Christiane F (1981), or Still Think Drugs Are Cool?

11 05 2009

I never did drugs. Not once. Sounds pretty awesome, right? Well, it’s not as glamorous as it sounds. Whenever people ask me if I smoke (I have long hair, so everyone assumes I just walked off the set of Dazed And Confused 2) and I tell them no, they give me that look of utter disdain, like I was a piece of gutter trash. Whenever people talk about their cool drug stories, like how they only have one working nostril from all the coke going through their nose, or how they don’t have any protruding veins on their arms anymore because all the good ones have been tapped, I have to sit there like a Pollyanna and giggle like a brain-dead ox. And when all my friends are cleaning their used needles with toilet water in a public bathroom, I always have to be the guy who’s genuinely in there to take a piss! Okay, that last story originated from a scene in my film today, Christiane F, but the rest are true-life experiences; don’t mock me!

Christiane F is a German fictional film shot documentary-style about the famous heroin addict of the same name. It chronicles her transformation from a naive 14 year old girl who dabbles in some drugs to a full-blown heroin junkie and prostitute. Her transformation begins when she hears about a hip new disco called Sound, where all the kids are cool and do lots of drugs. Christiane falls into the wrong crowd and together they go on a drug-addled odyssey into the darkness of addiction. Christiane falls harder and farther than most, and it doesn’t seem like there is much hope in sight for the naive young girl trapped at the Sound club.

This film is brutal. It gives a very up-close look at the world of German hipster junkies that I was not even aware existed. I was prepared for something painful, but I found something much worse here than just pain. We are taken into the bathrooms and the private rooms to shoot up, snort, smoke, and ingest all types of narcotics for some temporary pleasure that quickly morphs into days of misery. The filthy poor teenage drug culture was a very ugly thing, and, ironically, it is the stark portrayal of that culture that lends to this film’s smoldering beauty.

Christiane lives in a repulsive world, trapped between a lonely home life and a dangerous life on the street, and she chooses what she feels to be the lesser of two evils. Everywhere there is a sort of gnawing ennui in her life written on the walls and the floors, and all the drugs do, unbeknown to her, is exacerbate the problem instead of cleanse the wounds of teenage depression. Cracks in the ceilings of the filthy houses dotting Christiane F speak volumes more than simple dialog. There are little snippets everywhere of addled, brilliant poetry, especially in the most obvious place to look for evocative language; the bathroom at Sound.

The dialog is rough, colloquial, and very much German. I didn’t care too much for the dialog, to be honest, but in all fairness I have heard that the DVD English subtitles are mediocre at best, so I have to give it a mulligan on that one. It just seemed unnatural and uninspired to me, but let’s not cry over spilt subtitles.

The acting is unbelievably good, to the point where I was concerned for the actors’ safety. It’s not hard to look like a junkie, but it takes a lot of skill to inhabit a junkie’s skin. Two of the characters in particular, Christiane and her lover Detrev, have to go through some withdrawal symptoms, and I felt a cringe on my face that lasted for minutes while those two tried quitting the stuff on their own. When you would rather see a couple shoot heroin into themselves than see them withdrawal, that is a good performance.

Oh, and David Bowie is in this movie!!! He plays, you guessed it, David Bowie at a club. If you’re a big David Bowie fan, and you don’t mind watching the last sad remnants of his 70s genius slink off of him like a clown costume, I think he has some non ear-melting tracks on the soundtrack, like “Station to Station” and “Heroes”. It’s still depressing to watch the last great era of a legendary artist float away in a heroin withdrawal fantasy, but I still like the guy and I understand he probably had to either put more keyboards in the mix or face a slow death in the Virgin Records dungeons.

I can’t think about this movie too much more or I’ll become very morose. It is an extremely visceral film about the dangers of being sucked into the drug culture too far. Some people make the case that it glamorizes drugs, with the characters and their cool mode of dress, as well as the hipster music they listen to, but after watching Christiane F all the way to the end, I can safely say that I am in NO DANGER of trying drugs. I would rather shave my eyeballs with a rusty tuna can lid than live in Christiane’s shoes for a day. It’s a good movie that anyone interested in German filmmaking should see at least once. I give it 8 Thin White Dukes out of 10! Check it out!

I’m done for tonight!!!!! Finally! Check in tomorrow for my review of Scanners!

The Passion Of Joan Of Arc (1928), or Passion Plays And Silent Screams (Part 4)

11 05 2009

Carl Theodore Dreyer, the aforementioned director, was a visionary whose career took some strange twists and turns along the way. Besides making serious religious crises dramas, he also made light comedies (Thou Shalt Honor Thy Wife), horror films (Vampire), and one of the first films ever about a gay relationship (Michael). He was a Renaissance man, in that regard, but he always brought the same level of organic naturalism to his films, which really allows them to stand out from the completely over-wrought films of the era. Watching a Dreyer picture is like watching a documentary of incredibly interesting people; they’re just like us, only cooler. And he could always come at you with a different angle. He could be sweet, he could be full of regret, or he could be down-right terrifying. In The Passion of Joan of Arc, I think he’s coming from a very wistful point of view, as if he regrets humanity on a whole for what has been done to her, and he wanted to apologize with an 82-minute love note.

In the pantheon of film, I think that this one will always stand out. Not only for its groundbreaking techniques, its incredibly talented cast and crew, and its powerful subject matter, but for its wonderfully understated and organic style, its piercing tone of desperation, and its underlined portrayal of religious fanaticism and psychotic ecstasy. Whenever I think of silent film greatness, one of the first images to pop into my head will be that of a forlorn Renèe Falconetti silently weeping in her jail cell, waiting to be sacrificed for a petty crime in the name of a God who would rather watch and smile than act and be judged. It’s an undeniably strong image, and it will stay with me the rest of my days. I give The Passion of Joan of Arc 10 sad-eyed saints out of 10. My highest recommendation!

Keep an eye out later today for my take on Barton Fink and, even later, my viewing of The Running Man