Football may not be coming home, after England’s Euros finals defeat earlier this year, but football’s greatest star, and perhaps the world’s most famous face and body, is going to be ‘back where I belong’. In England. According to his recent Insta post (336m followers).
The striking Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo is returning, in total triumph, from Juventus to the place where he began his international career, Manchester United FC – with a two year contract: a cool 20M Euros for those hot lallies.
Now 36-years-old, he left Manchester United for Real Madrid back in 2009, when he was 24, with a then-record transfer deal, after a stellar but stormy six year career at Old Trafford. Leaving these shores to boos and catcalls, he got hench – and gained five Ballon d’Ors, scored the most goals ever in international football (111), the Champions League (134) and professional football (785).
He’s still a shredded power on the pitch, but his glory days, like his once-phenomenal speed, are probably mostly behind him. Still, it should be a passionate reunion.
But if England was ‘home’, then it was an abusive one. It will be memory-holed by today’s virtue-signalling press, but for much of his time here, ‘Twinkle toes’ as he was dubbed, was a figure of tabloid hate, and perhaps the nearest thing to an ‘out’ gay footballer in the UK.
Not for his sexual habits, which seemed to involve female supermodels, but because he likes the colour pink, wore a flower behind his ear on holiday, cries, is openly physically affectionate towards male friends, wears Speedos, is Portuguese, and most particularly for being apparently completely unafraid of being called GAY!! by the British press.
He was happy to be light in his pink loafers.
Ronaldophobia – the pathological fear and loathing of an immodest young man too pretty and talented by halves – was a national obsession. His looks, his gifts, his unabashed vanity and vulgarity, and, worst of all, this once dirt poor, now filthy-rich Madeiran’s total lack of interest in what the press called him brought out the absolute worst in the English.
Especially, of course, middle-aged, male hacks who might have been young once, but never pretty.
Inevitably, this footballer who desired to be desired for his sculpted physique and pouting face as much as his sporting prowess, has long been an object of fascination for metrodaddy. Although he seemed like his apprentice to begin with, Ronaldo was even prettier and much more talented than David Beckham.
And also the ‘total package’ physically and commercially, in a way that Beckham, now 46, never quite was. DB7 was essentially just a prototype for CR7.
Although Becks was very happy to strip off for Armani and Esquire and be ‘objectified’, launching his own underwear design for H&M with his, er, bum, he was ‘athletic’ but not ‘buff’ – preferring to decorate his upper body with ink, rather than muscles. Sometimes, especially in the Armani campaigns, it seemed as if Photoshop had done much of the ab-work.
Ronaldo however, had Photoshopped himself in real life. (And eschews ink.)
Ronaldo is digital, Beckham was analogue. Social media, to Becks’ glossy magazine. Spornosexual, to Beckham’s metrosexual.
To mark his return to English football, and perhaps his soccer swansong, I’ve collected below some of my musings on the made Madeiran, in chronological order. Starting with a piece from 2008 about The Sun‘s blatantly homophobic obsession with the ‘arch metrosexual’ footballer as they call him – and his ‘too dark’ tan. Even today’s Sun wouldn’t dream of publishing this stuff: which is perhaps why it’s vanished from their website.
His departure from Manchester United – and English life, June 2009:
(One from the vaults, originally appeared in the Guardian Guide, 2001 – at what now looks like Oz’s cultural high-water mark)
If you listen carefully to the soundtrack on Puppetry of the Penis, a video of the show which recently toured Britain to sell-out audiences in which two Australian men, one with long frizzy hair, the other with a handlebar moustache, make their genitalia do impressions of hamburgers and vaginas, you will hear people laughing. Not the audience, who are too busy steaming up their opera glasses, but millions of Australians.
Laughing at us.
They’re laughing because, as the video demonstrates amply (though not that amply – contrary to myth, not all Antipodean didgeridoos are as big as Rolf Harris’), the British are suckers who will pay any amount of money to see Australians perform ‘Australian’ for them. ‘Australian’, as any Aussie knows, is a British fantasy of Oz, as fictitious but as profitable as Fosters lager; a cartoon version of an Australia which if it ever existed at all ceased being the dominant one long before Paul Hogan’s first facelift.
This is because Britain is in love with her own vulgar fantasy of Australia, and for some time now has wanted nothing more than to forget her Imperial past, her class culture, her uncertain future – to forget herself and throw her starchy knickers in the air and become ‘Australian’. America is too big and powerful a former colony to patronise, Canada too boring and too French. So we have chosen Australia.
Truth is, the British have been praying for years that those visitors from the Lucky Country would leave their surfboards under their beds and they would wake up pod-Australians, in a kind of Invasion of the Bollocks Scratchers. Hence Puppetry of the Penis will be watched as a ‘How To’ video by a nation of whingeing Pom Aussie wannabes.
This Christmas, expect thousands of hotly embarrassed Brit males to be admitted to casualty departments around the country, doubled-up in agony, knees pointing together. Legions of Australian rugby players will have to be hired to tackle the knotty problem.
However, the worst of it is that for all our desperate, painful attempts to become ‘Australian’, we Poms have only succeeded in becoming lousy Aussies. Australia has been described by the British as ‘Essex plus sunshine’, but actually the flip-flop is rather on the other foot.
As you can see from the evidence accumulated below, Britain today has ended up becoming Australia minus the sunshine, the swimming pools, the dentistry, a functioning transport and health-care system, or the self respect.
According to pollsters, we Brits are now almost as dissatisfied with the monarchy as our Southern hemisphere cousins. Interestingly, Australians recently decided in a referendum that that while they weren’t fond of the monarchy they weren’t too keen on the Republican alternatives either – a position which closely approximates that of British voters today.
The difference is, of course, is that we Brits would never be actually asked by anyone other than a market researcher – or the Guardian – whether we actually want the monarchy or not. And we’re the ones that have to actually have to live with the Windsors, and pick up their bills.
Like the Aussies, the British have succeeded in becoming bad losers as well. Unlike the Aussies we still don’t actually win anything. Meanwhile, it seems to be only a matter of time before England Captain David Beckham forces the England squad to adopt the Aussie Rules Football kit as an ‘efficiency’ measure (he’ll be able to play football and pursue his saucy semi-porno modelling work at the same time).
Many of our intellectuals are not only Australian expats: Germaine Greer, Clive James, Robert Hughes, Rolf Harris. It has been said that British culture has been ‘tabloidised’ – of course The Sun, the uber-tabloid which began this process, is owned by an Australian. However, if instead of ‘tabloidised’ we used the more accurate ‘Australianized’ no one would see what there was to complain about.
Everyone knows that regardless of who comes and goes in Whitehall reshuffles, the real British Culture Secretary for the last twenty years has been Sir Les Patterson. Interestingly, when someone wants to depict ‘Sydney’ visually they show an opera house; when people want depict ‘London’ they now show that big ferrous wheel on the South Bank.
We now all, by law, eat in public, especially on buses. We even eat in our back gardens when there is nothing wrong with our kitchens, poisoning our friends and gassing our neighbours, pretending we know how to use a ‘barbie’. Often this is because most Brits can’t actually afford to eat ‘out’ properly, certainly not at London prices – which are designed to keep riff raff without company charge-cards out.
So it’s just as well most of us don’t know how many fine, and very, very busy inexpensive restaurants there are in modern Sydney and Melbourne.
Gay Pride Marches in Manchester, London and Brighton have renamed themselves ‘Mardi Gras’ parades, imitating, woefully, the world-famous street carnival in sultry Sydney. Every year, thousands of UK gays develop terrible colds as a result of dancing half naked on ‘Priscilla Queen of the Dessert Trolley’ floats in sleet showers.
Meanwhile, the heterosexual population of the UK seems to be becoming as laid back about homosexuality and previously unconventional sexual mores as the Aussies, including: sex out of wedlock, sex not in the missionary position, and even sex with the lights on.
Australian soap operas swallowed British pop music whole. A helium-voiced, big-toothed Australian dwarfette former Neighbours star still reigns supreme in the British pop charts despite launching her pop career way back in the 1980s. This is down to the fact that her name is the most ‘Australian’, silliest name anyone in the UK has heard of and in fact a name the mere pronouncing of which makes anyone sound ‘Australian’. And because it means we can carry on ignoring contemporary, rather more interesting Australian acts, such as The Avalanches.
Meanwhile, the most important rock band of the last decade, Oasis, might have been mistaken for Australians if it wasn’t for their misanthropy and their inability to hold their drink. (It’s clear now that Oasis’ antecedents weren’t the Beatles at all but Men at Work).
New Lad was just a watered down form of ‘Australian’. A magazine version of ‘mate’ culture (confusingly, ‘Puppetry of the Penis’ is the video of the magazine). Estuary English a poor approximation of Australian. ‘Men Behaving Badly’ was all about this – hence the spin-off ‘Men Behaving Badly Down Under’ was not only inevitable but what the whole series was working towards.
‘Mooning’ only became a New Lad sacrament because we thought it was the national sport of Australia. Ironically, just as Australia was becoming one of the most metropolitan and middle-class countries in the world, we decided that it was a benchmark of non-ponce ‘authenticity’ and vulgarity. How sad are we?
Ladettes are just a pale imitation of Australian women. (See early Germaine Greer)
ITV has run whole ‘Australian’ weekends (ITV is almost synonymous with ‘Australian’ anyway). The dominant British TV format – reality TV – was developed in Australia, e.g. Sylvania Waters and Popstars. In fact, British docusoaps were really just national talent searches for somebody as irritating and as vulgar as the loud-mouthed woman in Sylvania Waters. (Whom we hated because she had a much higher standard of living than we did).
The biggest TV success of recent years, Big Brother, is clearly based on the British idea of an ‘Australian’ shared house in Willesden, North London, where the residents wear the same shorts in bed and out, and while away the hours making porridge, sunbathing, scratching, getting drunk, and talking complete bollocks.
There are already rumours that the next generation of Big Brother programmes, tentatively called Big Sis, will feature a cast of out of work actresses thrown together and forced to wear ill-fitting dungarees and endlessly press towels in the laundry room – when they’re not engaging in very unconvincing lesbian love scenes behind bars.
Critics say this has already been done with a programme called The Girlie Show.
Mark Simpson on lavender marriage – between the closeted star & the public.
(Independent on Sunday, August 1995)
[One from the vaults for LBGTQIA++ Pride. Probably because it came on the cowboy heels of Male Impersonators (1994), it’s rather more pretentious – and with fewer gags – than later work. I miss when newspapers had room and time for dilly-dallying disquisitions. (Come to think of it, I miss newspapers.) I also talk a lot about ‘stars’. Remember them? Before everyone became slebs. Pretentious nor not, the final line proved pretty prescient.]
Michael Barrymore’s to come out about his homosexuality earlier this week produced a flurry of headlines about the UK’s most popular TV personality’s ‘bizarre double life’ – as if no one homosexual had ever married before.
The history of ‘lavender marriages’, as they are often called, is a long one. Especially in Hollywood, where image is naturally always preferable to reality. In the fifties, when any sexual indiscretion, let alone homosexuality, was box office poison, Rock Hudson was forced by his studio to marry his assistant Phyllis Gates when his homosexual romps threatened to surface in the gossip columns. Like most male leads of the time, both his ‘purity’ and his sexual allure would have been destroyed by such revelations. Cary Grant married several times for similar reasons, while the true love of his life was reportedly Randolph Scott (a frustration for which his wives suffered his fists).
The same factors held true for women. In the twenties Tallulah Bankhead got hitched, despite her famous saying: ‘Darling, my parents warned me about men and alcohol – but they never said anything about women and drugs.’ While Marlene Dietrich married Rudy Steiner but kept her ‘sewing circle’ of devastating young women, including Mercedes Da Costa. Like many others who entered into lavender marriages she was able to continue indulging her own preferences to her heart’s content privately while maintaining to the world ‘But darling – I’m a married woman!’.
As Barrymore has shown, the fears that force homosexual stars into lavender marriages do not belong to a pre-war world. Elton John hastily got married in the supposedly liberal seventies after testing the water with allusions to his ‘bisexuality’. The fashion designer Calvin Klein married in 1986 at the height of the Reaganite moral crusade, after spending most of the seventies and early eighties partying on Fire Island, New York’s famous gay resort, according to a recent biography which he tried to suppress. That a seventies glam pop star and a fashion designer felt it necessary to play this game says a great deal about attitudes in the seventies and eighties.
All these people have been, in some sense, ‘living a lie’ to further their careers. But what, it might be asked, is so ‘sham’ or ‘bizarre’ about lavender marriages compared to other star marriages, where image and status are also the guiding principles? The fact that one or both of the parties involved may prefer a different sex in bed to the one which they happen to be married to is perhaps a minor detail which might actually help the growth of real friendship.
The great irony of star marriages is that they are, like lavender marriages, frequently essentially contractual, business-type partnerships and yet they are always used to further the historically very recent ideal of the romantic marriage in which both parties are supposed to find sexual, personal, emotional if not spiritual fulfilment in each other – and no one else. An even greater irony is that the romantic ideal of star marriages may have helped the development of the gay identity itself and hence the lavender marriage.
Once marriage became so suffocatingly all-embracing, many of those who preferred the same sex (even on a part-time basis) found they could no longer survive in that institution and pursued first ‘bachelordom’ or ‘spinsterhood’, and then, as these fell into disrepute, they felt obliged to ‘marry’ their sexual preference instead. Announcing their homosexuality to the world – literally declaring their love, and its authenticity, in the same ritual manner as is required at the altar. Appropriately enough, the term ‘coming out’ is a phrase taken from the nuptial world of debs balls.
Marriage itself is no longer a series of obligations and instead a fantastical institution in which one is nowadays supposed to literally find not just another but oneself. This makes the marriages of fantasy figures – stars – such a completely overdetermined phenomenon. The ostensible purpose of a lavender marriage might be to keep the details of the stars real sex life from the public, but this is only because the public wants to be deceived. Lavender marriages occur to maintain a pretence – a deceit that both parties, star and fans, are implicated in.
Lavender marriages provide a pretext for the continued disavowal of the very queerness, the very odd contradictions which make the star so popular (‘But darling, I’m a married woman’). Rock Hudson was such a heart-throb for millions of fifties housewives precisely because he was so virile yet so undemanding, so manly yet so soft. Barrymore was so popular with the masses because he was so ‘versatile’, so good at oo-er-missus campery and bantering with the bricklayers and squaddies that trooped onto his shows – awoight!
In a curious mirror-relationship, marriage allows the public and the star to enjoy queerness as well as repress it and return it to the unconscious. So, when Elton John and Michael Barrymore tell us that they hoped marriage would suppress their homosexuality – they mean publicly and personally.
And this is precisely why Richard Gere’s and Cindy Crawford’s recent full-page advert in The London Times advertising their loving heterosexuality was so comically self-defeating – it put into words the function of the magic ritual of marriage; it expressed what was supposed to be repressed. Hence also the futility of Nicole Kidman’s wager about her husband Tom Cruise to a US magazine in an attempt to scupper rumours of his homosexuality: ‘I’ll bet all the money I’ve ever made, plus his, that he doesn’t have a gay lover or a gay life.’
The Kidman gambit betrays something other than desperation: that they still consider that everything they have – all their money and all their fame – might be taken away from them if they were revealed to be involved in a lavender marriage. Of course, as with Crawford and Gere this is always mixed with protestations that there is ‘nothing wrong’ with being gay. The stars are caught in a bind – they realise that audiences attitudes are changing, that they don’t have as much to fear as Rock Hudson did in his time, but their instincts tell them, probably rightly, that liberal attitudes are just skin deep and that lies are always safer than the truth.
In the end, lavender marriages will only cease when they stop working – and the very fact that rumours of the homosexuality of married stars are now deemed acceptable copy is a sign that they are already losing their mojo.
Stars must reflect and contain the aspirations and desperations of their audience. The curse of stars is not that they are full of contradictions, but that they are full of the contradictions of their fans. It can be no coincidence that in the same week that Barrymore’s marriage was revealed as a ‘sham’, figures were published showing yet another rise in the divorce rates. The exposure of the ‘sham’ marriage of a gay star fascinates and obsesses the public so much because every marriage has its dark secrets, its role play, its sexual and gender ‘confusions’, its pretences.
By ‘confessing’ he had been ‘living a lie’ Barrymore refused to take those contradictions with him to his (early) grave, and has instead asked his audience to try and resolve them with him. It remains to be seen whether they will accept this new contract, which asks them to deal with the very things Barrymore existed to contain.
Or whether they will instead sue for divorce from him on the grounds of mental cruelty.
Mark Simpson takes a look at the British ritual of stripping off on the hallowed turf
(Independent on Sunday, July 1996)
Melissa Johnson’s bra-less gallop across Wimbledon’s Centre Court this week in a skimpy pinny and lovely smile proved to be a moving experience in more ways than one. A deluge of press articles followed which waxed lyrical and nostalgic about a lost ‘golden age’ of public nudity.
‘Streaking has been in decline ever since it peaked in the seventies,’ lamented Barbara Amiel in the Daily Telegraph. ‘This decline has not been of benefit to our civilisation and we must all hope that Miss Johnson has given it a new lease of life… This is nudity pure and untarnished.’
You know that seventies revivalism has peaked when the Daily Telegraph harks back to the decade of Labour Governments, strikes and streakers. Of course, that The Thunderer can now afford to look forward to a revival of streaking merely illustrates how defunct streaking is, and how nudity nowadays is anything but ‘pure and untarnished’.
Streaking had its origins in women’s protest against puritanical ‘protection’. Female students on American campuses in the sixties, disgruntled at the way their bodies were policed – they were locked up in the evening ‘for their own safety’ – took to running naked across the campus to draw attention to their predicament.
Hence public nudity and streaking were from the beginning bound up with the idea of personal and sexual ‘liberation’ that the sixties came to represent. By the seventies streaking had become a way for the younger American generation to signal their contempt for the puritanical older generation that wanted to use their bodies to make war with, not love.
It wasn’t, however, until the famous invasion of the pitch at Twickenham in 1974 by a naked but bearded Mike O’Brien his modestly famously protected by a strategically placed bobby’s helmet, that streaking really arrived in Britain. That it was presented in jokey terms was entirely to be expected. In Britain in the Seventies the body was less a battlefield than a comedy. This was, after all, the decade of Carry On films and Are You Being Served? The ‘permissiveness’ of the sixties only allowed the British to acknowledge that they had bodies, if only to laugh at them.
But O’Brien was making a protest – a protest against being British. Just before he decided to streak he had been discussing the streaking phenomenon in America with his friends and they had decided that it could never happen in ‘stuffy old Britain’. Unwittingly, in vaulting starkers over those wickets, O’Brien started a trend for streaking in the long hot summers of ’75 and ’76 which was to make streaking as British as cricket itself.
This was largely down to the British attitude to heat. Every year we Brits like to pretend to be amazed that the thermometer can rise above 70 degrees. Heat is supposed to be un-British, associated with Continentals and colonials. But this doesn’t mean that we don’t like heat – we love making a British fuss about it.
When the streaker, on some ‘gloriously’ hot sunny day, throws off his or her clothes (along with history, tradition, custom, class) and runs naked across such national institutions as Lords, Twickenham and Wimbledon, they do so to cheers and tabloid headlines of ‘PHEW! WOT A SCORCHER!’ The peculiar nature of Britishness is that it is most generally affirmed in a communal statement of how much fun it is not to be British – for a while.
This is why the picture of a naked O’Brien at Twickenham surrounded by buttoned up policeman came to represent the ultimate image to the British both of a streaker and of Britishness. (O’Brien himself decided he needed a permanent holiday from being British – he now lives in Australia).
By the eighties, quaint British attitudes towards the body and nudity had been changed forever by the American-dominated image business and the world-wide marketplace. The protest of the seventies had turned into contest; liberation into domination. The body became an instrument for getting ahead, a weapon in the individualist war of all against all. Arnie the body-builder android in The Terminator, running around Los Angeles stripped of his clothes, and finally, his flesh, was the eighties zeitgeist streaker – his nakedness just revealed his steely, ruthless, be-pistoned determination.
Taking off your clothes in public, even in Britain, was now no longer about being nude but about being noticed. Erica Roe’s streak at Twickenham in 1982 is perhaps the last streak anyone can put a name to, precisely because it marked the end of streaking. There can be nothing ‘spontaneous’ about public nudity in a mediatised world where everything is an image to be bought and sold. Streaking becomes marketing. Roe landed a modelling contract and now regrets the fact that she didn’t have a publicist at the time to maximise her ‘exposure’ (as she launches a line of supermarket vegetables named after her).
In the nineties we are bombarded continually by ‘exposures’ and ‘revelations’. The ‘naked truth’ is always being presented to us; authority, history, sexuality are continually being disrobed and paraded. Ironically, the result of all this is that the one thing that can’t be ‘revealed’ any more is your own body. Stripping loses its meaning when it is surrounded by a culture where everything is always and already stripped bare; showing an ankle only has a charge when the culture insists on draping table legs with heavy velvet. When a Newcastle vicar recently invited people to streak in his church because they ‘cheered people up’ he effectively performed the last rites on nudity.
As the nostalgia provoked by Johnson’s Centre Court sprint shows, streaking nowadays is just an ironic re-enactment of a retro Athena poster moment. It has become another form of dressing up.
Mark Simpson interviews Neil LaBute about his film ‘In the Company of Men’ – twenty years before ‘toxic masculinity’ went ‘hegemonic’
(Originally appeared in Attitude, 1998)
Women are made of sugar and spice. While men are made from slugs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails. This would appear to be the conclusion of American playwright Neil LaBute’s first movie, In theCompany of Men. Based on his stage play of the same name, it’s a merciless exposure of male sadism, power-jockeying, moral bankruptcy and nasty neckties. It isn’t exactly what you might call a feelgood movie.
On its release in the States, its relentlessly negative portrayal of male culture in Corporate America caused something of a storm at a time when the Promise Keepers were marching on Washington in their hundreds of thousands to sing hymns, pray, hold hands and pledge themselves to a vision of an altruistic, virtuous masculinity which Walt Disney would have applauded.
In the film two junior male execs, Chad a Nazi-frat-house-jock type with an exceptionally large chin, and Howard a nerdy-sick-note-from-mom type with virtually no chin at all, vow to take revenge on the whole female sex by simultaneously wooing a lonely deaf girl, waiting for her to fall for them, before revealing that they had only dated her as a joke.
An electrifying performance by Aaron Eckhart as Chad, the extremely unsympathetic and of course extremely attractive instigator of this plan, holds together an otherwise thinly plotted film which is almost as much in love with itself as Chad. Nevertheless, it anatomises very well a masculine culture where everyone is manoeuvring to be the fucker not the fuckee.
‘You got the balls for this job?’ Chad asks a young black colleague below him in the pecking order, before literally forcing him to get his knackers out. ‘Because you need balls. Business is all about whose got the biggest sacs of venom and who’s prepared to use them.’ Chad has the biggest and boy, does he use them.
‘It seems to be a polarising movie,’ says LaBute on the line from LA. ‘And not just along gender lines – people seem to be split between those who say that no good can come from showing bad and those who think that this is the only way to learn. Either way I prefer this kind of response to: “Oh, that was good. Now, where do we eat?” The most damning words to me are, “That was different” or “That was interesting.” I’d much rather they have a visceral reaction than like it.’
That’s particularly clear in the ending, where there’s no comeuppance for the bad guy, no justice, no resolution – you just leave it with the audience, which is, if I may say so, rather cheeky….
‘Yeah, we looked for every way we could to thwart catharsis. Chad gets away with it. If you spend 90min doing something creative and then throw it all away in the last ten minutes that’s crazy. Besides, Chad is already living in his own kind of hell already. Okay, so he doesn’t get slapped on the wrist, his girlfriend doesn’t find out etc. But he doesn’t look very happy to me. Yes, the last shot we get of him is him lying there being given a blow job by his girlfriend, but he doesn’t seem to be there. And before this he’s sitting watching bad TV, smoking, with his hand down the front of his pants….’
And you even undermine our certainty that Chad’s the bad guy
‘Yeah, Howard has a shred of conscience, but in his own way he’s more despicable than Chad. He doesn’t really act on that conscience. He doesn’t learn anything in the film and by the end it looks like he’s doing worse than he did before. In thirty seconds, he goes from trying to make a good gesture to screaming impotently into the camera.’
In fact, Chad’s almost admirable, isn’t he?
‘Absolutely. I based the structure of the film a bit on Restoration Comedy – which I’m a big fan of – and Chad’s the consummate cuckolder and trickster. There’s a moment in the movie when the audience is watching Howard and thinking, “What a poor fuck he is” and then they realise that they are the poor fucks – that Chad has been screwing them as well. He hasn’t provided enough information to anyone.’
There’s also something of Dangerous Liaisons about this film.
‘Yes, very much. I think there’s a bit of a cruel spirit to the French, even today. We showed the film at Cannes and the darker the movie got the more the audience laughed….’
Yes, that would be the French. Are you a fan of David Mamet?
‘Yes, very much. There’s an essay by David Mamet called ‘In the Company of Men.’ And also a play by Edward Bond, who I’m a great fan of, by the same name.’
Your affinity with Mamet is evident in the bleakness and intensity of the dialogue, and the wordiness of the film. The dialogue is very believable, but also very unreal. People don’t really talk that way; maybe this is more the way they function…
‘That’s the wonderful thing about screen and stage language is that it sounds the way people talk and then you listen again and realise that this isn’t the way people talk at all.’
Your dialogue struck me as kind of Mamet-meets-Tarantino.
‘An ugly love child.’
I’m not sure that love has much to do with it. Do you know any Chads?
‘Oh, yes absolutely. There’s a little bit of Chad in me. I’ve known people who don’t even have the amount of charm that Chad has. You can get away with a lot if you’re good looking and charming. The film I’m making at the moment, Friends And Neighbours, Jason Patric plays a character who makes Chad look schoolboyish. But it’s amazing to watch someone who is so pretty coming out with such sewage…
But strangely entrancing. Do you have any corporate experience?
‘No, not really. But I used to live in New York and I’d see them on the subway every morning, gearing up for their day of combat on Wall Street. A sea of white shirts – it was only the tie which changed each day, a splash of individuality amidst all that conformity.’
It seems to me that your film looks at masculinity from the self-conscious, maybe even slightly jealous aspect of an outsider.
‘I always felt a bit of an outsider. I grew up working on a farm. My father was a truck driver and my brother was in the military, so even as was mucking out a barn I was thinking about moving away. I was a terrible voyeur and watcher, always thinking in terms of good material. There’s a line in a play of mine where two guys are talking at a bar and another guy walks past and one guy says to the other, “God, I’m so fucking glad I’m a guy.” “Why’s that?” says the other guy. “Because I don’t’ have to date them.” I think that was one of the truest things I wrote.’
Aren’t you just a tad hard on men? Are women as innocent and men as corrupt as you portray them in the movie? The woman is a flopsy bunny happily nibbling grass who is devoured by men who are slavering he-wolves.
‘I think that guys by themselves are great. Put them with other guys and they do turn into wolves – everything is suspect, everything is open to ridicule. And yeah, I do think women are in many ways better than men.’
I suspect that your film won’t be quite as controversial here as it was in the US. Not because we don’t have those kind of men – but because British culture isn’t quite so prudish. Also, the fuck-you culture is more developed in the US. Many straight American men I’ve met seem to talk about nothing else other than who they fucked, literally or metaphorically. There’s such a constant stress on being the fucker not the fuckee…
‘That’s absolutely right.’
Another reason why they’re glad they’re not women.
‘Yeah, and I think that it’s precisely the self-recognition that’s the problem. As with the audience for a Restoration Comedy the audience wants to go, oh yeah, I recognise that person, not oh God, that person’s me! The only people who have said to me, God, that would never happen are the ones I suspect of being most like Chad.’
The rage of Caliban in the mirror.
‘Exactly. There were a number of incidents like that in the States when we were trying to sell the film. Usually, it would be female executives pushing the film and then it would reach the invariably male boss guy at the top, who’d go, “That’s not funny. That’s not real. These things don’t happen. I’m not releasing that.” I think that part of the reason why the French enjoyed the movie so much was because they thought it was a reinforcement of the idea of the ugly American and so not a French problem at all.
The scene between Chad and the black employee where he makes him get his balls out is rather strange. It seems to hint at a motivation for Chad – that he’s a repressed homosexual, or that repressed homoeroticism is the dynamic behind all these guys’ actions – but then takes it away.
‘It’s all in Aaron’s face. He just did it on the day and you couldn’t tell what Chad was thinking. Is he fucking this guy up? Is he fucking him? Is he interested in him sexually? There’s all these things going on and you can’t say which one is true or whether they’re all true or all false.
He certainly stares very intently at the lad’s balls for a beat or two too long….
‘Yeah! He certainly does that.’
Whatever the film’s merits as an intervention in the sex war, it certainly has its moments as a black comedy. Some of the executive scenes are piss-yourself funny. In one Chad leafs through the company gazette – you never see the men working; the women however type furiously while the men wander around looking important – picking out all the people he hates.
‘He’s a total fucking fuck, that guy!’ he points. ‘And this one here, Jeez, you know him? He represents a whole new type of fuck!’
When the man he’s been talking to leaves the room, another colleague asks him, ‘Do you like that guy?’