Tag: Joe Orton

It’s Not A Heel; It’s A Mountain

It was with a huge amount of sadness that I read about the death of designer Alexander McQueen last week.

The British designer was one of my early favourites in the high-falutin’ world of fashion. Amongst the pish-posh flaky fashion queens, McQueen redefined regal -and he knew it. Working-class royalty wrapped in bad boy drawl, he dared to try new things, while really, truly, “keeping it real.” To paraphrase playwright Joe Orton, he “came from the gutter, and don’t you forget it.” His work wasn’t merely ephemeral; it was probing, challenging, and frequently bizarre. Live presentations were deeply theatrical, taking inspiration from popular entertainment and relevant social issues (yes, fashion and social isues can mix) and fusing these ideas with a Biennale-esque sensibility that sought to blow open the doors of what fashion was and what it could be. He never lost touch with his roots, nor with his family. His deep connection with the women in his life -the twin muses of Isabella Blow and his mother -was apparent, and it’s that touch of touching earthiness I still find so endearing.

Part of what makes Alexander McQueen’s passing so tragic is the nature of his death. It wasn’t the wasting-away rot of cancer or the slow annilation of AIDS, but rather, the scalding horror of self-violence. Despite conjecture, we’ll never know the exact, true reason why he felt the need to leave us -nor should we. His death remains, like his life, his creation alone. It’s just sad that, at the end, he never saw the windows, only the walls; never felt the light, but scraped along in darkness; threw aside creation in favour of destruction. Why? Like so many other suicides, it’s not ours to know. He’s gone, and he’s left us his visions, in colours and textures; in dyes and dances of hems and heels and the height he reached as a one of the greatest visual artists our age has seen. From a fashion cynic to you, Dear McQueen, thank you for the passion, the play, the verve and the vision. I’d say “angels sing thee to thy rest” but frankly, the whir of sewing machines, the dry scrape of pencils against paper, and the click-clak of stiletto heels seem like an infinitely better symphony. Rest tight. The gutter won’t forget you.

Hey Joe!

Yesterday I was out all day doing video shoots for upcoming theatrical productions in Toronto. One of the interviews revolved around a soon-to-open Soulpepper production of Joe Orton’s satirical play Loot.

What I’ve always found so interesting about Orton is the way his work has aged since he wrote it; some of his lines are still as stinging and nasty as ever, while other stuff -dialogue, ideas, concepts -really aren’t so shocking in the twenty-first century. In a contemporary sense, Orton’s play, which features two burglars who try to hide a corpse (among other farcical elements), doesn’t seem all that surprising or shocking. Indignities to a human body? Whatever. Some might be outraged, but it doesn’t last. Go to any number of weird news sites; they’re not hard to find. Some of the stories might be kind of icky (for instance, anything involving corpses tends to provoke a sour face) but the ease with which to find such oddities has made our collective sense of outrage over such a thing much less pronounced.

Still, there is something to director Jim Warren‘s comment that Orton was “an anarchist” -and it wasn’t just the fact Orton and partner Kenneth Halliwell had a predilection for defacing library books. Orton may have been writing in an England that was brutally classist and deeply homophobic, but in this age of smugness about our perceived permissiveness and laissez-faire-anything-goes attitudes, there’s a real smack of hypocrisy and meanness. Carry Orton’s ideas through on sexuality, and apply them to, say, older people (“Grandparents have sex lives? Eww! Disgusting! Gross!“), and you still find the same boring close-mindedness as existed in 1960s England. Viewed this way, Orton is more fresh, daring, and possibly anarchist than ever.

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