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one of oscar's

You must not find symbols in everything you see. It makes life impossible.

It was 150 years since the birth of Oscar Wilde yesterday. Naturally BBC2 took this as a chance to theme the day.

To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable.
The Picture of Dorian Gray

In the afternoon was the 1952 production of The Importance of Being Ernest. I use 'performance' advisedly: it is a poor piece of cinema but even that can't destroy the delight of the play which still has me laughing out loud. Plus it has Joan Greenwood, who played slightly wicked Edwardian women with great skill and a very curious voice.

The good ended happily and the bad ended unhappily. That is what fiction means.
The Importance of Being Ernest

This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.

Then the evening brought Wilde, the 1997 biopic starring Stephen Fry as Wilde and the ever-annoying Jude Law as the also ever-annoying Bosie. Whenever I watch this, I have the 1960 Trials of Oscar Wilde running through my internal projection box. In both films there are scenes of the key moments (like the triumph of Ernest's opening and the waiting about in hotel rooms for the arrest) but other elements had to be codified for the 1960 film (this being exactly the same year as the Chatterley trial on obscenity). It's possible to use the later, more explicit film as a key in which to unlock the earlier one. And, despite knowing the ending, it still tends to make me want to cry for the poor old sod.

Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard.
Some do it with a bitter look,
some with a flattering word.
The coward does it with a kiss,
the brave man with a sword.

The Ballad of Reading Gaol

Sadly, the day did not stretch to the lovely 1999 film version of An Ideal Husband in which Cate Blanchett is perfect as the prim wife, Mini Driver pouts as the usual little madam and Rupert Everett is the perfect Wildean cad. They should force Everett to be in film adaptations of all the other plays as well. Just so I could have an entire day of him speaking Wilde's words. That may be a very specialised market though.

I have made an important discovery... that alcohol, taken in sufficient quantities, produces all the effect of intoxication.

Back in the early 90s I was in Paris and went on a visit to Pere Lechaise, the famous graveyard. At the metro station, I bought white carnations (no green, you'd think the florist there would know) and then we armed ourselves with a map of the city of the dead. Like a particularly morbid 'Hollywood Stars' map. One of my friends wanted to find an actress, and we all wanted to find Edith Piaf.

"My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go."

at the hotel in Paris, as he lay dying.

We didn't want to find Jim Morrison but his grave seemed to be some black hole forcing us to have a look. There was a rather creepy bloke hanging about it who kept asking us if the flowers were for Morrison. I tried to explain who they were for, but it seems my "non, Oscar Wilde" was not comprehensible. We eventually found the beautiful Epstein-designed tomb, smeared with lipstick and with the back covered in quotes and - perhaps unsurprising - Smiths' lyrics. All in all a neat coda to the teenage fascination with Wilde (and, in fact, the Smiths) that had seen me devouring every one of his plays.

Wilde is frequently misquoted for something from which the line "one of Oscar's!", frequently yelled in our office when things go wrong, comes: the Monty Python Oscar Wilde Sketch:
WHISTLER: Your Highness, you are also like a stream of bat's piss.
WHISTLER: It was one of Wilde's. One of Wilde's.
OSCAR: It sodding was not! It was Shaw!

Posted @ 3:28 am on Sunday, October 17, 2004
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