Continued from Page 5
limousines, gold-tapped Jacuzzis, yapping lap dogs, tiny swimming shorts and endless glasses of champagne, it would be easy to mistake Behind the Candelabra’s camp as kitsch, which is all about vulgarity and bad taste. Camp can be vulgar but it can also be life-enhancing. It is almost always thinly disguised filth, and the signs are easily spotted in gay men — the fluent, boneless wrist gestures, the speech patterns that trill up and down and the heavy emphasis on key words. Put a bunch of gay men together and the feminine side comes to the fore — everyone is sweetie, darling, honey, and female names are soon bestowed on each other. However, camp is not confined entirely to gay men — I once met a huge truck driver in drag at a party who informed us all that his name was Janine, for the evening at least, while passing around pictures of his wife and two daughters.
Female camp is very different, based on an exaggeration of a real personality, often the individual’s own. Ottoline Morrell, patron to the Bloomsbury Group, knew as she grew older that she was not pretty in any conventional way, so she dyed her hair red, wore lots of make-up and chose extravagant ‘‘ statement’’ hats. The result was pure camp and a confident style that transcended the fact that she was really rather ugly.
There is a story of a rather grand man about town in 50s London who was renowned for his perfect appearance in impeccably cut Savile Row suits — an appearance as impressive as the medals and awards he had received for bravery in World War II. Occasionally he liked to give a party at which he would wear drag, usually a slinky, tight-fitting number that made him look like Marlene Dietrich at the Cafe de Paris. And sometimes he also wore drag in the daytime. The story goes that on such an occasion he was rifling through his handbag for the money to pay a taxi, and the taxi driver asked, ‘‘ What’s the matter, love? Can’t find your diamonds?’’ The reply was sharp and succinct. ‘‘ Diamonds? In town during the day? What on earth sort of person do you think I am?’’ Now that is true, dedicated camp.