorists.” (It’s uncertain whether any of The Beatles actually read Orton’s screenplay. All that’s known is that their manager Brian Epstein returned it “without comment.”)

Orton’s work still resonates, long after his murder in 1967. Could there have been a Hedwig without Joe Orton? “Not without me having read Orton. I mean, the first time I ever did drag was in What the Butler Saw. I was kind of scared of it, and I was kind of forced into it. In that same way, I was forced into doing Hedwig, because Tommy Gnosis started out as the main character. Hedwig was a smaller one, but because we developed it at a drag club, I had to do the female character first.”

His Place in History

Remember that Hedwig doesn’t fit into any category, he’ll caution. “I don’t think Orton would want to be pigeonholed, either. I don’t recall him using the term ‘gay.’ I think he liked being outside all of it, including the gay mainstream. And Hedwig is not really trans. He was a gay man doing drag. He got forced into a reassignment by a patriarchy, because they required one or the other.: the bi-narchy. I think Orton eschewed the binarchy as well, but also kind of fetishized masculinity. He had all the foibles and all the perspective of an intelligent outsider. ”

And Mitchell’s takeaway? “That Beryl Reid (who plays the film’s female lead) is the unsung heroine of the British scene. Americans don’t really know her. Britain has a wonderful way of cherishing its national treasures. They give them knighthoods and damehoods. And they’re often some of the best actors in the world because they work in the theater.

“And there’s something about the shattering of class that also allows her a kind of courageousness among British actors. But honestly, I haven’t seen the film in a long time, so I have to see how it resonates for me now. And no one before has ever been able to unearth a print, so I’ve only ever played it on DVD before, so it’ll be exciting to finally see a print. I hope there’s a restoration.”

Entertaining Mr. Sloane screens Tuesday night at the Quad Cinema

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Last modified: July 23, 2019