The 'Daddy' of the Metrosexual, the Retrosexual, & spawner of the Spornosexual

Category: film (page 1 of 7)

Goodbye, Mr Bond – Hello Buff New World

Mark Simpson on how Sean Connery’s ‘overgrown stuntman’ sired a generation of young men licenced to thrill

So, Mr Bond finally did what Mr Goldfinger expected him to do. Even if it took 56 years.

This October, two months after his 90th birthday, Sir Thomas Sean Connery, the first, most definitive, most popular, most alluring, most stirring incarnation of the unshaken British secret agent, died.

Connery made six official and one unofficial Bond films. And of course, many more non-Bond films, some of them classics, such as Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964), The Man Who Would be King (1975), and The Name of the Rose (1986).

But frankly, I’m not very interested in them.

It was his astonishing, revelatory appearance in the first Bond film, Dr No, in 1962 that stunned and changed the world. And made those other roles possible. Although he famously came to detest Bond, seeing him perhaps as a kind of insult to his own ego or simply his own freedom, Connery’s appearance in the early 1960s on the big screen as Mr Bond was by far his greatest achievement – cinematically, culturally and sexually.

The plaudit ‘Sexiest Man of the Century’ handed him by People magazine in 1999 probably made him guffaw loudly – but was in fact entirely plausible.

And this was precisely for the reason that author Ian Fleming initially disdained Connery’s casting.

“He’s not what I envisioned of James Bond looks, I’m looking for Commander Bond and not an overgrown stuntman.”

Ian fleming

Dismissing him as an ‘overgrown stuntman’ and also mentioning his ‘lack of refinement’ was code for class – Connery’s lack of it. Born in the slums of Edinburgh in 1930, the air redolent from a nearby rubber factory and several breweries, his mother a cleaner, his father a lorry driver, Connery was Scottish working class through and through. With ‘Mum & Dad‘ and ‘Scotland Forever‘ tattoos from his three years as a rating in the Royal Navy to prove it.

The name is Sailor. Hello Sailor.

He was discharged due to a duodenal ulcer – later claiming that it was his inability to take orders that caused it:

“I’ve never had ulcers since. Looking back it was probably my inability to take orders from officers – especially those I found had reached their position largely through privilege – that gave me ulcers.”

Fleming, who liked to be photographed cigarette holder in hand, was born in London’s moneyed Mayfair to an upper class English family, and rather than the school of hard knocks, was sent to Eton, the school for the scions of the ruling class. During the war he served in Royal Naval Intelligence as a Lieutenant Commander. He wanted Richard Todd, the smoothly handsome, stiff upper lip, ‘OK chaps!’, Squadron Leader star of The Dambusters (1955) to portray his alter ego.

Instead he got a Scottish, working class, bolshie able seaman.

And this was of course part of the thrill of Connery’s sado-exhibitionistic Bond – who exploded onto UK cinema screens a year before The Beatles released their first album. As I wrote back in 2006 on the release of the Casino Royale reboot:

Most working-class U.K. males in 1962 were licensed to marry young, impregnate their wives three or four times, and then take up pigeon-fancying. Wartime-rationing of food and luxury items didn’t end until 1954, two years before Elvis’s first hit and less than a decade before Dr. No was made – although sex-rationing continued for decades afterwards.

Connery, born and braised in slum district of Edinburgh, presents a Bond who, by contrast, is a vain, single young man jetting around the world and literally taking his pleasures where he pleases, living a glossy magazine lifestyle, albeit as an undercover agent. This lifestyle was not to come out of the secret-service closet until over 30 years later with the emergence of the metrosexual – a man whose mission was also to save the West, but by shopping instead of shooting.

Made trade – Connery in Dr No, 1962

If Connery’s Bond was proto-metro, he was equaly proto-sporno. Fleming’s phrase ‘overgrown stuntman’ also alluded to the fact that Connery had a body. Which was terribly, terribly vulgar by mid-century upper middle class British standards. And, for that matter, still is today.

And what a body! By underfed post-war British standards he was totally hench. Or, less anachronistically, totally Athletic Model Guild. Connery had been seduced by bodybuilding when he was 18, and from 1951 took on a professional trainer, a former British Army gym instructor. He was worth every penny.

Connery, AMG stylee

Connery even entered NABBA’s 1953 Mr Universe contest in London, but the winner in the amateur category was American Bill Pearl. Connery abandoned his pro bodybuilding dreams when he realised that he was never going to be as big as his steak-fed colonial cousins, later saying:

“Despite what many claim, I never won any awards. I appeared ridiculous next to the winner…. I looked like a seven stone weakling.”

That seems harsh, if typically self-deprecating. Connery would likely have fared better in today’s Aesthetic/Beach Body/Board Shorts category.

When 007 was 024, Mr Universe, 1953 (centre)

But his physical culturist habits did open up another career – one that would garner him much more success, cash and attention than bodybuilding could ever have done before the invention of YouTube, Instagram and, er, OnlyFans.

Odd job? – ‘Big Tam’ painted by Al Fairweather, 1950s

The Edinburgh College of Art was in the entirely understandable habit of employing buff lads from his gym as life models. ‘Big Tam’, as he was known at the time (Connery was 6’2″ tall: a regular giant back then), was not averse to attention, nor an easy way to earn a few bob – since leaving the Navy he had worked in various manual jobs: lifeguard, brickie and even coffin polisher. So he followed his gym pals into the the posing-pouched life classes.

(Around the same time the ‘Naked Civil Servant’ Quentin Crisp was also doing modelling for life classes in London – sans the bodybuilding.)

Licenced to thrill – Connery painted by Rab Webster, 1950s

The Edinburgh artist and promoter Richard Demarco was perhaps Connery’s first fan, finding his looks inspiring and his company enlivening:

“I was a student at the art college at the same time he was a life model. He inspired me. You weren’t supposed to talk to the artist’s models, but I got away with it because I knew him. He and I used to spend lunch breaks together… as an artist’s model he was the perfect example of a young Greek God.”

Demarco has also reportedly described young Connery as “very straight, slightly shy, too, too beautiful for words, a virtual Adonis”. Googling around doesn’t provide much context, and it’s not entirely clear whether ‘straight’ here refers to his posture, plain-dealing or his sexuality – perhaps all three.

‘Adonis’ Connery painted by John Demarco, 1950s

Demarco claims he nudged Connery in the direction of acting, telling him to try out for a part as a guardsman extra in a production of Sixty Glorious Years in Edinburgh. Big Tam got the job, his first appearance on stage.

Likewise his participation in Mr Universe might have left him without a trophy, but it did push him up the showbiz ladder a bit further: another competitor tipped him off that the London Drury Lane production of South Pacific was looking for ‘muscular men’ to play US Navy sailor chorus boys in the Drury Lane production of South Pacific. Ironically, given how his bodybuilding dreams were dashed by the pumped Americans, he was cast because his size meant he ‘looked American’.

‘Yankee’ Connery stealing scenes with his furry pecs in ‘South Pacific’ , 1954

It was during his nautical-themed time in South Pacific that Connery decided that the actor’s life was for him. He was taken under the wing of fellow cast member Robert Henderson, an experienced middle-aged American Thesp, who gave him an improving reading list that included Stanislavsky, Wilde, Ibsen, Proust and Thomas Wolfe.

Despite his earthy Edinburgh accent wasn’t proving popular with 1950s British casting directors, perhaps fearing dreaded English assimilation, Connery wasn’t very interested in elocution – and his accent was to remain pretty much unchanged throughout his half-century career. Whatever nationality he happened to be playing. But he did take ‘movement lessons’ from a Swedish male dancer, Yat Malmgren for three years. Something that was to prove to be of great use to him in the visual and global medium of movies.

Requiem for a Heavyweight (BBC, 1957)

After South Pacific, he landed a series of small acting parts on stage, TV and film, mostly playing boxers, hoodlums, lorry drivers and welders. His first starring role came in 1961 in Adventure Story, a BBC TV play based on the stage play by Terence Rattigan about Alexander the Great and his conquest of Persia. Both Rattigan and Alexander were famous fans of ‘Greek love’ – Alexander famously ‘yielding’ to his life-long friend’s Hephaestion’s ‘thighs’. But Rattigan was very ‘discreet’, and this was mid-century BBC – so there wasn’t much of that in the script, save as a subtext for Classicists.

(Camp trivia #1: Alexander’s friend/lover Hephaestion was played by future Dr Who companion William Russell. Camp trivia #2: The other great alpha male bewigged sex object of the 1960s screen, William Shatner, also played Alexander the Great a couple of years later in a 1963 pilot for US TV that wasn’t picked up.)

Connery in despotic earrings as Alexander, William Russell as his epic chum Hephaestion

Connery’s dynamic Alexander provoked praise. The Times observed: “certain inflexions and swift deliberations of gesture at times made one feel that the part had found the young Olivier it needs”. (You can watch scenes here.)

Those ‘movement classes’ with the Swedish dancer, along with all that bodybuilding in his early years, were finally paying off. When he met with producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to discuss the role of Bond, Broccoli’s wife Dana overruled their objections.

“Women – and men – will love him,” she said. And she beckoned the pair over to the window to watch Connery as he crossed the street outside, and told them: “He moves like a panther.”

She was right, of course. Just as right as Fleming was wrong.

After Connery’s death last month, Dana’s daughter and – in a sign of the changed world since the 1960s – James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli released a statement acknowledging that he was largely responsible for the success of the film series. Adding that Connery had “revolutionized the world with his gritty and witty portrayal of the sexy and charismatic secret agent.”

She was as right as her mother had been six decades previously. It was Barbara Broccoli who insisted, against many naysayers, that Daniel Craig step into 007’s bespoke suit in 2006, in Casino Royale. And out of it into a pair of powder blue Speedos. Casino Royale saw the belated realisation of the sex object promise of Sean Connery’s Bond, squandered by his stodgy successors: Bond finally became his own busty Bond girl.

As I wrote back then:

But perhaps the most proto-metrosexual aspect of the first James Bond is that he is also a sex object almost as ravishing as any of the ladies he ravishes, almost as fetishized as any of the objects of desire he toys with: a playboy we would like to play with. Raymond Chandler might have famously described the Bond of Ian Fleming’s novels as “what every man would like to be and what every woman would like to have between her sheets,” but the original screen Bond, for all his masterfulness, was a voyeuristic pleasure that men might want between their sheets and women might want to be.

Further reading:

Uncle Denis? Quentin Crisp’s Secret Life Revealed!

I recently attended a party hosted by my old chum the author Roger Clarke. I was lucky to meet many of his charming pals – including a particularly charming young film maker called Adrian Goycoolea who, it transpired, was Quentin Crisp’s nephew.

Yes, England’s ‘Stately Homo’ was his uncle. His great uncle, to be precise.

Now, that’s what you call a relation.

Crisp of course wanted us to think he was his own special creation, composed of two parts aphorism and three parts henna. He strived, however much he claimed to envy ‘real people’, to be singular. And succeeded, brilliantly.

But Denis Pratt (his real name) not only had actual parents, but also two brothers and one sister. Which is bordering on the downright common. Even worse, his brother Lewis seems to have been quite the dandy, also bestowed with a camp, deadpan wit – and he was heterosexual.

So you can see that young Denis had his work cut out.

Lewis emigrated to South America in the 1930s, where he married and had a family, but stayed in touch with Denis – sometimes writing him letters beginning ‘Dear Sir/Madam (cross out that which does not apply)’.

After his move to the US, Denis was a regular fixture at family events when Adrian was growing up – and attended his wedding. Adrian, who had lost his grandparents when he was very young, saw Denis as a kind of grandfather figure.

Some years ago Adrian made a delightful short documentary (below), Uncle Denis?, which somehow I managed to miss until now, exploring that relationship, using interviews and home movies which ‘expose’ this slightly shocking and rather touching private side of ‘Crisp’ – someone who, after the TV adaption of his memoir The Naked Civil Servant aired in 1975, seemed to live entirely in the lime-lite. A kind of reality TV winner avant la lettre.

Essentially, Uncle Denis? outs Quentin Crisp. As a real person.

Early on in the doc he advises a very precocious and very young Adrian:

“Everyone should at least consider changing his name – so as not to get stuck with a name that perhaps he doesn’t like, or represents something terrible, like his parents. He should have the opportunity to start all over again.”

Denis’ parents don’t seem to have been so very terrible, just very English mid-century middle-class. And his niece Frances seems to have been devoted to him, spending many Saturday afternoons in the early 1950s hanging out with him and his gang at the famous Bar B Q cafe on the Kings Road, where he would introduce her as his niece ‘from the real world’.

Frances recounts how she, like everyone in the family, called him Denis “never Quentin”, but this changed after he moved to NY. She wrote to ‘Denis Pratt’ and the letter was returned ‘not known at this address’. “So I thought I’d better start addressing him as Quentin Crisp!”

Perhaps that was part of the reason why he moved to the US. To finally leave Denis Pratt behind. Changing your name can only achieve so much – changing worlds, so much more.

But as you’ll see, he was still very happy to attend family events there, and was in many ways a rather old-fashioned, very proud ‘great uncle’.

Slash aunt.

Thor Ragnarok is Cosmically Camp

The latest outing for the totally ripped Aussie God of Thunder and his big swinging hammer was was quite the campest film I can recall seeing. At least that is since Guardians Of The Galaxy (not the second one, which was just shit).

Basically Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok is a cinematic version of this norty lollipop: ‘With real fruit taste’.

Thor, love him and his guns to bits, is essentially a very dull, earnest, ponderous character – especially with that ‘Norwegian’ accent Hemsworth gives him which sounds like the Swedish chef from The Muppets trying to do Arnie.

And this despite the big hammer, lightning and the sporno bod  – displayed in the nowadays obligatory topless, sexily-lit-from-below-scene.

Short of getting naked and oiled up for the whole movie?—?which would make the action scenes a little slippy — he desperately needs camp relief. Tom Hiddleston, playing his ‘Trickster’ brother Loki (with an RSC accent), has provided it in previous iterations, but perhaps because of the camp competition in the form of Guardians of the Galaxy, here he’s got serious backup in the form of Cate Blanchett & Jeff Goldblum (he dubs Thor ‘Sparkles’) – and the GG style art direction provide that in glittery, dayglo spades.

In fact, it’s difficult to decide who is the campest out of this bunch of campers – though perhaps Blanchett wins because of those horns and the fact that as she reminds us,  repeatedly: ‘I’M THE GODDESS OF DEATH!’.

“Does my hat slay ya?”

But probably the campest scene in a supercamp movie is when Thor and his brother Loki visit Earth (image at top), apparently disguised as a bickering gay couple on their way to The Eagle to use separate back rooms.

There is also another twisted bromance – between Thor and Hulk. At one point they are basically living together in a jock penthouse (owned, like their asses, by the hyper-camp Goldblum character). They bond, but are rather competitive, in a bro-ish way.

“Size isn’t everything, dude. Sorry, I lied. It is.”

This competitiveness obviously has a sexual dimension. After solo soaking in the hot tub, Hulk moves to step out and the  God of Thunder who is full-clothed, is apparently terrified at the prospect of seeing Hulk’s penis and protests ‘No! No!’ But to no avail. He then complains ‘that’s in my brain now’. Though it seems it was there all along.

Perhaps Sparkles – sorry, Thor – is especially preoccupied because a) Hulk’s tool is probably bigger than his hammer and b) His hammer has already been crushed to painful smithereens in the hand of a cackling Cate Blanchett/Goddess of Death.

Thor’s reaction to seeing Hulk’s monster meat is played for nervous laughs, and gets them, but perhaps depends on a very American disavowal. Of course, everyone wants to see Hulk’s mutant, green, CGI penis.

We don’t, alas. But I guess there’s always the next instalment.

Staring At The Male Boobs of Baywatch

‘You should look at my face’, says Alexandra Daddario to Zac Efron after accusing him of staring at her breasts. ‘I’m trying,’ replies Efron, ‘but it’s so close to your boobs.’

So far so Babewatch. But the recently-released trailer for the upcoming Seth Gordon directed Baywatch movie knows times and tastes and focal points have changed. After this exchange about boobs, the very next scene shows Efron stripping off his shirt and flashing his tits and abs on a jetski. The boobs on display in the trailer are mostly male. And none of us are expected to be trying very hard not to look at them.

Baywatch has been updated. As slapstick comedy – which is what it always wanted to be. And moved to Muscle Beach. Or perhaps West Hollywood. It’s certainly looking way gayer.

The original hit 1990s TV series was hilariously naff. It starred the mesmerizingly un-sexy David Hasselhoff as ‘Mitch Buchannon’, a veteran lifeguard who acted as furry, heroic patriarch of the beach. Plus lots of babes. Most famously, Pamela Anderson – whose pneumatic breasts deserved their own credit and, as the trailer jokes, always appeared in slow motion. This was the heterosexual division of perving on primetime TV back then.

In 2017 David Hasselhoff’s hairy, sucked-in dad bod has of course been upgraded to a massively muscular, inked, shaved Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson – whose beachball pectorals also deserve their own credit.

But such are the competitive, promiscuous times we live in that even all this isn’t enough. His boss is already bored with his ex pro wrestler and looking for a newer model. He’s found a young, ripped, spornosexual online, played by Zac Efron, and wants to bring him in to ‘restore the Baywatch brand’.

This movie may be silly, but it seems to know exactly what it’s doing.

Understandably, the shredded scamp seems to provoke jealousy and excitement in equal measure: ‘Why you grabbing me so tight?’ Efron complains to ‘Mitch’, who is riding pillion on a pink scooter.

Since his transformation from sweet twink to raging spornosexual, the former High School Musical star’s movie career has – like his shirt – taken off. His famous sexualisation has frequently become part of the characters that he plays.

So when Mitch’s boss enthuses about Efron’s character having won gold medals we know he means for taking his top off.

Zac Efron suddenly feeling very hot. (Accepting MTV award for ‘Best Shirtless Scene’, 2015)

Tip: DAKrolak

Get Hur! How Gay Subtexts Became Ancient History

by Mark Simpson

We don’t really do subtexts in the see-through, digital 21st Century. Sextexts, definitely. Subtweets, possibly. Subtexts, not so much. Who has the time? Who can even be bothered with having a subconscious? Subtexts are so analogue.

Perhaps this is why Toby Kebbell who plays Messala in the 2016 remake of Ben Hur with Jack Heston as Hur, announced recently that there is ‘no gay sub plot’ in the new version. Explaining that it’s ‘not necessary today’.

But back in 1959 when William Wyler’s Technicolor version of the chariot-racing, Jesus-praising epic was unleashed – scooping up a record 11 Oscars – repression and subtexts were all the rage. They made High Hollywood what it was. And Ben Hur, a story about two boyhood buddies who dramatically fall out as adults, has one of the most famous – and bitterly contested – subtexts in Hollywood history.

As Gore Vidal, an MGM screenwriter in the 1950s, put it in the 1991 documentary The Celluloid Closet getting around the mores of the time and the medium meant ‘you got very good at projecting subtexts without saying a word about what you were doing. The best example I lived through was writing Ben Hur.’

Vidal claimed that he had convinced an initially reluctant Wyler that the only way to justify several hours of widescreen, in living Technicolor hatred between Jewish prince Judah Ben Hur, played by Charlton Heston, and the Roman Messala, played by Stephen Boyd, was to have an unspoken homoerotic backstory. That this was, in effect, an epic lover’s tiff.

Vidal’s plan was to suggest in the scene at the beginning of the movie where these boyhood best buddies are reunited – without saying so in words – that they were once lovers, and that Messala very much wants to pick up where they had left off, but is jilted by Hur.

According to Vidal, Boyd was told of the subplot idea, and loved it, but Heston was spared the knowledge. Wyler advised: ‘Don’t say anything to Chuck because he will fall apart.’

A prescient warning. Heston, close friend of Ronald Reagan and now President of the National Rifle Association, reacted furiously to Vidal’s interview and denied everything, essentially calling him a liar and a braggart in a letter to the papers:

‘Vidal’s claim that he slipped in a scene implying a homosexual relationship between the two men insults Willy Wyler and, I have to say, irritates the hell out of me.’

Naughty Gore! ‘Slipping’ homosexuality into Heston’s biggest, butchest picture!

Vidal of course responded. This time, no Vaseline. Even more ‘irritatingly’, he quoted from a letter the publicity director for the film had sent him,

‘…the big cornpone [the crew’s nickname for Heston] really threw himself into your “first meeting” scene yesterday. You should have seen these boys embrace!’

Certainly, when you watch that scene now, Vidal’s account makes perfect sense. Boyd has a look of total love on greeting Heston – his eyes roving hungrily all over his beloved’s face and, almost imperceptibly, his body. While Heston looks slightly nonplussed.

Quipping in reply to Hur’s suggestion that the Emperor’s interest in Judea is not appreciated by Judea, Messala even speaks the line: ‘Is there anything so sad as unrequited love?’

Wyler however claimed not to remember the conversation Vidal reported, and that the scene he wrote was anyway rewritten by another screenwriter (though there is evidence that a significant amount of Vidal’s input survived into the final version of the movie script).

But whether or not Vidal was having some mischievous fun slipping in a homoerotic subtext at the time, or decades later, trying to detect it is now easily the most interesting part of an often rather tedious, pompous movie.

Which does make me worry about the subtext free remake.

It should be mentioned though that nowadays 1959’s highly homosocial Ben Hur looks like the story of Hur’s love affair with not one, but four men. Messala, the Roman consul Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkins) whose slave and then adopted son he becomes, the Arab Sheik Ilderim (Hugh Griffiths) who befriends him in his tent and lets him ride his best stallions, and also, of course, Jesus of Nazareth.

In fact, Heston/Hur gives the young carpenter and fisher of men – whose face we never see – the kind of gooey looks that Messala/Boyd once gave him.

Subtexts were tricky. They had to be sub, not texts. A year after Ben Hur Stanley Kubrick’s sword and sandal epic Spartacus was released, minus a bath scene in which the Roman general Crassus, played by a middle-aged Laurence Olivier, attempts to seduce his ‘body servant’ slave Antoninus, played by Tony Curtis in his doe-eyed prime, through a heavily suggestive dialogue about ‘eating snails’ and ‘eating oysters’ – arguing that taste is not a matter of morality.

Preview audiences nevertheless expressed their moral distaste and the scene was cut (but was restored in the 1991 re-release). Lord knows what they would have made of the recent TV series of the same name that featured some very explicit snail eating.

Sword and sandal movies had a snail-eating reputation anyway: all that muscle, leather, slavery and pagan license. The 1950s underground gay mag Physique Pictorial often used Greco-Roman imagery.

Although male homoerotic subtext had served Hollywood well from the 50s to the 70s in classic movies such as Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969), and Thunderbolt & Lightfoot (1974) – giving them both universal appeal and psychological depth – by the 1980s the increasing visibility of gay people and the growing influence of gay culture on the mainstream meant that homoerotic subtext was having more and more difficulty staying sub.

Tony Scott’s flyboy blockbuster Top Gun, released in 1986 – about halfway between us and 1959’s Ben Hur – starring Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer at their prettiest as rival Navy pilots slathered in hair gel and smugness, saw the gay subtext – intended or not – swallow the script.

The official, patriotic, heterosexual storyline is completely eclipsed by the steamy sexual tension between rivals Kilmer and Cruise, frequently acted out in changing room scenes that look like a Roman bath-house. Or maybe a Matt Sterling one. Top Gun is an airborne, way gayer Ben Hur – but with a happier ending.

Although most of the people who went to see Top Gun in 1986 probably weren’t conscious of the gayness, by the beginning of the 21st Century we had all become far too knowing for gay subtexts to stay sub. In its place Hollywood was offering us out gay storylines, and self-conscious, chaste ‘bromance’ – where almost by definition anything physical would be a kind of incest.

Perhaps to ward off any attempt to read a gay subtext, the remake of Ben Hur has made Hur and Messala ‘adoptive brothers’, instead of boyhood pals. A literal, legal, ‘bromance’ – albeit one that goes very wrong indeed.

(Originally appeared on Out.com 18 August, 2016)