February 2nd, 2004


Forbidden Cafe

It's Monday, so surely there must be someting that I am annoyed about. There's no point staying in bed any longer, I must arise and alert the world of my extreme displeasure about the issue. Well, I was thinking about the price of foreign language films on DVD. Here in the UK, these generally retail at at £20, that's 36.50 of your Amereecan dollar or 29 units of a currency the keystroke of which evades me but is nevertheless commonly found in Western Europe. Admittedly, you might get this down to 17.99, but it seems a fixed price (or evidence of price fixing) at high street chains. The excellent Criterion Collection series? Don't ask even ask how much they are over here. Given that classic British cinema can often be found for 6.99 or such, why the mark up? Well, the answer is that probably only bourgeois wankers go for foreign films and they can be made to pay the extra. Just as they'll fork out for fancy box sets with unreleased tracks and alternate takes. It's because you're suspected of being interested in the product that you'll be made to pay more. In the world of CDs, there's some fantastic back catalogue available at almost giveaway prices, but in the world of film, there's pretty much nada if you're looking beyond Hollywood. Probability is against a young kid wandering into HMV and forking out twenty notes for a single Bergman or FW Murnau, when they can probably get a special triple deal on recent US releases for the same price. Eaten at speed, it sits uneasily in the stomach. Since Will Self is taking on the mantle of being a grumpy old man, I don't see why I can't from time to time.

The thing is, son, is that in my day, and I've told you this before, and I'm going to tell you again even though you're not interested, is that in my day terrestrial television used to show foreign films. Now these have been shuffled onto cable and satellite and even these channels don't come with most rental packages. You'd have to say to your parents that you want Film Four added on. They will suspect it's because of the higher smut factor. They'd be right. But when you think about it, smut's easy enough to find online, so even that impetus for watching foreign film has gone. It doesn't matter that Hanna Schygulla is going to provide you with a level of eroticism much higher than those top'n'tail shots you're viewing. She doesn't show you so much. That's the point (for some rather obvious reasons, I suddenly remember Ornella Muti...). You can get to feel quite snobbish about the nature of your gratification. Boys in the playground now can't imagine sex occurring without three men being present at all times so no potential is unaddressed at anytime. Does she do anal? You ask, biting into a guarana-enhanced Boost bar. Women are all natural lesbians anyway. The war on porn is lost. There's no point doing in a sit-down demo in WH Smiths or waving placards outside the "Private Shop". Losers.

No, I guess the sexiness of much European cinema isn't such an attractant anymore. I don't doubt that there are still young children who do have access to these film channels, but the number who are able to view them has dropped notably declined. Once it was available on every set (way past your bedtime, sneak down in the night, volume low), now it's just in the houses of people already disposed to the idea of non-anglophone culture being of perceived value. You're less likely to discover these things by accident. Sure, there's all kind of things that you can now discover online and that information can propagate itself far more immediately. A child with a interest in situationism, say, isn't having to find some left-field bookshop in the shitty part of town. There's a lot of holes in this argument. I guess I'm trying to say that the nature of the culture that can be encountered has changed. I fear, yes ultimately I think I do, fear, but this is just me realising that things aren't like they were in my day. Shut up, granddad. Illicit delights. Braindead chicken nugget children. What the fuck do you know?

Anyway, on such a recent shop visit, when I realised I was this stuck-up person who couldn't find a single Hollywood movie that I would want to buy, I was glad to see that I could get a copy of Fahrenheit 451 for only 6.99. This is one of these films I remember watching myself both at home and at school. Knowing that a US remake has been in the pipeline for a while, I snapped it up before it was pulled from circulation. It's not exactly Truffaut at his best. The acting is also quite stilted at times, but that would seem to be an indication of how emotion has been drained from the world. But it always has me thinking of my childhood as the estate where Montag lives looks rather like where I was first brought up in Petts Wood; those same birch trees I've possibly imagined into the street, the children wearing the same outfits that I did, the colour of it - Nic Roeg's cinematography is one of the film's strengths. The last time I watched it was in Japan and it kept on reminding me on the situation in which I watched it there.

For a start, Julie Christie's double portrayal. I can't say my girlfriend looked that much like her, but it was enough. The fact that, as Montag's wife, she knocks back all these various stimulants and tranquilisers, was rather resonant. Resonant, that's a good enough word. It's one of the few times I'm trying to get to this place in writing, so excuse me if the progress is rather halting. There are so many possible points I could start from. Even here, which film and how...

When I first got to Japan that time in the mid-90's, one of the first things I bought was a widescreen television. They weren't so common then and I was excited about finally being able to watch films in their original aspect ratio, entirely free from pan and scan. The broadcasters were slowly shifting over to widescreen as well. The video shops in Tokyo were a treasure trove and over the next year and a half, I spent many hours trawling through both the Harajuku and Ebisu branches of Tsutaya. As I soon learned, foreign films were released in both dubbed and subtitled versions. Although domestic film production was fairly prolific, she didn't like to watch Japanese films. I didn't like to watch them with her. Mostly because she'd hear things. Things that weren't being said. See herself being glamourised or laughed at. Julie Christie turns to the screen, believing she's in the play. Since all foreign films were, for the sake of argument, equally incomprehensible, there was less discrimination against non-English productions.

There were films I'd never seen, films I'd never heard of, films I never thought I'd get to see. The selection was wider than any I have ever seen since. I was in heaven. Before me was more or less every European film I'd ever wanted to see. I can't say she shared my enthusiasm for it and film selection was generally a trade off. There'd need to be a mainstream release for every avant-garde nugget and these as well would need to be supplemented with pornography.

This question of pornography is something that needs to be addressed, but not quite yet. All these films would be watched in the various mental states produced by the consumption of ice (crystal meth) or shabu as I generally thought of it. Moments that seemed like the pinnacle of intellectual clarity, extreme sexual arousal, low-level paranoia, auditory and visual hallucination, exhaustion, anger, misery, madness. This of course affected how any film was seen. Our critical faculties were wayward and unpredictable. Objectively awful films like Freejack could seem like dystopian masterpieces, whilst a film that was chosen in the bleak hope that it would provide a feel-good cushion against the horror that pressed in on you would often fail. It's A Wonderful Life? I was terrified beyond belief. Films, like so much else, became unpredictable in their effects. As time progressed and I would spend hours in the shops trying to create the correct alchemical balance in my choices...what cack-handed writing this is...it would always fail. Any attempt to improve life, aside from the glaring need to give up drugs, failed. Everything failed. Every seemingly valiant and fucked up attempt at anything failed. You would claw victory from the jaws of disaster, but your victory was managing to get to the shop to buy a sandwich without detection. Without bursting into tears. Without tearing your face off with your nails. Without being crushed by the atmosphere. Without being hit or shouted at.

In the early honeymoon period with the drug, a time in which I freely allowed her to interpret this new state for me, I used to experience a level of hallucination I had never known before, even with datura. This new world was entirely real. It just seemed like an extra dimension was there. There wasn't any apparent visual activity, such as you would get with psychedelics, that would be signalling that this was a drug state. You couldn't see the join. Sometimes these were wishful projections, such as giant mecha figures stalking through the skyline, but at a higher level, I ceased to have control and began to feel I was instead being infected with an alternate world. This was partly her take on the experience, I know it was also my desire to push this boat as far as possible. I can remember standing on the balcony of the first appartment we lived in. It backed onto the Sengakuji temple of 47 ronin fame. You could see the cemetery and then she'd show me the figures standing by the trees. At first she claimed these were some biker gang or another, but as the months progressed I would increasingly see these shadow figures at night elsewhere. Generally they'd be walking the back streets, shuffling along, sometimes with small children in their arms. Some of them conformed to the traditional look of Japanese ghosts. The women would have this deathly pallor and wild hair and they'd look at you with these magnetic stares. Others would look more normal, more contemporary. Years down the line, I still don't believe that this was all imagined, no matter how much I may want to. Something stuck. At the time I thought I was somehow riding the loa, seeing the things that many have always seen in the world. My terror at Ring (Japanese version, obviously!) was one of recognition. Some nights the streets were filled them, it was almost difficult to negotiate your way back home for the crowds. There you would be in 7-Eleven, trying to work out how to spend 700 yen in a way that might just fill two four-day-empty stomachs, avoiding the shop assistants' stares, outside there was this half-world. Just as Tokyo is overpopulated in reality, so to is this spirit world. A point that should be made in all guidebooks about Japan is that it is the most haunted country in the world. Seriously!

One night, the last night of that honeymoon, we were watching 2001 and the corridor to the kitchen buckled and twisted before me. I even rolled some objects to test out the angles. All was as it appeared to be. Opposite me sat Vicky Danks, of all people, and I was having a long conversation with her about how she'd suddenly turned up in Tokyo. Kelvin [Good Lord! I've just found him again at last! Wow! I am beside myself. Suddenly that long feared resolution might be approaching. I'm not joking when I say I shall have to lie down for a while as I am actually shaking rather violently. No more links for now] then walked in. I thought it was very convenient that a Star Trek world of matter transportation had finally come about, but when I awoke, cast out from the world of the dead, it was with glass shattering around me and no idea of who I might conceivably be. I'd been spending the night fucking Kirsty in front of her eyes. Thrown into the shower and repeatedly screamed at: "You've got to keep it in! It's all over the place! Keep it in! No, that's out! In! Better! NO!". How could I do that, she asked, with Kirsty? Who was Kirsty? I know no Kirsty. But I must have been lying, even I didn't know it, there was a Kirsty, she had seen her, in our bed and she was truly heartbroken about it. There is no Kirsty, more shouting, no Kirsty. Scouring my mind for Kirstys, Kirsty MacColl? Sounds like Kirsty? No, some other Kirsty. The bane of my life for months to come. The succubus Kirsty leaking from both our minds.

Later that day, the landlord came by on a chance inspection and I was exiled outside the house in the depths of an ice comedown. A sweltering summer day, with no money, drinking fluids out of abandoned cans, sitting by the similarly abandoned house that had remained beside the new mansion blocks and offices. It had survived by being very quiet about itself. A role that I increasingly took on from this point on. I tugged my forelock, I acquiesced, I obeyed. But above all, I always failed.
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