Born Denis Charles Pratt, Quentin Crisp was a writer, an artist’s model, an actor and a raconteur. He became a gay icon after the publication of his memoir, The Naked Civil Servant in 1968, and even more of a celebrity when the book was filmed in 1975 with John Hurt in the starring role. This documentary asks how such a public figure –– and a queer icon –– fits into ideas of family, and in particular into his own family.
Through an exploration of photographs, home movies and interviews with relatives, UNCLE DENIS? reflects on how traditions of familial memory-making intersect with the more public image-fashioning of one of the twentieth century’s most determinedly self-made men. For many of his fans, Quentin was alone in the world, happily separate from heteronormative structures, and yet, he kept close contact with generations of relatives. Filmmaker and great-nephew to Quentin Crisp, Adrian Goycoolea reflects on the relationship Quentin had to the idea of family and his family’s relationship to the idea of Quentin Crisp.
While older relations were scandalized by Quentin’s open homosexuality, even younger family members felt a distance between their straight lives and Quentin’s queer public persona. The film analyzes the difficulty of “family” for someone like Quentin, who rejected many social and sexual conventions but nonetheless valued traditional bonds. What emerges is a complex portrait of a complicated man, featuring many, never-before seen images of Quentin Crisp.