Sunday, 30 October 2011

Reflections on Fish Tank (2009)

In Fish Tank (2009), the follow-up to director Andrea Arnold’s striking debut Red Road (2006), Katie Jarvis portrays 15-year old Mia. In her uniform of tracksuit with hooded sweatshirt and gold Argos hoop earrings, hair scraped back into a ponytail, Mia outwardly conforms to the social type of “chav” geezer bird. Hip hop cranked up on her iPod, her coltish adolescent limbs hunched into defensive body language and her default facial expression set to perma-scowl, Mia is a spicy, volatile and complex combination of tough, vulnerable and hurt. A product of poverty and parental neglect, the wary and wounded Essex council estate urchin has a bubbling inner inferno of rage (we see her head-butting another girl, breaking her nose) which she tempers with vodka and cider-drinking binges.

More constructively, Mia finds escape, creative release and emotional expression in urban dance: Arnold shows her dancing alone to rap music in a sun-drenched abandoned flat in her council building, lost in her own world. (Don’t worry: this is nowhere near as Flashdance as I make it sound). Mia seems to have stoically minimal expectations from life – but her dancing (fluid, introspective and athletic) could be a pathway to something better, if she doesn’t jab the self destruct button first.

Mia lives in an abject high-rise council estate with Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths), her sewer-mouthed, tough-as-nails little sister, and Joanne (Kierston Wareing), her booze-sodden thirty-something single mother. Joanne – a blowsy slattern in a denim micro mini-skirt – is a real piece of work, apt to warn her daughters, “I’m having my friends ‘round later. Either stay in your room or get out. No kids!” Later she confides to Mia, “Did I ever tell you I nearly had you aborted? I even made the appointment.” It’s an appalling thing to say, and yet the exchange is the closest thing to intimacy we’ve seen between Mia and her mother.

The arrival of Joanne's charismatic new boyfriend, Irish charmer Connor, awakens in Mia an aching and confusing craving for a paternal figure in her life, for the male tenderness she’s never known – feelings she probably didn’t even know she had. (There is not a single reference in the film to whoever Mia and Taylor’s biological father(s) may have been). In her interactions with an emaciated horse belonging to a local gypsy family, we’ve already seen Mia has a great but thwarted capacity for affection. But Mia and Connor’s nascent relationship is complicated by a smouldering and antagonistic mutual attraction, and the potential for adult betrayal and disappointment seems inevitable. (As portrayed by the sinewy and frequently shirtless Michael Fassbender, Connor is certainly sexy as hell).

I’m determined not to give away any spoilers, but there is a virtuoso, heart-pounding scene towards the end where one character breaks into another character’s house and uncovers the secret of their hidden double life. The skin-prickling suspense of them potentially getting caught is intertwined with the primal fascination with uncovering the unknowable secrets of other peoples’ lives. The sequence recalls the mesmerising scene in Arnold’s earlier Red Road, where the female protagonist crashes a house party thrown by a man she’s stalking, and can be favourably compared to Jeffrey sneaking into nightclub singer Dorothy Vallen’s apartment in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986).

For a Brit film set amongst the council estate-dwelling under classes, Fish Tank is never once “gritty” in the clichéd and predictable sense – it’s lyrical and sensitive. Arnold’s eye is sensual, grungy and tactile, finding desolate beauty and scuzzy poetry in unexpected places: sites of urban decay, scrubby wastelands, overcast skies, chain link fences, a bulging-eyed dying fish gasping for air. This is exciting modern filmmaking by any standards – Arnold tells Mia’s story in jagged shards, using jittery hand-held camera and jarring jump cuts to plunge us into the drama.

Arnold has been compared to Ken Loach and Lynne Ramsay, two British filmmakers I’m ashamed to say I’m not terribly au fait with. Interestingly, The New York Times compared Fish Tank to The 400 Blows, Francois Truffaut’s 1959 nouvelle vague study of maladjusted adolescence. What Fish Tank reminded me of is Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini’s early hard-edged social realist tragedies Accattone (1961) and Mamma Roma (1962), updated to the present-day council estates of Essex. Arnold shares Pasolini’s clear-eyed compassion for her deeply-flawed and impoverished characters, and her long takes depicting Mia isolated and alienated in her gray concrete surroundings recall how Pasolini presented Franco Citti as his doomed anti-hero in Accattone.

Like the Italian neo-realists, Arnold frequently casts non-professional actors in her films. The acting in Fish Tank is naturalistic and nuanced without exception. Professionals Fassbender and Wareing are certainly deserving of kudos, but Katie Jarvis – who had no prior acting experience before Fish Tank -- is a heartbreaker, affecting in the way only an untutored “amateur” can be. (There’s no “technique” to her performance and no drama school could teach Jarvis’ ability to suggest mute hurt and curiosity. She’s pure animal grace and innate sensitivity). As well as Jean-Pierre Leaud in The 400 Blows, Jarvis evokes wild child gamine actress Linda Manz. Manz famously never went on to have much of a film career after her powerful early impact in Days of Heaven (1978) and Out of the Blue (1980). Not to sound overly pessimistic, but Fish Tank probably represents a once in a lifetime opportunity for Jarvis, who is unlikely to ever get another great role like Mia again. But then did Ettore Garofolo (the boy who played Anna Magnani’s son in Mamma Roma ) ever act in another film again? And his sole performance remains haunting and memorable almost 50 years later; so, inevitably, will Jarvis’s.

Fish Tank is frequently wrenchingly painful and a tragic conclusion seems imminent from its opening frames, and yet (again being scrupulous about no spoilers!) it ends on a note of cautious but genuine optimism and hope for change. One of the last songs we hear on the soundtrack is by the rapper Nas, with the repeated refrain “Life’s a bitch.” Nas isn’t wrong, but one of the compelling qualities in Andrea Arnold’s films is that people do reflect and learn from their mistakes.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

19 October 2011 Dr Sketchy Set List

/ And God Created ... Brigitte Bardot /

Happily, my jinxed period at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern has definitely has come to an end – this Dr Sketchy was smooth sailing and a really enjoyable night. My friend Jim (who I go to Viva Las Vegas most years with) turned up with a surprise guest: his Staffordshire bull terrier Daisy. Daisy was beautifully-behaved, nestling on the floor in the corner of the DJ booth. It was an added, unexpected bonus to get to kneel down and kiss a dog on the forehead while DJ’ing.

/ Sweet face: Daisy photographed at my place in February 2011. She's a bit bigger now. Who's a good girl? Who's a good girl? You are, Daisy /

The emcee this time was Dusty Limits (Weimar Republic decadence personified), and we had two burlesque performers/models: brunette Australian minx Sarina del Fuego and the frankly very fit Spencer Maybe. For once I kept the tone a bit classy and elegant (relatively-speaking), at least during Sarina’s pose. After her performance, Sarina had stripped down to just black lace lingerie and a kinky black lace eye mask. Her musical selection for her striptease was the dreamy finger-snapping instrumental “Perdita” by Angelo Badalementi, from the soundtrack to the 1990 David Lynch film Wild at Heart. Inspired by the song and Sarina’s outfit, rather than crank-up the sleaze and tittyshakers, I played some moodily lingering 1950s cool jazz-inflected make-out music: Dolores Gray's minimalist bongo drum-propelled "You're My Thrill", Julie London, Chet Baker, Eartha purring “I Want to Be Evil.”

Later I compensated when our male “boylesque” performer Spencer Maybe posed, and then he and Sarina posed together, spinning my raunchiest single-entendre novelty songs like “Tony’s Got Hot Nuts” by Faye Richmonde and Filthy McNasty’s “Ice Man”. I also incorporated exotica (Yma Sumac, Martin Denny), rockabilly, rhythm and blues and some 1960s French pop (Brigitte Bardot, more than one song by Johnny Hallyday!).

During Spencer’s pose I also played a track by Lizabeth Scott, the most haunting and enigmatic of 1940s and 50s film noir actresses. Because of Scott’s languid mane of ash blonde hair, smoky eyes, sultry and insolent demeanour and raspy low voice “that sounded as if it had been buried somewhere deep and was trying to claw its way out” (John Kobal) she’s been frequently (and unfavourably) compared to the more famous Lauren Bacall. In fact, Scott was a much stranger, more intense and harder-working actress than Bacall, and made more interesting choices.

A true actrice maudite, Scott has traditionally been disparaged or overlooked by mainstream film historians. An all-too typical assessment is writer Penny Stalling’s: “Scott ... churned out twenty-two films between 1945 and 1953, but few are memorable.” In fact Scott’s filmography between 1945 and 1957 (when she abruptly retired), is studded with obscure gems, and virtually all of them are films noir, partnering her with many of the greats of the genre: Humphrey Bogart, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan. It’s only in recent years that Scott has emerged as a genuine cult figure for old film obsessives (like me!) and her career has been more generously reappraised. In particular, search out 1949’s Too Late for Tears (aka Killer Bait) to see Lizabeth Scott at her most mesmerising, almost serpentine as a suburban Los Angeles housewife with a treacherous and homicidal dark side.

/ Separated at birth: Lauren Bacall and Lizabeth Scott /

By the mid-50s the film noir cycle was coming to an end as public tastes changed, and so were Scott’s days as a leading lady. What certainly was a contributing factor to her abrupt and premature retirement was scandal magazine Confidential “outing” her as lesbian in 1955 – making her what must be one of the first victims of tabloid homophobia. In the article Confidential gloated “In recent years Scotty’s almost nonexistent career has allowed her to roam further afield. In one jaunt to Europe she headed straight for Paris and the left bank where she took up with Frede, the city’s most notorious lesbian queen and operator of a nightclub devoted exclusively to entertaining deviates just like herself.” (In fact the shadowy Frede was the proprietoress of the posh Parisian nightclub Carroll’s, where key figures of French show business performed to a presumably mixed clientele. A very young Eartha Kitt, for example, launched her singing career there in the late 1940s. In her 1989 memoirs Kitt describes Frede (a former lover of Marlene Dietrich’s) as “the most beautiful manly-looking lady in the world”).

/ An intriguingly butch study of Lizabeth Scott. The safety pin makes a punk statement /

Scott took legal action against the magazine, but the damage was done and shortly afterwards she quit the film industry – and withdrew from public life. To date, Scott has never publicly acknowledged the gay rumours – certainly the general consensus was that she had been the mistress of (married) film mogul Hal B Wallis, who’d guided her career in the 1940s at Paramount. Now 89, the elusive Scott never married and lives in deep seclusion in her palatial Hollywood Boulevard mansion, declining all interview requests as the enigma around her grows. We can only hope Scott writes an autobiography before she dies or gives one last genuinely revealing interview – but at this point it looks likely she’s taking her secrets to her grave.

After completing her last major film role (in the 1957 Elvis Presley musical Loving You, incongruously enough!), Scott’s one last gasp at a show business career was re-launching herself as a torch singer with the album Lizabeth in 1957. (Weirdly, Scott frequently played nightclub singers in her films – but always lip-synched over another singer’s dubbed voice!). It’s an alluring and credible album, with Scott warbling jazz standards like “Willow Weep for Me” and “Can’t Get Out of This Mood” in a husky 40 cigarettes-a-day voice over stylish arrangements courtesy of Henri Rene and his Orchestra (he’d previously collaborated with Eartha Kitt, so knew a thing or two about chanteuses with idiosyncratic voices). Sadly, Lizabeth wasn’t a hit, and Scott didn’t pursue singing but I love to drop in an occasional track from it when I DJ.

/ The cover of Lizabeth Scott's 1957 album Lizabeth /

/ Lovely and dramatic: Lizabeth Scott singing "He is a Man" on television in 1958 from her album Lizabeth. The guy leaning against the lamp post in a trench coat whistling is such a nice touch /

Watermelon Gin - Florence Joelle's Kiss of Fire
Town without Pity - James Chance
Pas Cette Chanson - Johnny Hallyday
Because of Love - Billy Fury
Early Every Morning - Dinah Washington
Beauty is Only Skin-Deep - Robert Mitchum
Too Old to Cut the Mustard - Marlene Dietrich and Rosemary Clooney
Virgenes Del Sol - Yma Sumac
Exotique Bossa Nova / Quiet Village Bossa Nova - Martin Denny
Monkey Bird - The Revels
Contact - Brigitte Bardot
Rockin' Bongos - Chaino
Greasy Chicken - Andre Williams
Follow the Leader - Wiley Terry
Love Letters - Ike and Tina Turner
Whisper Your Love - The Phantom
I'll Drown in My Own Tears - Lula Reed
The Fire of Love - Jody Reynolds
It - The Regal-Aires
Miss Irene - Ginny Kennedy
Give Me a Woman - Andy Starr
Don't You Feel My Leg - Blue Lu Barker
Night Scene - The Rumblers
Woh! Woh! Yeah! - The Dynamos
Drive-In - The Jaguars
You're My Thrill - Dolores Gray
Shadow Woman - Julie London
Sexe - Line Renaud
I Want to Be Evil - Eartha Kitt
Lonely Hours - Sarah Vaughan
Shangri-La - Spikes Jones New Band
Little Girl Blue - Chet Baker
Crawfish - Johnny Thunders and Patti Paladin
I Learn a Merengue, Mama - Robert Mitchum
Go, Calypso! - Mamie van Doren
Rock-a-Hula - Elvis Presley
Honalulu Rock'n'Roll - Eartha Kitt
Elle est terrible - Johnny Hallyday
L'appareil a sous - Brigitte Bardot
You Can't Stop Her - Bobby Marchan
Roll with Me Henry - Etta James
Man's Favourite Sport - Ann-Margret
Cat Man - Gene Vincent
Tiger - Sparkle Moore
Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad - Betty Hutton
He Is a Man - Lizabeth Scott
The Strip - The Upsetters
Tony's Got Hot Nuts - Faye Richmonde
Ice Man - Filthy McNasty
Ford Mustang - Serge Gainsbourg
Seperate the Man from the Boys - Mamie van Doren
Beat Party - Ritchie & The Squires
Kruschev Twist - Melvin Gayle
Wino - Jack McVea
Summertime - Little Esther
La Javanaise - Juliette Greco
Fever - Hildegard Knef
Work Song - Nina Simone
Beat Girl - Adam Faith
You've Changed - Billie Holiday

/ For all you glove freaks out there, as modelled by stripper and bondage / fetish model Tana Louise, aka "The Cincinnati Sinner" /

Sunday, 16 October 2011

8 October 2011 Dr Sketchy Set List

Early 1960s Ann-Margret: distilled essence of sex kitten

For once I have some photos from the day to post: my old pal Melissa Houston was in attendance armed with a seriously impressive big-ass photojournalist camera, and it turns out she’s a pretty damn good photographer . Seriously – who knew Melissa had any talent? She also had a good (crotch-level) seat right by the front of the stage – oh, the sights she must have seen that afternoon!

Las Vagueness: Me behind the DJ booth, lost in thought -- or just blank?

This nicely laidback and boozy Saturday afternoon Dr Sketchy at The Old Queen’s Head in Angel featured the ever-soigné Dusty Limits as emcee, Bomb Voyage modelling and Bettsie Bon Bon performing a bump-and-grind striptease routine and modelling.

Dusty Limits
Dusty Limits

The dazzling Bettsie Bon Bon knows how to make a real impression: rather than stripping down to her pasties and g-string and stopping, she kept going ... disrobing until just a tiny glittery silver heart-shaped merkin was left to preserve her modesty!

Bettsie Bon Bon
Bettsie Bon Bon

The ornately-tattooed Bomb Voyage is definitely one of our punkier and edgier models. On this occasion she posed while wielding a baseball bat, so I cranked-up the aggression and confrontation musically. “She is My Witch” is pretty much Bomb’s theme tune; the knuckle-dragging piano and unearthly screams of Esquerita’s blood-curdling “Esquerita and the Voola” suggests the soundtrack to a Santería voodoo ritual -- or human sacrifice.

Bomb Voyage
Bomb Voyage

Later, Dusty asked for a Beatnik-style art-y jazz instrumental. Needless to say I dusted-off "A Cruise to the Moon" from Lydia Lunch's 1979 death-jazz Queen of Siam album, over which Dusty improvised some finger-snapping Beat poetry. It worked dreamily, daddio.

Beatnik Poetry, Part 1 (Note: that's Uncle Fester from The Addams Family on piano -- I shit you not).

Beatnik Poetry, Part 2

Towards the end of the day, I improvised a little mini-tribute to Sylvia Robinson of 1960s rhythm and blues duo Mickey and Sylvia, who died on 29 September 2011, aged 75. Robinson had a fascinating and long career on pop’s fringes as a singer, songwriter and producer: after her musical partnership with Mickey Baker ended, the durable Robinson went on to have disco hits in the 1970s (like "Pillow Talk") and was a key figure in the emergence of hip hop in the early 1980s. Obviously it’s her early R&B I prefer. I played the snarling “No Good Lover” by Mickey and Sylvia, Johnny Thunders and Patti Paladin’s cover version of “Love is Strange” and her sassy early solo song (when she was billed as "Little Sylvia")“Drive, Daddy, Drive.”

Bettsie and Bomb
A pretty girl is like a melody: Bettsie Bon Bon and Bomb Voyage pose together

Afterwards, Mel and I went on a bar crawl, from The Old Queen’s Head to The Joiners Arms to The George and Dragon. It got messy. Let’s stop here ...

Watermelon Gin - Florence Joelle's Kiss of Fire
Little Ole Wine Drinker Me - Robert Mitchum
Souvenir, Souvenir - Johnny Hallyday
Friction Heat - Bonnie Lou
Leave Married Women Alone - Jimmy Cavallo
The Flirt - Shirley and Lee
Get Back, Baby - Esquerita
I Ain't in the Mood - Helen Humes
Greasy Chicken - Andre Williams
Fever - Nancy Sit
Baby Let Me Bang Your Box - The Bangers
Beaver Shot - The Periscopes
Poon Tang - The Treniers
Nosey Joe - Bull Moose Jackson
Eager Beaver Baby - Johnny Burnette
Cafe Bohemian - The Enchanters
I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues - Billie Holiday
You're Driving Me Crazy - Chet Baker
Angel Face - Billy Fury
Shangri-La - Spike Jones New Band
Go Slow - Julie London
Traume - Francoise Hardy
Ford Mustang - Serge Gainsbourg
Night Walk - The Swingers
She's My Witch - The Earls of Suave
The Rat - The Ventures
Rigor Mortis - The Gravestone Four
Esquerita and The Voola - Esquerita
A Cruise to the Moon - Lydia Lunch
Beat Generation - Mamie van Doren
Beat Party - Ritchie & The Squires
Elle est Terrible - Johnny Hallyday
Drums A Go-Go - The Hollywood Persuaders
My Daddy Rocks Me - Mae West
8 Ball - The Hustlers
Blues in My Heart - The John Buzon Trio
C'est Si Bon - April Stevens
Teach Me Tonight - Dinah Washington
Mack the Knife - Eartha Kitt
Chattanooga Choo Choo - Denise Darcel
Drive-In - The Jaguars
Beat Girl - Adam Faith
The Coo - Wayne Cochran
I Learn a Merengue, Mama - Robert Mitchum
Go, Calypso! - Mamie van Doren
Rum and Coca-Cola - Wanda Jackson
Groovy - The Groovers
Frenzy - The Hindus
Rockin' Bongos - Chaino
Train to Nowhere - The Champs
You Don't Know Baby - Wanda Jackson
Boss - The Rumblers
Rip it Up - Little Richard
No Good Lover - Mickey and Sylvia
Love is Strange - Johnny Thunders and Patti Paladin
Drive, Daddy, Drive - Little Sylvia
Happy, Happy Birthday Baby - The Tune Weavers
Stop and Listen - Mickey and Ludella
Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks
Devil in Disguise - Elvis Presley
Begin the Beguine - Billy Fury
Love for Sale - Hildegard Knef

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Cockabilly DJ Set List 5 October 2011 at The George and Dragon

/ Dress to the right ... /

One of the things I love about DJ'ing at Cockabilly (London’s only gay rockabilly club night!) is the opportunity to play some frantic hardcore rockabilly (it’s not really part of the titty shakin’ burlesque vibe at Dr Sketchy, my regular gig ), so I really seize it when I get the chance. I did a pretty brief “guest” set (about 30 minutes long), but I went perhaps too heavy on the abrasive / kitsch / punk / hillbilly side of rockabilly this time, and am not sure it went down so well! Obviously I was hoping to look out from the DJ booth and see people dancing like this...

Have learned my lesson: if I get to DJ at another Cockabilly, will ensure to vary it more and play some more user-friendly stuff (i.e. more 50s rhythm and blues. Everyone loves 50s R&B, especially female singers: people don’t need to even know who, say, Big Maybelle, Lula Reed or Annisteen Allen are to instinctively respond to them).

Mal and Paul: the brains behind Cockabilly

I’d also packed my DJ bag while in a hung-over / zombified state (I’d had a late one the night before; my friends the punk band Matron had played at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern) and when I started my set I realised to my horror that I’d packed one of my favourite CDs (You Better Believe It 1955-1969: White Trash Rockers) but not the insert with the track listing, which didn't help. Then my very first song wasn’t cued quite right, which rattled me. I don’t think my set ever quite recuperated from that shaky start!

/ Getting ready for Cockabilly /

Anyway, it was still a great night. Princess Julia – the eyebrow-less high empress of East End bohemia – was in attendance (the George and Dragon just doesn’t feel right when she’s not there). The two Alexes were also both there, which always guarantees a fun time (the last time I saw them was at the 2012 Butt magazine calendar launch party a few weeks ago!). Both Alexes keep hilarious blogs, which are highly recommended: find them here and here. And Mal secured some great branded promotional Cockabilly merchandise: nice and threatening-looking juvenile delinquent spring-release novelty flick combs! To be kept in the back pocket of your Levis and whipped out to either smooth back your pomaded Gene Vincent quiff or to menace squares with. Don’t make me cut you!

Heartbreakin' Special - Duke Larson
Club Delight - Jack Jolly
Snow Surfin' Matador - Jan Davis
Bottle to the Baby - Charlie Feathers
Dragon Walk - The Noblemen
Breathless - X
Willie Joe - The Mystery Trio
Settin' the Woods on Fire - Hank Williams
Poor Little Critter on the Road - The Knitters
Lonesome Me - Ann-Margret
Raging Sea - Gene Maltais
The Big Bounce - Shirley Caddell
De Castrow - Jaybee Wasden
Beat Party - Ritchie & The Squires

/ The mighty Los Angeles punk band X tear apart Jerry Lee Lewis's "Breathless" on The David Letterman Show in the early 80s. Awkward interview (Letterman doesn't seem to know what to make of them), awesome performance. X was one of my favourite bands as a teenager and I still listen to them today. They remain the perfect punk-rockabilly hybrid. /

Monday, 3 October 2011

Du hast ja keine Ahnung wie schön du bist Berlin!

I've been to Berlin three times now: 2006, 2008 and again just recently (10-13 September 2011). Edgy, gritty, punky, cosmopolitan and still steeped in Weimar Decadence, Berlin is one of my favourite cities in the world. Every time I go to Berlin, I want it to be awash with excellent German bier and Schlager music, and to feel like I'm channelling Marlene Dietrich, Hildegard Knef, Rainer Werner Fassbinder films (Fassbinder was actually from Bavaria, though), Christopher Isherwood and Nico -- and it never disappoints. Turns out I'm a total Germanophile -- who knew? (But then I'm also a Francophile and an Italophile: it's just that when I'm in Rome, I'm channelling Pier Paolo Pasolini and Anna Magnani in Pigneto).

Berlin 2008 146

Mainlining German Culture: Me in 2008, reading Hildegard Knef's memoirs and drinking Berliner beer at the cafe Cake in Kreuzberg

I joked on Facebook just before my latest trip that when I went to Berlin this time, I intended to recreate scenes from the 1981 film Christiane F: Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo. (Relax! Obviously I was only kidding!)

Jayne Mansfield singing in German in 1963, Part 1

Nina Hagen In Ekstasy! German clown princess of punk Nina Hagen going apeshit in Alexanderplatz.

My friend Ali and I stayed in the Friedrichshain district this time (when I was there in 2008 we stayed in Mitte; before that, in Prenzlauer Berg). We were walking distance from Alexanderplatz, so ultra-central in other words. We enjoyed (mostly) better weather than poor Nina in this clip. (There was just one jinxed night when we tried to go out bar hopping in Prenzlauer Berg and it was like a freakin' tropical monsoon drenched us).

The Fernsehturm / Berlin Television Tower in Alexanderplatz looms in the horizon of virtually every photo you take in Berlin! It's definitely worth going up to the revolving restaurant at the top of the tower, even if just for a drink (it's very pricey). The views of Berlin are spectacular and the revolving sensation is very freaky.

Berlin 2008 011

Me in 2011


I can’t imagine going to Berlin without paying a visit to Filmmuseum Berlin, which is devoted to the history of German cinema. It also houses the Marlene Dietrich archives (donated by her daughter Maria Riva after Dietrich's death in 1992): a whole section is allocated to Dietrich's film, stage and personal wardrobe and costumes, memorabilia and even her home movies and love letters. It's a treasure trove for Dietrich obsessives. Going to the filmmuseum is like a religious pilgrimage!

Me at the Filmmuseum in 2008. Hildegard Knef and Dietrich look on

Berlin 2008 073

Me at the Filmmuseum in 2011


The actual sexy / curvaceous Art Deco robot from Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927).

Berlin September 2011 004

Memento mori: The beautifully macabre death mask of great silent film director F W Murnau (1888-1931). For years it was in the possession of his friend Greta Garbo.

Berlin September 2011 005

The beautiful gigantic poster of La Dietrich in Blonde Venus (1932) that ushers you into the Dietrich wing of the Filmmuseum

Berlin September 2011 008

A video of Dietrich's wonderfully insolent 1929 screen test for Der Blaue Engel is played on an endless loop; you can hear the young Dietrich warbling "You're the Cream in My Coffee" echoing through the museum. (I can't embed the video, annoyingly. Watch it here)

Dietrich's top hat in display cabinet

Berlin September 2011 009

Perhaps it's even this one ...

Genius: Rainer Werner Fassbinder's chair

Berlin September 2011 010

My all-time Fassbinder film was one of his last: the haunting / haunted Veronika Voss (1981). I read about the death of its unforgettable leading lady, Rosel Zech just before we split for Berlin in September 2011. Here is Zech huskily crooning the Dean Martin standard "Memories Are Made of This", Dietrich-style. What a woman. RIP, Rosel Zech

Conveniently located adjacent to the Filmmuseum is the Billy Wilder cocktail bar.

My martini in 2008. Damn, it was good

Berlin 2008 026

Mural of the great director Billy Wilder on the wall of the cocktail bar

Berlin 2008 027

In 2008, after visiting the Dietrich collection at the Filmmuseum, it felt de rigeur to go to her gravesite next. Dietrich's grave is in the Friedhof Friedenau cemetary in Schoneberg (where she was born), a very leafy, quiet and elegant neighbourhood. About three graves away is the gravestone of photographer Helmut Newton. The inscription on Dietrich's tombstone translates as: "Here I Stand on the Marker of My Days."


Me putting flowers on Dietrich's grave in 2008

Berlin 2008 034

Berlin 2008 096

Mostly, though, Berlin is dreamy for simply bar and cafe-hopping, sampling the excellent variety of German biers, or eating kaffee und kuchen.

In conclusion, my favourite bars in Berlin:

Möbel-Olfe in Kreuzberg: This place kills me. Seriously -- it almost makes me cum. The bleak green-tinged neon lighting makes everyone look interestingly ashen, and the place exudes such a brooding, dissolute atmosphere it feels like you’re starring in your own Fassbinder film. I would live here if I could.

Berlin 2008 112

Roses in Kreuzberg: fun, trashy, kitsch gay bar with great decor (Our Lady of Guadalupe mural; pink-fur covered walls like something out of Barbarella). It feels like an early Pedro Almodovar film. Always a rowdy, boozy vibe.

Beers at Roses

Berlin 2008 091

Portrait of me at Roses in 2008

Berlin 2008 093

Pinguin Club in Schönberg: Wonderfully atmospheric punk-y and grunge-y rock’n’roll dive bar.

Pinguin Club

Berlin 2008 118

Old movie star portraits on the wall at Pinguin Club. See if you can spot Gary Cooper, Alain Delon, Elizabeth Taylor, John Wayne, Jayne Mansfield and Ingrid Bergman. Brigitte Bardot (circa Le Mepris) is there -- but in a black wig

Berlin 2008 121

Barbie Bar in Kreuzberg: Like Roses, this bar (painted Jayne Mansfield pink) has the kind of kitsch decor Berlin excels at. I love this place, but have never managed to get here when it’s really buzzing (probably because am getting there too early!).

Barbie doll chandelier at Barbie Bar

Berlin 2008 033

Barbie Bar

Berlin 2008 032

Neues Ufer in Schöneberg: Nice laidback gay cafe, but mainly of historical interest. It dates back to 1970, and used to be called Cafe Nemesis. It was one of the favourite hang outs of David Bowie and Iggy Pop when they were based in Berlin in the 70s, recording their masterpieces Low, Heroes, The Idiot and Lust for Life and competing for the favours of drag queens; they lived in a flat virtually next door.

Berlin 2008 097

What used to be one of my favourite Berlin bars ... I went to White Trash Fast Food in Mitte with friends on my first trip to Berlin in 2006, had a blast and I always go back when I’m in town. It’s in a beautiful venue: a baroque and palatial old Chinese restaurant with all the old fixtures intact, transformed into a hipster restaurant / bar with an American white trash / hillbilly / punk sensibility (hence the name). It holds punk gigs and features DJs and serves trashy carb-heavy American-style fast (comfort) food. Sadly, it was a let-down this trip. Yes, it was extremely busy (the crowd seemed to be 100% American tourists, which might suggest Berliners themselves are avoiding the place these days) but the service (from the unsmiling harridan with the dyed-black Goth hair who “greets” you at the door demanding the one Euro cover charge to the embittered and queen-y male bar staff) was inept bordering on hostile. And for a place that seems to pride itself on being hipper-than-thou, it needs to sort its music out. While Ali and I were there (long enough to drink one round of drinks and split ‘cause it was so unwelcoming) we heard the likes of Hall and Oates and The Bangles! Hell-o. Raise your game, White Trash Fast Food!

At White Trash Fast Food in happier times: Anne, Jonathon, me and Philip at White Trash in 2006. If anyone knows whatever happened to Jonathon Long (my Irish friend who used to be based in Berlin as a translator), tell the mofo to get in touch. I lost track of him many years ago.


Hildegard Knef (aka "Die Knef"): The post-Dietrich German chanteuse with the guttural whisky-and-cigarettes voice is synonymous with Berlin (she's their equivalent of Paris's Juliette Greco. Like Greco, she went to Hollywood for a brief and unhappy stab at American stardom in the 1950s). Her ultra-deep, nicotine-stained baritone babe (almost drag queen-y) vocal stylings are definitely an acquired taste (like all the best things in life), but I've grown to love her. I was introduced to her by my German friends in London, who revere her and collect her old records. Like Dietrich, she's Berlin personified.