American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Prick Up Your Ears" is the story of Orton and Halliwell and the murder. They say that most murderers are known to their victims. They don't say that if you knew the victims as well as the murderer did, you might understand more about the murder, but doubtless that is sometimes the case. This movie opens with a brutal, senseless crime. By the time the movie is over, the crime is still brutal, but it is possible to comprehend.
When they met, Orton was 17, Halliwell was 25 and they both wanted to be novelists. They were homosexuals, but sex never seemed to be at the heart of their relationship. They lived together, but Orton prowled the night streets for rough trade and Halliwell scolded him for taking too many chances. Orton was, by all accounts, a charming young man - liked by everybody, impish, rebellious, with a taste for danger. Halliwell, eight years older, was a stolid, lonely man who saw himself as Orton's teacher.
He taught him everything he could. Then Orton used what he'd learned to write plays that drew heavily on their life together. His big hits were "Loot" and "What the Butler Saw," and both are still frequently performed. But when Orton won the Evening Standard's award for the play of the year - an honor like the Pulitzer Prize - he didn't take Kenneth to the banquet, he took his agent.
Halliwell began to feel that he was receiving no recognition for what he saw as the sacrifice of his life. He dabbled in art and constructed collages out of thousands of pictures clipped from books and magazines. But his shows were in the lobbies of the theaters presenting Joe's plays, and people were patronizing to him. That began to drive him mad.