marksimpson.com

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

Menu Close

Tag: Warrior

The Dazzling Bi-Brilliance of Tom Hardy

By Mark Simpson

“Inee lahvelee?”

So says pretty much everyone in Legend about Tom Hardy’s looks. And the latest re-telling of the story of Ronald and Reginald Kray, the sharp-suited, impeccably-groomed, glamorous gangster twins who ruled 1960s London’s underworld, is a mostly enjoyable movie which often gladdens the eye (even if it makes you wince a bit during the violent scenes).

How could it not? After all, it stars not one, but two Tom Hardys – he plays, as everyone must know now since it’s the whole conceit of the movie, both twins.

Despite this, it does manage to get a little boring sometimes. Legend makes the mistake of thinking that we’re more interested in ‘Reggie’ than ‘Ronnie’ – because he wasn’t the mad, ‘gay’ one.

So it has a from-beyond-the-grave voice-over ostensibly provided by Reggie’s first wife, Frances Shea (Emily Browning) who committed suicide in 1967, two years after their marriage. The narrative focus of the film is essentially on what it portrays as her doomed attempt to ‘save’ Reggie, domesticate him and make him ‘normal’ – and how this eventually kills her. But no one, apart from Frances, wants him to be normal (and maybe she didn’t either: her family disputes the film’s victimy portrayal of her). Certainly the audience doesn’t, they just want him to get busy with a ball-hammer.

What everyone – or was it just me? – wanted from Legend was a gayer version of Hardy’s best performance as Britain’s longest-serving solitary-confinement muscular psychopath in Bronson (2008) – which come to think of it was pretty gay anyway. And you do get some of that when ‘Ron’ is on camera: Hardy’s ‘fat poof’ is often frighteningly funny.

But I put the names ‘Reggie’ and ‘Ronnie’ in quotes because at a visual level Legend isn’t about the gangster twins, or London in the 1960s. It’s about Tom and his very ‘hot’, very 21st Century, very narcissistic on-screen sexuality – split into two halves, mad, ugly, gay ‘Reggie’ – and straight, pretty, sympathetic ‘Ronnie’, which fight it out for dominance in this psycho costume drama.

That’s why everyone talks about how ‘lahvelee’ ‘Reggie’ is. Reggie Kray certainly wasn’t bad looking for a gangster, and he scrubbed up very nicely, but he was definitely no Tom Hardy (and Hardy, son of South West London bohemians, is definitely no Cockney). It’s also why we marvel at how ugly Tom manages to make himself as ‘Ronnie’ – so that when ‘Ronnie’ says that ‘Reggie’ got all the looks we actually find ourselves agreeing instead of laughing at the in-gag.

Any film about the Krays would struggle to remain focused on the Krays with Hardy in it. He’s proper Hollywood. But with two Hardys it stands no chance – the twins, their story and the mythology end up spit-roasted by Hardy’s double-ended charisma and great performances (even though his ‘Ron’ did look a bit like a David Walliams character sometimes).

So it shouldn’t perhaps be surprising that the questions get a bit personal. Hardy, 37, who is married (to a woman), famously ‘shut down’ a gay reporter at a press conference for Legend recently when he contrasted his character Ronnie’s openness about his sexuality with what he called Hardy’s ‘ambiguous sexuality’ as suggested in previous interviews.

‘What on earth are you on about?’ retorted Hardy, clearly annoyed, eventually clarifying the question himself: ‘Are you asking me about my sexuality?’ ‘Sure’ replied the reporter. ‘Why?’ asked Hardy. When no reply came, Hardy dismissed him with a curt ‘Thank you’.

The interview the reporter had in mind was a candid one Hardy gave a gay magazine in 2008 (to publicise RocknRolla, in which he played a gay gangster) where he acknowledged he had experimented sexually with men when he was younger: “’As a boy? Of course I have. I’m an actor for f***’s sake. I’m an artist. I’ve played with everything and everyone,” he said. “But I’m not into men sexually. I love the form and the physicality but the gay sex bit does nothing for me.”

After a backlash from some of the gay commentariat to Hardy’s rather more clenched response to the 2015 press conference probings, Hardy stated:

“I’m under no obligation to share anything to do with my family, my children, my sexuality – that’s nobody’s business but my own. And I don’t see how that can have anything to do with what I do as an actor, and it’s my own business.”

Despite the apparent use of his family and children as sexuality shields in that sentence, the gist of it is true. I also have some sympathy for Tom’s pique at being asked about his ‘sexuality’ (which always means non-heterosexuality) at a crowded press conference, being a married Hollywood heartthrob these days. Moreover, the seven-year-old interview quotes from the earlier part of his career don’t actually demonstrate that his own sexuality is ‘ambiguous’ or that he is now hiding anything – at most he stated that he was bi-curious when younger but is no longer.

That said, Legend is a film which makes his on-screen sexuality into a business. Show business. The drama of the movie is Hardy’s bi/two-sexual cinematic personae. Legend is a bit like Top Gun, but with ‘Tom’ playing both Ice Man (Val Kilmer) and Maverick – where Ice Man wins (and Kelly McGillis kills herself).

‘Reggie’, Hardy’s straight half, aspires, somewhat, to normality; ‘Ronnie’, Hardy’s gay half, revels in deviancy and keeps dragging ‘Reggie’ back to the bent and crooked – and making sure they never part. That’s why Ron is portrayed as openly – and unambiguously – homosexual (“I’m a ‘omosexual”, “I prefer boys”) not interested in women, when in fact he described himself as bisexual (and married a woman while in prison). Reg is portrayed as straight, when he seems to have also been bisexual, but not so openly as Ron.

Yes, sexuality is a confusing business. No wonder the movie simplifies things – just like the popular press.

Reginald reportedly ‘came out’ in a letter published shortly after his death. Here’s how it was covered in a UK tabloid the Sunday People in 2000, headlined: ‘REGGIE KRAY CONFESSES FROM GRAVE: I AM GAY’:

GANGSTER Reggie Kray has made an amazing confession from beyond the grave – his hardman image concealed that he was GAY.

Reggie poured out his darkest secret in a letter written as he faced blackmail over his homosexuality.

He handed me the astonishing two-page admission in a prison visiting room and asked for it to be published after his death.

So there you have it. Reggie was a self-confessed (dead) GAY homosexual. Except he wasn’t. The very next sentence in the same report reads:

The once-feared East End crime boss wrote: “I wish for the public to know that I am bisexual.”

‘Gay’ and ‘homosexual’ are often mixed up with ‘bisexual’ in the accounts of the twins’ lives, because culturally we tend to mix up ‘gay’ and ‘bi’ when talking about men. Although attitudes are changing, we often still too often think of male bisexuality as ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ or ‘queer’ (because it’s ‘emasculating’ – e.g. ‘once-feared’). Whereas female bisexuality tends to be thought of as heterosexual (because it’s ‘hot’, or because female sexuality is ‘complicated’). And as Hardy himself has discovered, admitting to a bi-curious youth can mean that you are assumed to be at least bisexual or ‘ambiguous’ in the bedroom as an adult.

I don’t claim to know anything about Hardy’s ‘real’ sexuality – I’m totally out of the celebrity sex gossip loop, which frankly, is usually mythology and fantasy anyway, even and especially when provided by other celebs. Likewise, ‘gaydar’ is a very faulty instrument indeed, prone to squealing feedback and hair-raising short-circuits. (And unlike it seems almost everyone else on the planet, I have no information and no opinion on the other Hollywood Tom’s ‘real’ sexuality either.)

Besides, a few slutty selfies aside, I’m much more interested in Tom H’s on-screen sexuality. Which is radiantly, brazenly bi-responsive. It’s not ambiguous – it’s ambisexual. Hardy’s dazzling bi-brilliance lights up the screen – it is what makes him such a charismatic, watchable actor, in the mould, dare I say it, of some of the greats, such as James Dean and Marlon Brando (cutely, Tom is the same titchy height 5’9”, as Marlon).

tom-hardy

There’s a rather ridiculous Romeo & Juliet scene in Legend where a drunken ‘Reggie’ proposes to Frances through her bedroom window at the top of a drainpipe. But thanks to Tom’s tender talents, instead of scoffing at the cheesiness of it, you find yourself hoping, when the hard man fishes out the engagement ring, that he doesn’t fall and hurt his lahvlee face.

Regardless of his private sexuality, the ‘business’ of Hardy’s on-screen sexuality in many of his other movies is definitely not monosexual, depending as it does on a certain homoerotic-homosocial appeal, and a ‘hard man’/‘soft man’ tension, androgyny even. In addition to his early Band of Brothers/Black Hawk Down fresh-faced, all-boys-together soldierly roles, he’s, as we’ve seen, played a gay gangster before. In Inception he psychically ‘cross-dressed’ and delivered some wonderfully camp lines with panache: “Mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.”

In Warrior (2011) he played a heavily-muscled young MMA fighter forced to wrestle his equally fit brother in a Speedo – but with a happy ending. Even the bottom-feeder comedy This Means War (2012), in which two CIA killers compete for the same girl, was primarily about the passionately Platonic romance between him and Chris Pine, an actor who seems to be 70% hair and 30% teeth. It was only Hardy’s sympathetic skills as an actor and his dazzling bi-brilliance that made you care about their relationship, Pine or that atrocity of a movie at all.

Hardy has a special proclivity for playing ‘hard men’ who are soft and receptive inside. It’s what makes him such an entrancing sight on the silver screen, for men and women alike. It’s all there in his sweetly engaging face and twinkly eyes, with those big kissable, suckable lips – atop his street-fighter body (young Brando had an angel’s face on a stevedore’s body). Perhaps because of his appreciation for ‘the form and physicality’ of masculinity, Tom is the kind of bloke a lot of straight lads would ‘go gay’ for – and plenty of gay ones would go even gayer for. A man’s man in the modern sense of the phrase. Hardy’s career has been made at the place where desire and identification meet.

hardy002

There is a magical kind of misrecognition involved in going to the movies: you see, especially when younger, the movie star as your idealised self. Your twin who is identical with what you should be, rather than what you are. In the darkness of the cinema, the brilliant shadow on the screen becomes your real, long lost twin – you sitting in the dark are the false, found one.

Which brings us back to the sexuality of Legend and the doubly-doomed nature of the deceased wife attempted-redemption storyline. Twins are by their very nature ‘homosexual’ that is ‘same-sexual’ – at least to non-twins looking in. They share the same conception, the same womb at the same time, the same birth, as wells as usually the same infancy, potty-training and childhood, and the same puberty. Intimacies far beyond those of lovers. Identical twins also reflect one another, in a narcissistic fashion. In a sense, they are born with the life-companion everyone else has to search for – and they can also watch themselves starring in the movie of their own lives.

So no wonder the Krays’ biographer recently claimed that the twins had sex with one another when adolescents. Or, as the Daily Mail headline put it: ‘THEY FOUGHT AS ONE. THEY KILLED AS ONE. BUT DID THE KRAY TWIN’S UNCANNY BOND LEAD THEM TO BREAK THE ULTIMATE TABOO?’.

Whether or not it’s true, it’s something that should definitely have been included in Legend. Tom-on-Tom action should not have been restricted to those fight scenes….

 

Why ‘Warrior’ Isn’t That Kind of Girl

Middlesbrough, Teesside, one of the last steel-making towns in the UK or in fact one of the last places in the UK where they still make anything, is probably the right place to go and see, as I did last week, Warrior, the recently-released, much-hyped MMA Rocky remake set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Warrior is essentially a bromantic MMA Rocky. This time there are two Rockies: Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy, playing actual brothers (rather than ‘bros’) forced to fight one another. Both Rockies are considerably easier on the eye and ear than Sylvester Stallone ever was.

The cinema in ‘Boro was (half) full of groups of young, mostly working class men, several of them even more worked-out than the stars of the movie – but in contrast to the resolutely ‘timeless’ grainy Hollywood faux butchery of Warrior that often looked as if it were set in an MMA version of the 1970s, they were fake-baked, shaven-chested, sexily dressed and very much Twenty First Century tarty. (The North East of England is after all home to Geordie Shore the UK version of Jersey Shore)

Of course, not everything about the film is trying to be timeless. I assume the young men had been drawn, like me, by the poster and trailer for the movie featuring naked, hulking Hardy and a ripped Edgerton eyeballing each other, and the promise of a very sweaty, if incestuous porno climax. (Or, as the promotional copy has it: ‘…the two brothers must finally confront each other and the forces that pulled them apart, facing off in the most soaring, soul stirring, and unforgettable climax that must be seen to be believed.’)

Like all trailers, of course, it lied. Unlike Captain America the deceit wasn’t that the trailer provided you with the only tits in the movie – for free. There were oodles of shots of Hardy and Edgerton’s tits and abs. In fact, toplessness was the default setting of Warrior, and for much of the movie Hardy’s intricate tattoos were the nearest thing he had to a shirt. No, it lied about the spornographic climax. But more of that whinge later.

There were though plenty of homoerotics. It’s a movie about brawny male love – because they’re beating the crap out of one another it can afford to be sentimental and tender, not to mention physical in a way that most ‘bromances’ (essentially a middle-class version of the buddy movie) can’t. It’s about two blue-collar brothers’ twisted, jilted love for one another. About an alcoholic, abusive father’s love for his angry, bitter sons (who of course, love him really). About the love between a coach and his eager charge. And the love between comrades/warriors.

And also about the hero-erotic love that so many straight men have for MMA fighters.

The MMA winner-takes-all tournament both brothers enter (and end up fighting one another) is called ‘Sparta’ – the Ancient Greek City State so famously warlike that according to legend, women had to dress as boys on their wedding night to lure their husbands to bed. Hardy is an ex-Marine who is the subject of a YouTube tribute from another young (cute) jarhead whose life was saved by Hardy. The Theban/Spartan band that is the US Marine Corps turns up en masse and in uniform at Sparta to profess their love and sing the Marine Corps Hymn to Hardy. If this sounds a bit camp, that’s probably because it is.

There are really no women in the movie (and there were very few in the cinema). Edgerton’s equally pretty wife (Jennifer Morrison) is sometimes glimpsed in the background worrying about his fate. But it’s almost as if she’s there as proof of his domesticated goodness – and to make the wisecrack about his flamboyant, handsome ‘unorthodox’ trainer (played by Frank Grillo) who uses classical music to ‘condition’ his fighters being his ‘boyfriend’.

(The coach chooses Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ as Edgerton’s swishy entrance music, reminding me of the Allegretto from B’s Seventh Symphony in The King’s Speech, which then made me think: a) The King’s Speech is something of a bromance, and b) It’s also something of a boxing movie – voice coach.)

The on-screen relationship with his trainer is clearly coded as a romance. The moment Edgerton persuades him to take him on again is a classic seduction scene. In fact, Edgerton is all come-hither smiles and giggles around his coach and when Edgerton professes later ‘I LOVE MY COACH!!’ it’s quite clear what he means.

Hardy has nothing to do with and doesn’t talk about women, except his dead mother. At one point he calls a woman with kids and reassures her he will live up to his promise – and then you realise he means his promise to his deceased USMC buddy, who we learn described Hardy as his ‘brother in arms’. So it’s about male love again. Male love with big kissable titty lips.

Hardy takes on his father as his coach to train for the tournament, but abuses him in revenge for the treatment meted out as a kid. But after a drunken confrontation finally forgives him and literally takes him to bed, holding his old wreck of a dad between his legs and arms and petting him to sleep. He loves his coach too.

After a long, exhausting, slightly tedious and very clichéd final reel, Edgerton gets Hardy where he wants him in the ring, holding him tight in a ‘rear naked choke’ echo of Hardy’s tender moment with his dad – and whispers “I love you” in Hardy’s ear. They stagger out of the ring and out of the arena, clinging to one another. Brothers in arms, finally.

Essentially Warrior is one of those movies about ‘brothers’ that isn’t really about brothers at all. It’s a movie about how ‘real’ brothers are usually no match for those that men call brothers. The way that “I love you like a brother, man” is something of a lie, because most boys and men don’t love their brothers that way. As in this movie, sibling rivalry, age differences and family stuff tends to get in the way. It’s the ‘brothers’ you choose to love that you really love. At least for a while. The phrase men use, and the strapline for this movie, should really be: ‘I love you like I don’t love my brother – that asshole! – man’.

But in one way Warrior is true to the sentiment of ‘I love you like a brother, man’ – the sentiment of ‘not in a gay way’. For all the passionate homoerotics it’s channelling – and despite the very norty, very arousing trailer – it manages to clean-up MMA. A feature-length movie, Warrior is considerably less pornographic than almost any UFC match, which usually last just a few minutes. The fight scenes were mostly a headache-inducing blur of shaky, grainy, poorly lit camera movement. None of the vulgar, compromising and downright lewd positions that characterise the sport and none of the shadowless, multi-angle, explicit, zoomed, overhead voyeurism of pay-per-view UFC (that I wrote about breathlessly here) were permitted.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the audience disappointed not to see Hardy and Edgerton going at it in HD. Any red-blooded UFC fan – and there are loads of them in the UK, as it fast overhauls boxing in popularity – would be.

Perhaps the chasteness of Warrior’s MMA down to the fact that the two actors are just that – actors, not actual MMA fighters, let alone top-level fighters. So the director couldn’t afford to show too much. Or maybe it was because the gritty, obscene mechanics of MMA were too much – for the bromantic storyline. In the end, despite the trailer, Warrior didn’t want you to think it was that kind of girl of course, and offered an emotional climax rather than a physical or even visual one.

Though admittedly, any film starring Hardy’s lips can hardly be called clean fun.

The Gayness of Top Gun: Feel The Need

Frankly, we could watch a few more hours of Baldwin chewing the scenery as Pacino and Hader flabbergasted that the producers don’t understand how “gay” their script is: “I say, ‘Ice Man’s on my tail, he’s coming hard.’ I literally said that to a bathroom attendant last night.”

Curious how, twenty five years on from its release, the ‘gayness’ of Top Gun is now part of conventional wisdom and a shared joke. It certainly wasn’t at the time.

Hard to believe, but in the 80s Top Gunstarring the young, tarty Tom Cruise (the Cristiano Ronaldo of his day), with its topless volleyball scenes (to the strains of ‘Playing With the Boys’), lingering locker-room scenes, boy-on-boy central love-story (Iceman and Maverick’s aerial sex scenes are much hotter than anything going on with Kelly McGillis, who has since come out as lesbian) – and awash with enough baby oil and hair gel to sink an aircraft carrier – was generally seen as the epitome of heterosexual virility.

And even nearly a decade later in 1994, when I devoted a whole chapter in my first book Male Impersonators to explaining the homoerotics of that outrageous movie, plenty of people still wouldn’t have Top Gun‘s heterosexuality impugned.

Later the same year Quentin Tarantino made a cameo appearance in the movie Sleep With Me, essentially making the same argument, Toby Young, then editor of The Modern Review and Tarantino fanboy, was moved to write a long essay in the The Sunday Times defending his favourite movie’s heterosexuality from Simpson and Tarantino’s filthy calumnies.

Mr Young’s clinching argument? Top Gun HAD to be straight because he’d watched it twenty times – and he’s straight.

But now that everyone and his mother thinks Top Gun – and Tom Cruise – gay, I’m no longer quite so sure….

In fact, what I told Mr Young in 1994 when he rang me for a quote for his piece was this: “Of course Top Gun isn’t a ‘gay movie’ – but it’s clearly, flagrantly not a straight one either.” I think I’ll stick with that.

Perhaps we’re all more knowing now. Perhaps more people are clued-up about homoerotics. Perhaps it’s down to the Interweb making all the ‘incriminating’ clips always available. Perhaps it’s all my fault. Though I suspect it’s more a case of the past being a foreign country – so ‘gayness’ can be safely projected onto something in the past, even if it was once what hundreds of millions of straight young men saw as the very epitome of aspirational heterosexuality.

I’d better end there as I’m off to the movies – to see Warrior.

Tip: DAKrolak

Copyright © 1994 - 2017 Mark Simpson All Rights Reserved.