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The Man Who Bought Mustique

     No man is an island; a few men get to own one, such as the once-filthy wealthy Lord Colin Tennant of Glenconner. As the movie title says, this titled, and entitled, Scotsman was The Man Who Bought Mustique, a mordantly uproarious feature documentary playing one week, July 20-26, at the Coolidge Corner.

     For this clever Channel Four (Britain) film, we get the rise and rather deserved fall and comeuppance of this kooky, hot-tempered, abrasive, occasionally charming old gent who, in his better endowed times, the 1950s, purchased the petite Carribean island of Mustique, three miles long, one mile wide, over his wife's protestations. "You are quite mad," Lady Anne remembered saying to him. "Why would you buy this ghastly island? Who would want to come here?"

     Who indeed! Tennant got Mustique on the jet-set map as a '60s and '70s Warholian getaway for the supersmooth, super-ritzy: David Bowie, Mick and Bianca, Mick and Gerri, Gerri and Brian Ferry, Robert Mapplethorpe and whomever. The key to guaranteeing its success was Tennant's calculated sucking up to the close pal of Lady Anne: Princess Margaret herself. Tennant, in a crafty feudal gesture, gifted her with a five-acre peninsula of prime ocean property for a wedding present, and Margaret actually came around, becoming, unoffically, Mustique's royalty-in-residence. In the decades since, whenever Margaret pops up on Mustique, it's Tennant who anxiously fusses after her schedule, choreographing her lunch and dinner reservations with Polonius-like scraping and fawning.

     Today, he'll still fly a plane over to Mustique to be at Maggie's command though he's long ago lost his island and most of his fortune, and has slipped to a bourgeois life as owner of a kitschy, tourist-driven restaurant on nearby St.Lucia. "The jet set has flown away... or crashed," Tennant says of the change of fortune that forced him, bitterly, to give up his holdings to the Mustique Corporation, faceless, gutless businessmen, who administer the island without his pizzazz.

     Should we feel sorry for Tennant on the way down? He's a bit stooped these days in his seventies, hobbling about in a white cotton sari and straw hat. His spouse, Anne, a witty, good sport who is surely his better half, lives apart from him, and two of his sons are dead, at least one from AIDs (details are vague); and a third adult son, Christopher, wanders in the background, crippled and his conversation stunted from an auto accident.

     Yet this dear Lord, though an arresting on-screen character, is such a colonialist prick! As his wife observes, "He spoils things for himself. Shouting, hitting people with his white stick."

     The Brit filmmakers, Joseph Bullman and Vikram Jayanti, clearly no Tories, leave in the film the telling moments when Tennant's courtly demeanor disappears, when he shrieks at them and makes imperious demands, when he bullies his underlings, when he complains of his island workers (an amiable, stoical lot, in the employee of this crazy person) that "They are all so frightfully slow and stupid. It's so pathetic not to be able to think at all."

     Occasionally, Tennant's bilious temperament is put to hilarious use. A smug, vacuous, moneybags couple are interviewed on their vacation porch about Tennant, and they take turns with glowing platitudes. The next scene we see them gaily approaching him, and Tennant, in a sudden foul, insane mood, chases them away as if they were servants. "They're frightfully behaved snobs," he says. "They'll probably never talk to me again. I don't care."

     But, boy, does he care about Margaret, who, he notes, is "an example to everyone about how to be well brought up." The truly grand finale of The Man Who Bought Mustique is a much-planned lunch under a tent for the Princess, for which Tennant wants the cameras far away because (he actually says this!), "Sometimes food gets stuck in her mouth, you've got to be careful." The filmmakers, of course, slyly zoom in on the action. A dotty old woman emerges from a truck and - this is strange! - grabs hold of one of the tent poles and, with sudden zest, seems to masturbate it. It's Princess Margaret, who appears to be in a London fog.

     Even weirder: for the benefit of Margaret, the tent suddenly has walls, and on those walls - whose brilliant idea? - are giant Kama Sutra paintings of Indian couples doing it, of erections and penetrations. Margaret peers at one of them, with little understanding, so Tennant explains it to her: "I think the lady will be impregnated."

     A horrified Margaret is quickly back in the truck, maybe off for the Mustique airport, and then Buckingham Palace. Tennant's botching of things has reached the highest circles. Wait until she tells her sister!

(July, 2001)

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