BENT is a movie that will genuinely change your outlook on life. It features an extraordinary cast, including Clive Owen, Mick Jagger and Sir Ian McKellen and now 25 years after its initial screening, Riverside Studios are celebrating the impact of this exceptional, seminal piece of work.
Arriving at the venue, I was unsure what to expect – as a theatre reviewer, this was my first time going to a screening! I was greeted by the home team and given a tour of the studios, which gave me a real appreciation for the reputation of the location and the number of universally beloved shows filmed there – Strictly and Jools Holland’s Hootenanny anyone?
The screening itself took place in an on-site cinema. BENT begins in decadent Weimar Germany, in the heart of its Queer party scene. Max, played by Owen, is caught out by the sudden prevalence of the Gestapo, and finds himself and his lovers persecuted for their sexuality. Max is taken to the concentration camp in Dachau, where he is subjected to forced labour and psychological torture. He hides his sexuality, wearing the yellow star assigned to Jewish inmates as opposed to the pink triangle given to Queer prisoners. He forms a bond with a fellow prisoner, played by Lothaire Bluteau, and the film explores their relationship within the context of wrongful, abusive, and genocidal incarceration. It is heart-wrenching and masterfully executed. The visceral depictions of Holocaust violence and tender depictions of same-sex romance were ground-breaking at its release and remain captivating to today’s audiences.
The Q&A which followed the screening was highly enlightening; I learnt that BENT was initially written as a play in the 1970s, which sheds an entirely new light on the historical context in which it was developed. This was also a time of fear and repression for LGBT+ people, and therefore makes elements such as Max’s refusal to wear the pink triangle much more poignant. Writer Martin Sherman spoke of his experiences in London theatres and the well-deserved popularity of the production: it has subsequently been performed in tens of countries and even adapted into a ballet!
Sean Mathias has directed BENT both on stage and on screen, and talked through the adaptation of the play into film. Sherman was highly complimentary about his work, capturing the absurdity and Beckettian nature of the original script. It was interesting to hear about this transformation having only seen the story in its film version, and I left keen to see a contemporary adaptation of the stage show.
The audience were given the opportunity to ask a handful of questions, but the Q&A segment appeared to overrun, which was a shame. It would have been great to hear the directors engage more with queries, having given such moving descriptions of the film and play’s development.
BENT was a truly extraordinary work for its time, and tackles the best and worst of humanity to a devastating end. It is wonderful to see it brought back into the spotlight 25 years on, finding new audiences such as my own generation to hear its truths. This is a story that will stay with me for a long time to come.
Written by: Martin Sherman
Directed by: Sean Mathias
This screening was a one-off event. Check Riverside Studios website here for any future screenings.