Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckenridge and Queer MalthusianismSeptember 12, 2012
Savage Witches World PremiereSeptember 19, 2012
By Diarmuid Hester
This afternoon at 2pm, the Duke of York’s cinema in Brighton in association with City Reads presents a rare screening of Basil Deardon’s ground-breaking Victim (1961). It features Dirk Bogarde as Melville Farr, a married lawyer who, having conducted secret homosexual liaisons in the backstreets of London with rough young men, ultimately finds himself at the mercy of a blackmailer. Released just four years after the Wolfenden Report, which suggested relaxing the UK’s legal constraints on homosexuality, it’s an interesting cultural artefact: its head-on confrontation with the theme of homosexuality (for which it was initially banned in the United States) in particular, and its examination of the sleaze and corruption which adhere to the law as its obverse, make for fascinating viewing. Victim was also unique in its offering contemporary (conservative) fans of box-office reliables Bogarde and co-star Sylvia Syms a sensitively portrayed panoply of male homosexual characters, old and young.
Yes, okay, Victim isn’t without its flaws. It insists, for example, upon depicting homosexuality as abnormal and aberrant – calling upon the compassion and goodwill of the normative order to legitimate its decriminalisation. In one scene, for example, a woman in the bar Farr frequents refers to queers being “not quite normal” and then goes on to plead her friends’ case comparing same-sex love as a bit like having a “gammy leg” deserving of heterosexuals’ pity. Elsewhere characters, in agreement with Havelock Ellis’ sexological stance, state that the invert is part of nature.
Victim is ambivalent text, mercurial in its allegiances which, despite its subject matter, seems to me at times less interested in representing homosexuality per se than portraying the prevalent practice of blackmailing homosexual individuals as an instance of the corruption which the institutions of law necessarily breed. With Death in Venice (1971) and The Night Porter (1974), it’s one of my favourite performances by Bogarde, whose choice of challenging and controversial roles I’ve always deeply admired.
The film’s themes resonate with those of City Reads’ latest book, Bethan Roberts’ My Policeman – an entertaining Brighton-based novel about a married woman’s attempt to come to terms with her husband’s queer relationship in the 1950s. To find out more about City Reads, which runs until October 7th, check out their website.