It’s his shoes I become aware of first, in a crowded noisy hall in Picadilly, you can tell they cost a packet, brown leather brogues, very English. With each brown brogue footstep across flagstone floor the audience hubbub decreases as the man we are here to see approaches a small podium upon which rests one desk and two chairs. As he comes to a halt his right hand moves towards his trouser pocket, a pointer to the dead smart three piece suit, velvet I believe. He surveys the audience who have fallen to silence.
Terrence Stamp is here to talk about his new book, The Ocean fell into the drop.
The back cover description as a tome of his twin obsessions, acting & mysticism.
A second chap joins him on stage, a facilitator to feed questions & open him up to the audience.
The two take their seats, my own is no more than thirty feet from Stamp, though I am on a balcony above him. All I can see once he is seated is a sun browned bald head with a tonsure of white hair. There I sit for the next hour or so listening to the talking head.
The interviewer begins in that way interviewers always seem to, my guest needs no introduction, and then goes on to spend the next five minutes giving one. Why do they do that? He rolls off accolades, illustrious career spanning fifty years of cinema, known for having slept with a bevy of the worlds most beautiful women, style icon, vegetarian, the interviewer pauses for breath & then goes on to say I hope Mr Stamp won’t mind me saying, but he will shortly be eighty years old, cue applause from audience. I can’t help but wonder what Stamp thinks, does he enjoy the labels? Would he prefer some of them left un-said? And weren’t we here to discuss his twins, acting & mysticism?
Stamp takes the driving seat and the conversation moves to his early years in London. We learn that he was born in Stepney, poor East London, that his parents were from humble stock, he talks with a kind of misty remembrance of his parents, that time passing has made them ethereal figures, he clearly holds for his mother an abiding love, his father another kind of love, a more distant reverence. He talks about his father being a smart dresser, elsewhere I learn that his father as a younger man had to put a padlock on his wardrobe, his own mother would routinely pawn his suit when times were hard. Another comment learned was that his father had told him that it was important not to have lots of clothes, or shoes, but instead some that were really good quality. Stamp inherited this attraction to good clobber, and was able to take it to an all together higher level with the trappings success brought him. But I am getting ahead of the story. From humble roots Stamp heads to Grammar School & then Drama School. In 1962 his career takes off with his first feature film Billy Bud.
Playing Melville’s hero Billy Bud in the movie of the same name Stamp describes his fear during filming of how to play the final scene, almost dialogue free in it he is hanged for mutiny. He was worried about how to perform the close, how to act it, he describes rather poetically what happened, as the cameras rolled & the noose tightened around his neck his thoughts wandered off , still with no idea how to play the scene, his thoughts wandered to childhood, he remembered himself after infants school, at his grandmothers house, doing his homework, his grandmother went to the pantry to get bread and butter, she was going to make him marmalade sandwiches, she began to sing, and he remembered her song and how he felt all those years before, and there lost in that distant moment of memory, he felt blissful, accepting, liberated. The scene was a one take, cut and wrap and he had not acted at all.
Stamp does talks about women but mostly fleetingly, shortly after filming Bud he is in a swanky Paris hotel chasing his next role, in the hotel bar he meets a beautiful older woman, ( he is in his early twenties at this time ). She’s that older kind of woman that exudes class, beauty & priveledge, they go upstairs to a room and when Stamp attempts to make the first moves he is put in his place, the woman takes control, she teaches him love-making, Stamp subsequently discovers that she is what would once have been described as a courtesan, rather than a tart, a woman expert at playing a man sexually, though not your run of the mill man, more the high & the mighty. Stamp makes a point of mentioning no money changed hands, her instruction gratis.
Stamp seems to have become rather enamoured with the loving arts, Tantra & retention are mentioned as active pursuits.
Over the following few years he gets plenty of work & spends time with all sorts of characters from stage and screen, from Orson Welles to Fellini, Brando, Pasolini, along the way he also meets Krishnamurti, endearingly he recollects walks & talks with the sage in which he was very aware of being in the presence of a wise soul, but that at the same time he found himself totally unable to understand what Krishnamurti was saying on any meaningful level.
This bless him makes me like him no end. I so get that.
As much as one has the sense of Stamp having been a libido filled bed-hopper his spiritual searches strike me as somewhat akin, an ongoing desire for discovery, moving from one stream to another. He studied Yoga with Vanda Scaravelli, a great western proponent, he became involved with Sufiism through the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan. He followed Krishnamurti . After a lull in work a few years later he took himself off to India & spent a year with that denizen of new-age sagacity Osho in Pune. Then time with a Hindu Sadhu in the squalid back streets of a poor part of Delhi.
Returning to London he met with his Agent, he had instructed them years before to avoid any jobs that involved certain areas of work, one was Australia, (he had previously had a really bad time with Australian Paparazzi & vowed never to go back there). He decided to reinstruct his Agent, he went back on what he had said, deciding instead to face any of those areas he had been uncomfortable with, including Australia.
Lo & behold the script for Priscilla Queen of the Desert came up, Stamp thought the script was just not for him, how could he play drag? But something told him his fear was unwarranted and he should face it, he got the part. It was a bloody good film.
At 64 years of age whilst in Australia, he wanders into a Pharmacists store in Bondi Beach, there he met a rather beautiful Eurasian Pharmacist thirty years his junior. They married, his first and only marriage. Stamp mentions it in the shortest possible passing comment. But in the little he does say there is something in his manner that suggests a feeling of regret, he also talks of not having children, but goes no further, instead we are left with the image of a man far from his prime being a bit of a shit with his wife and the lingering sense that part of him would have liked a different outcome.
I came to see & hear Stamp to be entertained, perhaps also to find out what he had learnt from his life, my understanding being that in the listening other peoples experiences may shed light on one’s own. I am reminded of something that I read by David Mitchell, the “comedian” (I use the term loosely as I’m not sure I find him particularly funny) but he wrote that most of us cobble together our own belief systems in spare moments while holding down jobs. Stamp has had time to find his own beliefs, there were many philosophies to choose from, but as he seems to bear out none that ticked all the boxes, no ultimate philosophies. Most of us do exist bound up with work, with families, stuff that keeps us busy, it is an illusory existence, but most of the time it works, sometimes however some of us have time to think & then illusions crumble, we seek something else to believe in. Many latch on to a particular philosophy, but again this becomes yet another illusion. Monotheism in any form leaves no space for other possibilities, and the world is full of them. But if you keep taking that red pill and avoiding the blue you cannot go back, and you find life provides glimpses of clarity, no more no less, just fleeting moments when it makes sense, until it doesn’t once again. Stamp talks about breathing a good deal, (not in it’s primary sense of keeping us alive ) but as a practice capable of moving us transcendentally. This is echoed in Sufiism,Yoga,Buddhism & Whilst I came to see Stamp for some answers I leave the hall thinking to myself once more that there are no ultimate answers to those big questions. But nevertheless there are simple truths, it’s fine to keep looking, absolutely necessary to keep breathing, and that a good pair of shoes, a smart suit & the company of beautiful women ain’t bad.