Happily Ever After

19720914-09Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller, (Hart-Davis, £1.75)

This is a marvellously simple book, based on the real-life character of Mary Ann Willson, an American primitive painter of the early 1800’s. If you found The Well of Loneliness rather sentimental, and La Batarde unreadable, this is for you. It’s also for you if you want to know more about one kind of lesbian relationship, for the development of the relationship between Patience and Sarah is described clearly and truly in the first person, both alternating in acting as narrator.

Patience White is a quiet lady of thirty, living with her brother and his family in a small farming town in Connecticut in 1816. She does all the things that a woman did in this sort of environment – cooking, making candles, spinning – but she also paints, has a small private income and has no inclination to marry. ‘I was still young enough to think of marriage, at least to a widower, but I’d never noticed that marriage made anybody else feel better… Well, if a woman’s not going to want marriage, she’d best get busy and want to be a schoolmarm or hire herself out as an embroiderer. All I wanted was to be a painter…’

She also wants, deeply, someone to share her life, and to make this life independant of her rigidly conventional brother and his narrow-minded wife. When Sarah Dowling, twenty-one and tough, arrives with a load of firewood, there’s immediate contact. “I’m Pa’s boy,” says Sarah, ‘he couldn’t get a boy the regular way. Kept getting girls. So he picked me out to be boy because I was biggest.” Sarah in the scandal of the neighbourhood, but she and Patience quickly find that they complement each other, sexually as well as emotionally, and the rest of the book follows their efforts to get away from the village, and to come to terms with their unique situation

The device of having a few chapters written from each girl’s point of view works well on the whole, especially when Sarah goes off to find her own way in the world, believing that she and Patience will never be able to live together. Sarah travels with a book-peddlar, who teaches her to read, and develops her thinking, without disturbing her amusing innocence. When his affection for the young ‘boy’ in breeches and boots seems to become too close, she makes the breakthrough and admits that she is a girl, and goes home to face her angry father and re-establish her love with Patience.

Eventually they do break away, against opposition but with the unexpected help of Patience’s brother, who seems to finally recognise real love, although his shrewish wife certainly don’t have it. Travelling by steamer to the wicked city of New York, and meeting with unexpected help on the way, Patience and Sarah find a small farm near a village on the Hudson, and set up home there. They rebuild the collapsing log cabin, plant their own land, even build their own bed — live there, together, perhaps even happily ever after.

The real painter, Mary Ann Willson and her lover, Miss Brundidge, did exactly that, and this basis in fact adds another delightful facet to the book. I found Patience and Sarah the best recent fiction about lesbians I have read, and a fascinating piece of social history as well.

BLACK HONESTY

19720914-09The Harder they Come starring Jimmy Cliff. Directed by Perry Henzell. Cert ‘AA’. At present showing only at the Gaumont, Notting Hill Gate.
‘The Harder They Come’ Original Soundtrack Recording – Jimmy Cliff & Various Artists – Island LPS 9202

After an extremely successful run at the Brixton Classic, The Harder They Come is now showing at the Gaumont, Notting Hill Gate for an indefinite period.

Despite the fact that this is the first independent production to come out of Jamaica, that the cast is almost entirely made up of non-professional actors, and that, at the time of writing, it has no major distributor, the film has managed to attract considerable attention, especially amongst the most notable critics. And quite justifiably so.

Because the film is honest in its reflections of West Indian life and culture it succeeds on all levels. The depiction of the hardships of Jamaican life give it a political nature, whilst the unpretentiousness of the largely amateur cast allow it to be entertaining and at times very funny.

The story-line is simple but revealing. A young man, Ivan, (played by reggae singer Jimmy Cliff), comes from the country to ‘make it’ in the city. His ambition is to make a hit record but it’s a lot harder and tougher to achieve than he first imagined. He does, however, eventually succeed, but not until after he has been humiliated, exploited in every way, and is wanted by the police for murder.

The film is an angry comment on the social conditions that allow the exploitation and poverty that exist in Jamaica to take place, in what to an outsider is a ‘paradise isle’. Director Perry Henzell controls this anger though and doesn’t allow it to distract one from the purpose and the humour of the film. Also racial oppression is not brought in as being the aggressor, for throughout the film we are shown that black man exploits black man, and the hero, Ivan, is completely materialistic in his outlook on life.

The soundtrack of the film contains the best reggae music I have ever heard. The distinctiveness and vitality of this music, now that we have a chance to hear it well recorded (in stereo), must surely mean that a lot more people will become aware of yet another important musical form. The soundtrack has recently been released by Island records, who also handle the film in this country.

Jimmy Cliff contributes a number of tracks, including the title track, The Harder They Come. This song as a single has already been a huge hit in Jamaica and amongst the West Indian community in this country. Cliff composed this song, as he did all the material he sings on this soundtrack. Another particularly good track by him is Many Rivers To Cross, which has the best lyrics I have heard since Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water and Bill Wither’s Lean on Me. The rest of the soundtrack is made up with songs from other popular reggae entertainers such as The Maytals and Desmond Dekker.

If you live in London it is well worth the journey to Notting Hill Gate to see this film. But if that’s not possible, at least hear the soundtrack album. Both are good unpretentious entertainment, and the film and lyrics of the songs provide a much needed insight into West Indian life. Don’t bother to see the new Shaft movie, that’s just another way the white man has learnt to exploit the black man; see something that is honest about one form of black culture.

FOLLOW-UP

19720914-09Follow-Up, published by Don Busby, is a new monthly magazine for ‘the gay scene’.

But as they say themselves, the magazine is “projected, not only at the homosexual, but at anyone who likes entertainment and fun”. They go on to say, in their first editorial, that “Follow-Up is not a campaigning magazine”, and they will not publish material which will “seriousiy offend in any sphere. We only wish to be adult and to be able to laugh at ourselves and society”.

At 75p a copy, Follow-Up is not cheap, but it is professionally produced and contains 64 pages. Amongst its contents there are features, fiction, reviews, full-frontal male pin-ups, but unfortunately no personal ads. The magazine is completely male-orientated too.

There is certainly a market for interesting, well-produced gay magazines, but whether Follow-Up will satisfy the demand remains to be seen. The mag’s editors are Jonathan Kerr and Peter Burton (ex Jeremy).

Thirties Fans Only

19720914-09Cowardy Custard Directed by Wendy Toye, with Patricia Routledge, Elaine Delmar, Derek Waring, John Moffatt. At the Mermaid Theatre.

I went to a marvellous party, and although I paid for my seat, I felt rather like a gate crasher. Tottering dowagers with ga-ga escorts, exquisite young men in pin-stripe suits and immaculate haircuts, aged flappers and drunken ‘cads’, and for God’s sake, I swear I saw Somerset Maugham! The audience were the sort of people you thought had vanished from the face of the earth — but there they were, like an animated Scarfe cartoon.

We settled down, chattered madly through the overture (the overture?!) then sighed and reminisced through a lovely medley of Coward favourites which introduced us to the cast. It was here that doubt began to set in. While the well-known favourites – I’ll See You Again, Play Orchestra Play, You Were There, obviously stood the test of time, there were far too many that didn’t, and it wasn’t until almost definitive versions of I’ve been to a Marvellous Party by Patricia Routledge and The Stately Homes Of England by 4 of the men, that the evening began to show any sign of promise. The first half ended with Why Must the Show Go On? and it was difficult not to ask ‘Why indeed?’.

The London sequence which opened Part 2 with the cast dressed like Pearly Queens on acid, was an extended disaster, and Patricia Routledge almost wiped out her earlier triumph in a dire, sentimental and patronising monologue I’ve Just Come Out From England with which Mr. Coward presumably bored the troops to death during his many overseas tours of the last war.

Elaine Delmar belted her songs loud and clear, but was clearly wrong for Coward’s deceptively fragile melodies, and Una Stubbs managed to be coyer than even her Cliff Richard Show appearances would lead you to believe.

All told, one for those of you only heavily into 30s nostalgia.