StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

85A Log: Sid Lives! (Right Alongside Ian)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 16, 2008

So, last night, Mike and I were hanging out at one of the alfresco tables of this one Cuban restaurant on Bowery, right across from where CBGB used to be. Now CB is an art gallery called Morrison Hotel. Ain’t bad there actually. Vivid punk and glam memorabilia – Liebovitz and Mapplethorpe-level photos of The Stones, Iggy Pop, Elton John, The New York Dolls, Debbie Harry, Sex Pistols, Bauhaus. The window display was that disgusting picture of Sid Vicious eating a mustard-slathered hot dog with his mouth open. Then, I kid you not, two people walked by – within five minutes of each other – wearing Sid Vicious t-shirts. This morning, on my way to go write at Tea Lounge, I passed a kid, no older than 18, wearing a t-shirt featuring the front page of a newspaper with the headline: “Sid Vicious Overdoses on Heroin, Dies.”

This all bodes so well for me! I mean, 85A might be set in 1989, but Seamus’ obsession with Sex Pistols (ten years after their breakup) is still timely. (His favorite band is Public Image Ltd. He’s way more into Johnny than Sid.)

Two books in particular have helped me recapture the disaffected spirit of Sex Pistols youth: Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus and England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond by Jon Savage. Also, John Lydon’s autobiography Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs was surprisingly well-written and informative; I’ve always loved Johnny Rotten for his wit and candor. I also went back and watched My Beautiful Laundrette, This Is England, The Great Rock N’ Roll Swindle, The Filth & The Fury, and of course Sid & Nancy.

I first saw Sid & Nancy when I was 13 years old. It had way too big an impact on me. Sid, Nancy, and Johnny’s foul mouths and havoc-reeking looked like total liberation to me. I started talking and acting like them every chance I got. Made my home life even worse than it already was. I also entered high school with that well-worn Rotten attitude, thinking everybody had seen the movie and knew what statement I was making. No, they just thought I was a twerp and an asshole. Walk in like that as a freshman, you’re going to spend the rest of your high school years living it down…and, well, that’s what happened.

So, I wondered what kind of appeal Sid & Nancy would hold for me at age 34. Oh my God! I am so embarrassed that I thought those people were cool. They were nasty, malignant, maladjusted scapegraces. Why didn’t I pick better role models growing up? What can I say, I was possessed. I needed to get all that sedition out of my system. Having said all that, Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb give peerless, searingly authentic portrayals of Sid and Nancy from start to finish.

I also recently rented Control, a wonderful film about the rise and fall of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis by Hungarian director Anton Corbijn. I was a captive Joy Division and early New Order fan as a teenager. All accounts I’ve read point up Ian Curtis as a total dick. Control has quite the opposite take on him. Even as an adulterer, he comes off as a sweet, sensitive, even polite youth who only wants a simple life of work, marriage, fatherhood and poetic musings. Life has other plans for him, though, when it catapults him into stardom. Samantha Morton gives a heartrending performance as Curtis’ beleaguered wife, Debbie Woodruff. Sam Riley is absolutely prodigious, adorable and tragic as Curtis.

But does the film’s account of Curtis’ death (at age 23) stand up to fact? Corbijn has Curtis hang himself in Debbie’s kitchen pantry. From what I’ve read, he hung a rope from Debbie’s living-room ceiling and stood on a block of ice, noose around his neck, while watching TV. By the time Debbie came home from work that night, the ice had melted, the TV was crackling static and Ian was dangling, dead.

I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone, but one of the things that charmed me most about the film was that the first track on the soundtrack was “Drive-in Saturday” from David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane (1973). Curtis has just come home from buying Aladdin Sane at the record store in Macclesfield. He lays back on his bed and lets the album spirit him away. Then, his best friend Nick swings by with his girlfriend Debbie, who’ll soon be Curtis’ wife. Curtis rolls off his bed and starts applying glitter eyelashes to look more like Bowie. Oh, why didn’t that period of music last longer? In my late teens and early twenties, I used to sit in my bedroom with the lights out, playing that same LP.

Another amazing track they play is from one of my all-time favorite albums, “Warszawa” from Bowie’s Low (1977). It’s so deep, sad, haunting. Once again, in my room, I used to play “Warszawa” and all of Side Two of Low again and again and again while I smoked Camel Lights, wrote in my journal and looked out over all the miasma curling off the trees in my backyard. It made me want to be an expat writer, living in Berlin. Well…that didn’t end up happening.

But there is a great German film about a 14-year-old heroin addict prostitute called Christiane F. (1981). The soundtrack is all Thin White Duke-period Bowie (including, “Warszawa”); through most of that period of his music (1976-1979), he was living in Berlin. He even appears in the movie when Christiane goes to his concert and tries heroin for the first time. He does a killer live version of “Station to Station.” The movie is based on the book, Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo. (I actually read the English translation about 15 years ago. It’s not bad.) Only problem with the movie is that the dubbing is so bad, you might find yourself laughing your ass off while she goes cold turkey.

Derek Jarman, 85A, and Jihad

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on May 29, 2008

Derek Jarman

Hey, everyone. Did you see the arts section of Sunday’s New York Times? There’s a big piece on the life of filmmaker Derek Jarman called “Gay, Punk and Ever the Provocateur.” The reporter laments that, despite his prolificness and genius, Jarman never quite became a household name. I have to admit, I didn’t know who he was either until the reporter ran down his list of films – Sebastiane (1976), Jubilee (1977), The Angelic Conversation (1985),The Garden (1990), Edward II (1991), and Wittingstein (1993) – and I realized I’d seen all of them.

Sebastiane Cover

My partner Julius loves Sebastiane and owns the DVD, but, to me, it seems like an excuse for cockshots and lurid, homoerotic reinterpretations of religious motifs – plus, that pig scene, ugh! – just like his portrayal of a gay Jesus in The Garden. See that cover up there? And that’s just the foreplay!


But Jubilee and Edward II were a gold standard for both punk and queer cinema. Jarman sure got in on the ground floor of punk with Jubilee. Can’t wait to see Isaac Julien’s documentary on Jarman called Derek, which premiered at Sundance in January and will be at MOMA from June 9 to June 16. It covers Jarman’s life from the 1940’s until his death from AIDS complications in 1994.

Speaking of Gay Punk Iconoclasts, I have been laboring over a new piece called “85A.” Set in Chicago after George H.W. Bush’s inauguration in 1989, it explores the mind of a Johnny Rotten-obsessed 15-year-old from a racist home and neighborhood, who is flunking out of Catholic school, dreams of moving to England, has a black-punk paramour-mentor named Tressa, and has an affair with his therapist Dr. Strykeroth, whom his parents sent him to, largely to correct his gay leanings. If the story keeps unraveling the way it has been, I’m going to be strangled by my own plot twists. But, hey, it beats the hell out of writer’s block!

Julius and I went to see A Jihad for Love at IFC on Sunday. Man alive, Catholic guilt’s got nothing on this! Kind of like in Trembling Before G-d, which portrayed the struggle of gays in the Orthodox Jewish community, almost all those filmed in Jihad had their faces blurred. Some openly condemned themselves for the very condition that they wished for members of their faith community to accept. Then the film shows the inside of the prison where the 52 men busted for sodomy in Egypt (really, most of them had only been at a gay party on a Nile liner) in 2001 were sentenced to three additional years in prison after having already¬† served a one-year sentence. The courts shrouded each convict in white hoods like Klansmen – it was enough to give you nightmares. They interviewed one guy who managed to escape his sentence and flee to Paris, where the French government granted him refugee status. They never said how he broke out, though. Julius suspects there was some sort of bribery involved that the filmmaker could not mention without someone back in Egypt getting killed. That being said, it was informative, brave, heartrending and well worth the trip to the Village.