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Prick Up Your Ears

Umbrella Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 105 mins . M . PAL


Prick Up Your Ears is based on the real-life story of British playwright Joe Orton. Orton is played by the devilishly cute and handsome Gary Oldman, before villainy set in, and he is just stunning in the role. To bring mainstream actors into an alternative film is risky business, but it just looks so natural to all of those involved. This tragic story is based on Orton's life, and is superbly told on screen and masterfully acted. Alfred Molina stars as Orton's roommate and life-long partner.

The story follows Joe's life from a young man, to a loved man, to a dead man. It explores the relationship between Kenneth Halliwell (Molina) and Orton through the initial lust stage, followed by the resentment and sexless relationship of a so-called gay "married" couple. The differences between Orton and Halliwell are quickly seen, with Halliwell's fear of prison if they are caught, and Orton's sexual rampage and desire of a quick beat. The story is excellently told from the point of view of a biographer researching the life of these men back in 1960s working class London.

The Broken Hearts Club, labelled as a gay romantic comedy, showed very tame sex scenes - all you could see was a black silhouette of two people moving, and that was it. Prick Up Your Ears surprised many people with its fairly hardcore gay sex scenes. Now this is no Baise Moi!, but still for its age it does make you wonder about people's acceptance of gay kissing on screen. This movie was released as an alternative film and didn't get a large audience, so the main audience was gay men. Sure, this is out of my era, but still this film is severely underrated.

If you are open-minded enough to cope with gay sex scenes, this film is worth a watch due to the interesting story and techniques used in the film.


The video is presented in a full-frame aspect of 1.33:1, so it is obviously not 16x9 enhanced.

The video transfer is nothing exciting, yet the VHS counterpart is nothing special either. Being an alternative film it obviously won't get the mainstream super-technologically-advanced treatment.

The colours are very muted and drab; yet this is intentional due to life in London at the time. The odd colour comes along, but still appears muted and manufactured. Many scenes are very dark and suffer from low-level noise and shadow definition. The sex scenes occur in the usual beat locations such as toilets and are very darkly lit. Often all you can see is a black silhouette against a dark background, but still some portions of the screen are highlighted.

There is slight grain throughout the feature, and the odd film artefact rears its head. Sadly, there are several cases of MPEG artefacts, but nothing too distracting. Unfortunately, the aliasing problem rears its head will all guns blazing. It gets to a stage where it is actually highly disturbing and highly annoying.

Being a single-sided, single-layered disc there is no layer change, and being a 105-minute film this could explain why the video quality is so low.


There is only one audio track on this disc, and that is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Pro-Logic track. For a film of its age, it's not surprising that there is no 5.1 track, and the film doesn't need one anyway.

The dialogue levels are generally very good, with clear diction and tone. Dialogue is located entirely within the centre speaker with very little from the surround channel.

The subwoofer is an analogue interpretation of the stereo score and adds a rich depth to the soundtrack. The surrounds are only used to carry the little segments of score in the film.


And now the debate of so-called 'extras'. There is the usual menu, a static one with no audio, and some trailers for Keep The River On Your Right, My Beautiful Laundrette, The Last Seduction and Cinema Paradiso. Nothing overly special here, just extra... It may have been a better move to forget these so-called extras and make a better video transfer.


Prick Up Your Ears is severely underrated and offers a great night's entertainment, if you are open to these sorts of themes and scenes. It is masterfully acted and superbly cast with dazzling performances from all involved. The video transfer is very disappointing, and the audio is adequate for the genre of film. The extra features are nothing special, and could have done without. If you own a VHS copy, you may as well keep it until it finally dies on you. The cover art is better too...

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1455
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      And I quote...
    "Prick Up Your Ears will definitely prick up some eyebrows, but this underrated film should really be seen..."
    - Martin Friedel
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Nowa DS-8318
    • TV:
          TEAC 68cm CTV
    • Speakers:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Centre Speaker:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Surrounds:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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