Sunday evening, nursing a cup of milky mild tea. Hmm…. tastes like sweet water. Been busy today writing up press releases, reading all sorts of stuff about surrealism and just generally gaining weight in an unseemly manner. God I’m boring. I need to become much cooler towards my peer group.
Perhaps I need to cultivate a decent drug habit and live the life of bohemian urban nihilism. Yeah, that would be cool I guess. Maybe I could be as cool as the people in this week’s installment of THE SUNDAY CULT FILM CORNER. A tale of lost Berlin youth you gone astray to the sounds of Bowie and the narcotic bliss of heroin. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Christiane F. – We Children from Bahnhof Zoo.
Based on the autobiography of the same name, it tells the story of the eponymous Christiane F, a young teenager living in the high-rise blocks of West Berlin in the late 1970s. Bored and with a mother who is distant, she is drawn to the music of David Bowie (Who appears in the film and supplies the soundtrack) and to Sounds, a brand new club where all the cool people go. After blagging her way in, she falls in with an older clique who are experimenting with drugs. After starting off with Acid and pills, she ended up taking heroin, quickly becoming addicted. the film then shows Christiane F falling into the underground drug scene centred around the Banhoff Zoo railway station, a world of prostitutes, the homeless people, addiction death and overwhelming despair.
By all accounts the West Berlin music/counter-cultural scene of the ’70/early ’80s was particularly seedy and fucked up. Imagine it, a city smack bang in the middle of Communist East Germany, cut off from the rest of Europe for 100’s of kilometers in every direction. This sense of not belonging anywhere left a sense of trauma on the city and its residents. It also meant that it was a magnet for all sorts of drifters, malcontents, freaks, addicts and weirdos from the west all over. Musicians such as Bowie and Nick Cave, to Depeche mode and Lydia Lunch were drawn to its sense of nihilistic debauchery and reckless abandon. Alas, during that time heroin flooded the city, with many people becoming addicted and dying to their abuse of the drug.
And this feeling of lost abandonment is prevalent in Christiane F. As a drug movie, it almost certainly pulls no punches. True, depictions of drug use had been shown in films before, from Easy Rider, to The Man With the Golden Arm, But with Christiane F. It ramps up the very graphic depiction of drug abuse and debasement to new levels, wallowing in the grime, sweat and blood stained vomit of the wrecked casualties of the scene.There is a high level of close up detail of the mechanics of being a heroin user, from scoring and cooking, to injecting. Many scenes in the film are set in dark stairwells, toilet cubicles, subway tunnels or in dingy squats. When it first came out, it reportedly shocked many audiences, many of whom had never seen such displays of sex, violence and addiction, the sense of shock and impact heightened by the performance and look of Natja Brunckhorst, who plays Christiane F. she just looks so frail and innocent, so utterly out-of-place in this world, yet look into her eyes and you can tell that she’s seen and done stuff that would make your toes curl.
And it’s not just the characters that are sick. the city is shown to be suffering from some sort of malaise. Much of the lighting is either pallid, sickly fluorescent lighting, or the bitter tang of neon strips. The scenic shots of working class Berlin at night, with its smokestacks and high rises make Berlin look as if it were twinned with the Los Angeles of Bladerunner. This is a hard, cold cruel world and only the toughest survive but no one come out intact.
A film such a Christiane F. doesn’t offer any truly happy endings. Bowie may sing “We can be heroes,” but there are no heroes here, only victims. Time to juice up and get some of that morphine mainlined into your groin vein as you let all your hopes and dream evaporate before your eyes….