There has never been a better time than this to be a dwarf in show business. For years, thespians of diminutive stature were obliged to eke out the 11 months between pantomime engagements with humiliating side gigs like working at ‘dwarf-throwing’ bars and performing at bachelor parties. Now, however, the public’s apparently infinite appetite for idiotic medieval fluff has made our low-wattage era a golden age for the height-impaired performer. Take a bow, Peter Dinklage for Game of Thrones, and Warwick Davis for the Harry Potter franchise.
The nominations for the Golden Globes were announced today. There should have been more dwarves on screen this year, and perhaps as many as seven in one film. I speak, of course, of Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddie Mercury biopic.
Bohemian Rhapsody is up for two Golden Globes, with nominations for Rami Malek’s lead performance, and, somehow for Best Motion Picture Drama. You can see why the voters of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association recommended Malek. We can argue whether acting is just make-believe or whether really good actors convince because they’re just being themselves, but one thing we cannot argue with is a good set of false teeth and a daft costume. Or, in Malek’s case, a daft set of false teeth and a good costume.
Malek deserves a Golden Globe for his willingness to look, as Freddie Mercury did in his mid-Eighties pomp, like a cocaine-frazzled chipmunk. The costume designer deserves a nod, too, for pairing Malek’s prosthetic gnashers with a no less dazzling white vest and jeans outfit, offset with plenty of black chest hair and a simulacrum of Mercury’s trademark mustache, cut, by the look of it, from the pelt of a living beaver.
But is Bohemian Rhapsody any good? Not really. It has too much rhapsodizing about Freddie Mercury as gay martyr, and not enough plot. Which brings us back to the dwarves.
Although Mercury was a star in the Seventies and Eighties, he appears to have been too busy singing, songwriting, taking drugs and soliciting rough sadomasochistic sex with strangers to have read the memo on what is now called identity politics. He was, and not just by current puritan standards, just about the worst advertisement you could find in the music business for right-on, politically-correct virtue signaling. Before they used the Live Aid concert to revive a sagging career, Queen even played in apartheid South Africa’s Sun City resort.
And here’s Pamela des Barres, in her splendidly titled groupie autobiography, Rock Bottom: Dark Moments in Musical Babylon, on the launch party for Queen’s album Jazz, at the Fairmont in New Orleans on Halloween night, 1978: ‘voluptuous strippers who smoked cigarettes with their vaginas, a dozen black-faced minstrels, dwarfs, snake charmers, and several bosomy blondes who stunned party revelers by peeling off their flimsy costumes to reveal that they were, in fact, well-endowed men’.
The dwarves are alleged to have had trays of cocaine attached to their heads. I assume there were seven of them; Queen knew their movies, and titled albums after Marx Brothers comedies. Let’s pause for a moment and visualize what a dwarf with a platter of coke attached to his head, probably by a hat and superglue, looks like. Then let’s visualize the members of Queen doing charlie off the platter while the dwarf waits patiently, and listens for the telltale snorting sound that means he can move on.
It is hard to rank the offensiveness of blackface minstrelry, vaginal smoking and the use of dwarves as human cocaine chargers, especially as you’re not allowed to smoke indoors these days. But we might note that blackface was considered in poor taste long before 1978, especially in places like Louisiana, and that it was also poor taste of Mercury to boast that entertainment also included prostitutes, in the back room for music biz executives. ‘Most hotels offer room service,’ Mercury boasted afterwards, ‘We offer lip service.’
Lip service is what Hollywood specializes in. So the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has given more nominations to the Dick Cheney biopic Vice than any other film. They even nominated Christian Bale, who plays Cheney, for ‘Best Lead Actor in a Comedy or Musical’. But the price of that lip service to political correctness is that Widows gets no nominations at all.
The big people of Hollywood love to stand up the little people, except when the kind of little people that the big people are standing up for vote Republican, in which case the big people of Hollywood ignore them entirely, or patronize them by framing them in a pit of condescension as deep as Julia Roberts’ cleavage in Erin Brockovich. Freddie Mercury was gay, and he died of AIDS. The version of his life in Bohemian Rhapsody is the usual biopic whitewash — like The Glenn Miller Story, really, but with more gay sex and a better drum sound. All harmless fun, but not grounds for a Golden Globe nomination as best film of the year that also saw the Wreck-It Ralph sequel Ralph Breaks the Internet.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a mediocre vehicle that promotes Queen’s back catalog and some contemporary virtues. That, of course, is why the dwarves got left out, along with the blackface and the prostitutes. Vice isn’t out yet, but from its trailer it’s a hatchet job — and let’s face it, they’re not going to be lining up round the block if it’s a tribute to Dick Cheney and his brilliantly conceived and ably executed invasion of Iraq. Widows is a well-made heist movie directed by a black man and starring black women. Guess who comes last in the Hollywood hierarchy of virtue.
Like Freddie said, is this the real life, or is it just fantasy? The hypocrisy of the Golden Globes dwarfs the imagination.
Dominic Green is Life & Arts Editor of Spectator USA.