In showcasing the films of Joseph Losey, the PFA has been giving us a mini-retrospective of one of England’s most interesting actors, Dirk Bogarde. At one time he was one of my idols, and every nine months or so a new Dirk Bogarde would arrive at the Trans-Lux in New York and there I’d sit, popcorn stuffed in mouth, marveling at what weird shenanigans Bogarde would be pulling next. I met some of my best friends in the Trans-Lux lobby at Dirk Bogarde movies, and eventually stumbled into a fan club that had been at it for what seemed like decades. Bogarde was the type of actor, like Brando or Daniel Day Lewis, who seems ever anxious to leave movies behind and enter some unspecified higher form of life…. Remember when Day Lewis quit acting to move to Italy and took up shoe-making from Tuscan peasant masters? Dirk Bogarde always wanted to write, and some of our crowd ate up his multivolume autobiography and his quaint, mannered novels with quite good grace, while others among us thought he should be spending more time not writing, for he wasn’t too good at it. Well, I was young and arrogant.
Bogarde was an actor who gravitated towards auteurs, and yet when the mood hit him, he’d play anything for any hack. Besides Losey, he made films with George Cukor, Visconti, John Schlesinger, Fassbinder, Liliana Cavani, Alain Resnais, and yet he was just as happy with Richard Attenborough or Allen Smithie if they allowed him to eat up the screen. To us he seemed incapable of a dull performance, even if his choices from scene to scene could be startlingly bad (like Charles Laughton of an earlier generation). He ranged from great to awful, and he could also be just plain mediocre, but we just kept watching and loving him. The Dirk Bogarde we loved was a character very much like the one he played in The Servant: a conniving creep with ice in his veins, yet one driven by a hellfire intimately tied to his hidden homosexuality. It was just crazy, as all Bogarde lovers know, that a man who could never step out of the closet took so many roles in which his sexuality was—well, deviant in the fifties, and “expanded” in the 70s.
There were only about six hardcore members to the group, and our co-presidents were always dressed in leathers, the anachronistic leather of Scorpio Rising, or maybe Sha-Na-Na. But they were the two who had the group name emblazoned in bold across the backs of their leather jackets. Like a gang. The “Rainbow Guardians” was the name of our club, sort of a hippie name for a Bogarde squad, but it had the advantage of featuring his name, “Bogarde,” squarely in the middle of the phrase, hidden in plain sight like homosexuality! It was the epistemology of the closet ahead of its time, in that only those in the know would recognize the last syllable of Rainbow and the first syllable of Guardians as spelling out, in rebus-form, the hidden name of the man we adored. These two guys lived in Morningside Heights, though not together—one was supposed to be a straight man—but they were the arbiters of our devotion, and they were the ones who parlayed a slight acquaintance with Bogarde’s manager into a treasure beyond compare, actual autographs scribbled—with impatience and scorn, we hoped—by the man himself.
This had happened before I knew any of the Rainbow Guardians and, no matter how I begged, Tony and Chris never got me my own. So I cadged mine off an older member and mounted it in a little cheap frame on the dashboard of my Maverick. Passengers would ask, “Who’s Max,” and I’d explain that was my club name. Passengers would ask, “Who’s Dirk Bogarde,” and slam, screech, I’d jam on the brakes and put their ass on the street.
I found my autograph the other day and dusted it off and tried to give it a good scan. Found myself trying to remember what Max looked like. I know I went down on him, but how often does that translate to actually remembering someone’s face? In any case I still haven’t forgotten Dirk Bogarde’s. Are you in the cult?