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"You know what he said after the Julia Roberts thing [My Best Friend's Wedding]? 'I'm only going to work with those A-list famous women. They love it 'cause they're sick of working with those straight boys. They'll have a great time with me and tell all their girlfriends.' He just did A Midsummer Night's Dream with Michelle Pfeiffer. The film stinks, but he had a great time."
Having a great time has always been important to Maybury, especially because he came of age in an era when the all-powerful Margaret Thatcher was Britain's Prime Minister. While the rich were never richer under her stewardship, the lower middle class was never poorer. And when you're worried about getting food on the table, what the neighbors might think about your sexual orientation is of precious little concern.
"I remember, Thatcher, Thatcher, Milk Snatcher back when she was education minister," he says. "What I don't understand was how she was allowed to happen. The situation before she came to power was very bad. I was enjoying myself, totally, 'cause I was a kid. At the same time I remember you could only go to work three days during the week. I remember when the power would be off three or four hours a day, and my mom would have to cook things on a fire. It was 1976, and suddenly it was like 1876!"
But back then Maybury's thoughts were elsewhere: He was besotted with the then-reigning glam-rock scene, and with the punk movement that followed in its wake, both of which turned out to be decisive influences on his life and work.
"In 1976 I went to these clubs to see bands like the Sex Pistols play," he recalls. "Between the sets they played the whole of Kenneth Anger's 'Magick Lantern Cycle.' While they set up for the next band you'd see Kustom Kar Kommandos or Fireworks-- all in one night -- and at the end the Pistols came on. The whole audience was dressed up like [characters from] The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I was like fifteen when that film came out. It was ironic that all that glam-rock decadence came out of England, [the film] was made by an Australian, and was a pastiche of the best kind of American late-Fifties early-Sixties pop-music culture. It prefigured the English punk movement totally. That was one of the few things that everybody in the original punk movement had in common: Rocky Horror. I knew all about that, the way you do when you're young like pigs sniffing out truffles. I knew that David Bowie used to go to Rodney Bingenheimer's club in Los Angeles, and all of that.
"The funny thing is the casting director for Velvet Goldmine, Todd Haynes's film about that whole era, is Susie Figgis. Susie's known me for years. She called me, and I put them in touch with this tranny-boy called Winston, who's got a small part in the film. Then she called back and said, 'Who do you think would be good to play a young you?' So I asked Sinead O'Connor, 'cause she'd done some bit part in the film, and she came up with Jonny Lee Miller [Sick Boy in 1996's Trainspotting]. Sinead said, 'He looks like you used to look when you were fifteen.' So I called Susie and Jonny Lee Miller got the part.
"I'm very interested to see how young kids perceive it here. It seems like a thousand years ago."
It also seems eons since films like Jarman's Sebastiane (1976) explored homoeroticism with some degree of frankness. In Remembrance of Things Fast, Maybury goes much further than his mentor, thanks to his friend Aidan Shaw.
"I wanted to put a gay sex scene on [British TV's] Channel 4," says Maybury with an enormous grin. "I knew that one way or another they would screen it. Also I wanted to make a porn scene that was the way I wanted to see it. Not the cum-shot scene. Still, when I came to doing it I was sort of terrified. It was, What do I do now? The other boy wasn't an actor at all, so Aidan was pretty terrified as well. The other boy was pretty game, but they didn't actually fancy each other at all, which often happens in porn. It was just trying to make something sexy that was beautiful at the same time. I didn't want it to be all Day-Glo and pimples.
"I've just made another video-film with Aidan, a short based on the Genet poem 'The Man Sentenced to Death.' It's a kind of multiscreen video with a French actor, Pascal Greggory. He's reciting the poem in French. You've seen him in Eric Rohmer's Pauline at the Beach and Patrice Chereau's Queen Margot. In fact he was Patrice Chereau's boyfriend for a while. Pascal's very cool in the film. I don't speak French but I deliberately had him do it in French. I showed it in Paris this year as part of a video art festival they had. It went down really, really well. The intention was it would annoy English people because it was in French, and it would annoy French people because it's a really good film about Genet made by an Englishman. So it's Pascal and Aidan and a whole bunch of boys masturbating! It's very arty and pretentious and really sexy. I'm even in it, having a wank. I thought if I can get all my friends to do this, I should do it too!"
"Oh," adds Maybury, breaking into peals of laughter, "how one suffers for one's art!"
Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon.
Written and Directed by John Maybury. Starring Derek Jacobi, Daniel Craig, Tilda Swinton, and Annabel Brooks.
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