Physique: The Life of John S. Barrington

Rupert Smith, Author, John S. Barrington, Illustrator
Rupert Smith, Author, John S. Barrington, Illustrator Serpent's Tail $24.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-85242-374-2
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
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A pornographer and bisexual photographer of male ""physique"" images in postwar Britain, Barrington, who died in 1991 of leukemia, was a husband and father who also had lifelong sexual promiscuities with men. His photos, which nowadays seem either frankly bad or laughably innocent, earned him jail sentences in those less tolerant times. Yet the main tragedy of his life, according to author Smith, a London journalist, was Barrington's lack of talent. He managed to contact a circle of accomplished gay men, making brief visits to a cordial Cocteau, approaching a rather more ironic Noel Coward in a rest room and selling gay porn to Gore Vital and Franco Zeffirelli. But ultimately, he lacked the genius to make any of his famous acquaintances respect him, and the interest of this book also flags accordingly. Not as wildly flamboyant or hysterically bad as other schlock-masters like the American film director Ed Wood or even as stylish as gay pornographers like the artist Tom of Finland or the author Samuel Seward (aka ""Phil Andros""), Barrington is a less compelling subject even than the over-publicized Quentin Crisp. Smith, who has also authored another title for Serpent's Tail, Man Enough to Be aWoman, about the transvestite performer Jayne County, has the merit of writing clear prose and being surprised by none of the twists and turns of Barrington's ultimately unsatisfactory life. If he overrates Barrington's work, it is with the fondness one would accord to a silly old uncle's persistent foibles. (Jan.)
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