Monday, July 31, 2006

Dirk Bogarde (Part II)

I continue to make my way through the 600+ pages of John Coldstream’s biography of British actor and author Dirk Bogarde (1921-1999).

It’s a fascinating though, at times, sad read. In chapter eleven, for instance, Coldstream shares Oxford Playhouse director Frank Hauser’s thoughts on the homosexual Dirk and his struggle to present and maintain a heterosexual image.

According to Hauser: “Dirk was never able to work out his own attitude to being a film star, or a star of any kind, and that adulation had prevented him from being ‘really devastating’ in the theatre; adulation for a matinée idol brought with it as a corollary the threat of derision. ‘I remember sitting chatting with one of my nieces, who was then a schoolgirl of about fourteen or fifteen. Somebody mentioned Dirk Bogarde. She said, “Dirk Bogarde – he’s queer isn’t he?” ’ Dirk was terrified of being pronounced queer. He was so anxious to present a macho image. If he had a riding crop, he would swish it – but he was fooling nobody.”

Hauser believes that the “possibility of, and consequent fear of, derision prevented Dirk from achieving the stature of his almost exact contemporary, Gerard Philipe, who flitted between stage and screen to equal effect.”

This “fear of derision” plagued Bogarde throughout his career. Actor Helen Bonham Carter, who worked with Bogarde in the late 1980s, recalls how “he would always make out that he was a macho heterosexual. He was conscious of keeping the mystery, weaving webs. But he was really a hunk of self-denial”.

Despite the difficulties Bogarde encountered throughout his career as a closeted gay man, his life wasn't all doom and gloom. He was involved in a lifelong and loving relationship with another man (fellow British actor Tony Forwood), was a gifted and witty communicator, and a successful actor and author. He was also prone to being somewhat of a loose cannon, as the following humorous anecdote demonstrates.

“The Rank [film company] publicists knew all too well that in Dirk they had the least pliant of their artists,” writes Coldstream. “On one occasion at a screening [in the 1950s] Dirk was introduced to the audience by a nervously gushing cinema manager, who kept on referring to ‘this up and coming star’. When Dirk was given the microphone he said: ‘I’ve never been up and coming so often in two minutes.’ It did not go down well with the powers that be.”

I’ve been scouring the local video stores here in Port Macquarie for some of Dirk Bogarde’s films. I’ve yet to actually find and view a single one of them. In particular, I’d like to find A Tale of Two Cites (1958), The Spanish Gardner (1956), Song Without End (1960), Hunted (1952), Death in Venice (1971), and, of course, the groundbreaking
Victim (1961).

In fact, it was a powerful clip from this last film, featured in the 1994 documentary
The Celluloid Closet, that first brought Dirk Bogarde to my attention. I plan on writing further about Victim and its significance in a future post.

For now, I’ll share the following clip from the 1960 film Song Without End, in which Dirk plays Hungarian virtuoso pianist and composer Franz Liszt.

(Note: For the film, Dirk was coached by Victor Aller, a graduate of the Juilliard School in New York and a brilliant interpreter of Brahms, who was determined to “turn Dirk into a credible Liszt – pianistically anyway.” Accordingly, Dirk learnt more than eighty minutes of music at the dummy keyboard, which was then synchronized for the camera with the pre-recorded playing of Jorge Bolet and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.)

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Dirk Bogarde (Part 1)

1 comment:

destryR said...

The same milieu that found "Victim" groundbreaking are equally if not more applicable to DB's public persona. Biracial who passed for white or colorism are never begrudged with the same easy disdain for someone's "unnaturalness, deceit" that comes with normative judgment. If Hauser had no problem financing his productions with an openly queer star consistently, and Bonham understands her roles would come no harder as an openly lesbian actress, then their criticism of DB stand on solid grounds of personal experience.