Saturday, April 19, 2014



I have more good news to report. I have just gotten off the phone with the director of research and development at Lesterene brand cosmetics. He feels certain that we could take some of the ingredients from our best selling line of skin care products, repackage them, and sell them as nutritional supplements for today's woman. Some of the footage from my ill fated Celebrity Survivor stint during which I owed my good health to regular ingestion of Lesterene Shrimp and Avocado facial scrub might be incorporated into an ad campaign. 

As I am in the midst of working with AOL (The American Osteoporosis League) to raise public awareness of that dreadful disease, I think that the first product in this new line should be something to tone the bones. One of the key ingredients in my rejuvenation masque is super organic dairy ossifier (SODO). I envision a new bone strengthening product, a chewable mint flavored supplement entitled SODOmints. Soon billboards across America will be emblazoned with my picture, perhaps in some sort of healthy skeleton costume, advertising 'SODOmints for SODOmight'. It will be bigger than 'Got milk?' I'll get Madame Rose, my publicist, to start mapping out a campaign right away. 

For reasons I can't quite put my finger on, that slogan put me in mind of the 1987 Merchant/Ivory film Maurice, a movie I had not seen in some years. Ransacking the film collection, I discovered a VHS copy Norman had received as a premium with purchase of six packages of Jockey underwear some years back. The box was a little faded, but the tape looked good as new so I popped it into the VCR for a peek. Soon I was transported back to an earlier time; one of elegance, white flannels, English country houses, and repressed emotions. 

Maurice is the story of a young man in late Edwardian/World War I era England; a society immortalized in multiple Masterpiece Theater presentations such as Upstairs, Downstairs, The Forsyte Saga and Brideshead Revisited. The titular Maurice Hall (James Wilby) comes from the middle class, not the aristocracy, but has managed through ability and hard work to get himself into Cambridge. There he meets Clive Durham (a young Hugh Grant in one of his first major film roles), who is of the landed gentry. Maurice and Clive form a bond, at first platonic, later more intense, and becoming a true love affair, only without a sexual component at Clive's insistence. Clive can cope with loving another man, but not with his dread of sexual acts with one. 

When a mutual friend is caught trying to pick up a soldier and sentenced to hard labor under the draconian laws of the period, Clive determines to break with Maurice and marries the first suitable candidate, Anne (Phoebe Nicholls). Maurice is unwilling to admit to anything wrong in his feelings for Clive and seeks treatment from an early psychoanalyst (Ben Kingsley). Later, when visiting Clive and Anne's country home, in a Lady Chatterley moment he tumbles into the arms of the under gamekeeper, Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves). Finally able to comingle his emotional feelings for a man with sexual ecstasy, Maurice decides to break with the rigid codes of behavior prescribed for men of his class and station. Will he find happiness with a working class man in a society who will shun him? We are not allowed to know the future, only that Maurice and Scudder are both willing to sacrifice and complete each other. 

The film is based on a novel written by British author E. M. Forester in the early 1920s. Much speculation has been made as to the amount of autobiographical material contained within as Forester was gay in a society that did not condone such behavior, even amongst the literati, and the details of his life did not become well known until after his death in 1970. Forester did not allow the novel Maurice to be issued in his lifetime. It was not published until 1971. Forester was the master novelist of the Edwardians; collapsing great themes of human nature into his corseted characters and exploring the impact of people on society and vice versa. He was rediscovered in the 1980s, mainly through the work of the film team of Merchant/Ivory. 

Following the success of David Lean's film version of Forester's A Passage to India in 1984, producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory, together with long time creative partner, screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala fashioned a film of another Forester novel, A Room With A View in 1986. The calm sensibilities of the makers, together with their attention to period detail, combined with impeccable casting, gave them a bona fide hit (and made a star of porcelain skinned Helena Bonham-Carter). Maurice, script this time by Kit Hesketh-Hardy and Ivory, followed a year later. The trio reunited for a third Forester treatment in 1992 with the minor masterpiece, Howard's End. The ability of the creators to leave much of the original language intact, their willingness to explore the characters and story at a slower pace and let the audience read the rich subtext and the Masterpiece Theater settings and plumy British accents made a natural fit between creators and source material. 

Much of the success of Maurice comes from the decision of the creators to not explain but to simply let the characters be in their formal and fussy world. There are no grandiose speeches in which Maurice, Clive or their friends say exactly what they think. Talk is elliptical. A direct emotional remark is almost unthinkable in this repressed and repressive society, so lovingly recreated. As Clive, Hugh Grant had his first leading theatrical film role. His tortured, slightly foppish Englishman, while now a bit of a cliché after so many variations, was exactly right for the piece. James Wilby, as Maurice, pales a bit by comparison but has his moments, especially as he starts to become involved with Scudder. 

The film was made on location in England and has a very real feel to it. The rooms are a bit awkward and dingy, rather than the gorgeous newness of studio sets. The clothes look worn. It's easy to feel the period seeping into you as you watch the film and the languid pacing seems entirely in keeping with life as it was then. 

The film is, given the story line, often mischaracterized as a gay film. It's not an entirely accurate description as the modern definitions of gay and straight only date back to about World War II and really have no place in this earlier time. Maurice and Clive have an intense affair, but no sex. Clive marries and an active, but not especially happy sex life with his wife is implied. Should we or could we consider him gay by modern definitions? Maurice, in his iconoclastic tendencies, is very much a modern gay man and, as such, completely out of place in his society which cannot understand him. 

To me, there's nothing wrong with a romance in which two people who belong together find each other, no matter what genders are involved. The film, in many ways, is a tragedy for poor Clive who makes other decisions. It's no accident that the last image of the film is Clive shutting himself and Anne up inside their bedroom as night falls, cutting himself off from Maurice and the viewer. 

Erotic sand drawings. Cambridge dons. 'Unspeakable vice of the Greeks' reference. Sidecar riding. Excess bandages. Coin between thighs. Top hat and tails. Cricket match. Gratuitous Helena Bonham-Carter. Naked James Wilby. Naked Rupert Graves. No naked Hugh Grant. 

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