Some things

strip

After another night of exceptional food and Jazz, we find ourselves in the horribly overpopulated strip of tacky bars on New Orleans’ Bourbon Street. The group want to head back but I declare that I want to find a dive bar: somewhere out the way, equally disgusting but intimate. A cosy kind of hideous. Unsurprisingly most prefer the alternative of sleep.

My offer is taken up by one but I soon realise that he has his own agenda and one stubby can later, in a quiet bar not nearly dingy enough, we head straight on to a different kind of establishment. This was my first visit to a strip club and I hadn’t anticipated it so after the entrance fee I’m left with a 20 in my wallet. Now this may be my first rodeo but I know I need smaller bills and so I buy us a couple of beers, leaving me with two dollars to play with. Best make em last.

I’m given a little walk-through tutorial, shadowing my friend as he takes me to a chair around one of the raised stages, a black marble island pierced by a golden pole. He throws a dollar out in front of us, I follow suit placing half of my total purse beside it. The woman on stage isn’t so much dancing as working around the spectators and fucking the air in front of them. She is topless, wearing heels and a thong. I’m not so much as turned on as uncomfortable but trying to project otherwise; casual and familiar.

As she arrives at our two dollar ‘pile’ she leans in and asks where we’re from. England. I didn’t know conversation was part of the deal and so I decide to take the lead and return the question. The Czech Republic. Master conversationist in my element, I hold her gaze and shout loud enough as to be heard above the music “…My favourite author’s Czech, have you read any Kafka?” She doesn’t reply, just drifts off into the crowd. Perhaps she’s more of a Čapek kinda girl.

One of the dancers walks up beside us, silently climbs up on the stage and then just keeps climbing. She gets to the top of the pole, about 10 feet off of the ground, and holds for a second before letting herself fall. She lands with her legs split apart, her thick plastic heels smash against the ground with a reverberating crack. If she didn’t have your attention before, she has it now. I’m not so much as turned on as appreciating her athletic ability and showmanship. Now this is I can get behind. I place the last of my cash out in front of me and when she happens upon it, she picks it up, folds a crease lengthways along the bill and drops it back down. She leaves a dramatic pause before dropping over ol George and picking him up betwixt her cheeks.

Now that I’m tapped out, my advising cohort takes the lead once more. Between stages there is a large red carpeted staircase leading up to the balcony – shielded from view and manned by security. The second level. My friend talks to a petite blond, gives her some cash and she takes me by the hand and leads me up the stairs and through security. She sits me in a walled off vestibule, sets my drink down and introduces herself. Lolita. “I love that novel, have you read any Nabakov?” I’m really getting the hang of this.

Then I get my private dance, I smile politely and awkwardly. Not so much turned on as fulfilling my part of the deal as an audience member. I want to be respectful and encouraging despite my discomfort and so I end up nodding congratulations at each of her moves like a parent asked by their kid to watch as it jumps into the pool in varying ways. My faux-enthusiasm is wearing thin but I don’t think she could give a fuck – not really striking me as the shy and sensitive type as she hits her tits against my face. When we’re done she hands my beer back to me and makes a point of thanking me, for being so polite.

As I walk down the red-carpeted stairs, back into the riff-raff of level 1, the ground dwellers, I think about what Lolita meant. Perhaps there was a sadness beneath her words, that others are abusive or inconsiderate, but her tone just makes me think: I was doing it wrong. Next time I’ll come prepared, or better yet I won’t come at all.

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swerve

Just now I was on the motorway, the boy in the back drifting from the drab lullaby that was Disney’s Christopher Robin. That was when the transit van just ahead in the right lane started to swerve.

I notice the back tyre start to wobble and shake and then immediately flatten, the alloy scraping on the floor. The tyre blows out, black smoke pumps out over my windscreen and rubber flies across at my car when the noxious smell makes its way through the vents. I turn on my hazards and hit the brakes as he moves into my lane ahead of me, then across into the left lane, having to coast on three wheels and a haggard rim until the hard shoulder reappears.

I am panicked, pulsing with adrenaline, and as I pass him on my left, I look through the window to see this stubbly bespectacled dude looking as if he was just making his exit. Casual as fuck, this guy either didn’t know what was going on, had experienced it too many times before, or just knew how to react instinctively. His was an infectious calmness that had me immediately adjust and normalise – I check the rear-view and the boy is asleep.

Do you think you and I are saints? An Interview with Cristiana Dell’Anna: Gomorrah Season 2

Written for Film and TV Now Aug 2016 (Available here)

With Gomorrah’s second season finally upon us, and with the Savastano clan in disrepair, the criminal empire of Naples is changing hands and making way for new faces. We will come to know fringe characters in more depth and be introduced to the relatives and relations of those we are acquainted with already.

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Expanding the universe of this Neapolitan underworld, the second series has many more female characters central to the story but don’t expect it too be any softer. “Women are portrayed just like men: brutally ruthless!” explains Cristiana Dell’Anna, one of the newer cast members who I was able to ask a few questions recently, about this series and the morally complicated character she plays in the show.

There were few female characters introduced in the first series and though most were voiceless trophies of their criminal partners, one of the most interesting breaks from stereotype was Lady Imma, the wife of Don Pietro Savastano. As captured in a decadent family oil painting, she stood beside her husband and supported him in his reign, but once imprisoned it was Genny – their spoilt and somewhat naive son – that was going to take over the clan. This was when Lady Imma started playing the game, a pretender to the throne herself she began to give orders as though from Pietro, preventing a takeover by Ciro and toughening up her son so that he was ready to fill the role of his father.

At the end of season 1 Lady Imma was killed, her death ordered by Ciro ‘The Immortal’ – whom she had always been suspicious of. Call it women’s intuition. This left a void of powerful female characters in Gomorrah, one that would soon be filled, and many times over.

When Don Salvator Conte returns to his hometown, the remaining members of the Savastano clan, the survivors, come together to form a mutually beneficial democracy: The Alliance. One such member is Scianel, sister of Zecchinetta who was the first to be killed by the alley kids, in what would be a rise of reactionary chaos. No stranger to this game, Scianel is hardened, an intimidating presence who seems to be permanently repressing rage. We will come to know Scianel through visits to her son in prison, with a reluctant daughter-in-law that she practically holds captive in a neighbouring room, as well as her frequent visits to a clothing store.

It is here that we first meet Patrizia. A clerk and personal shopper for Scianel who knows to be respectful and stay in favour. As it turns out she has her own ties to the underground – “Patrizia happens to be born in the wrong family. She is the niece of Don Pietro’s right hand, Malammore, who recruits her to work for the Savastano clan, giving her no choice” Cristiana explains. Patrizia is perhaps the closest we have to an audience surrogate, she has a life independent of the crime syndicate and she is reluctant when her uncle finds her a job as the eyes and ears for Don Pietro. As with most, money holds some allure but Patrizia’s motivation seems a little more unclear, perhaps through her connections she knows that there is no point fighting, that her fate has been decided.

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Gomorrah has a whiplash inducing pace, jumping forward through time characters will change suddenly, their loyalties will shift along with their manner and demeanour. In the case of Patrizia, we are able to see a more gradual change as the dark side of the city will get it’s hooks in her and reveal what she is capable of. Cristiana continues, “She is brave and very intelligent, and will soon find out she has the skills to become a dangerous criminal, capable of scheming and ready to betray her own blood.”

One of the shows defining features is its relentless brutality. No-one is safe from the horrors of mindless violence and no time is spared to mourn. There is a moral dividing line that separates those involved from those on the outside, but this line is blurred in the case of Patrizia. I asked Cristiana if it is difficult to get into the mind of someone morally questionable – “Do you think you and I are saints? would you say you are unquestionably good? Or am I? All the time, unconditionally? Of course not!” Explaining that her process is intimately personal, and delicate, it is this grounding of the darkness in all of us that seems to come out in the complex inner-workings of Patrizia. The religious comparison is fitting, considering the ubiquity of Christianity in Naples and the hypocrisy that it is constantly highlighting.

The gritty unforgiving world of Gomorrah is based in reality, adapted from the expose of the same name and written for the screen by its author Robert Saviano. It was this renowned book that Cristiana returned to for her research but also the memories and stories that she would hear about crime in Naples when she was younger. But it still goes on today and Saviano has spent years since the books release under protection. It is this pervasive element of the crime syndicate in Naples that is captured so well in Gomorrah, the threat is so inescapable and unpredictable that the tension never lets up.

Cristiana acknowledges that the story is the most important part of the show and that the characters are servants to the narration. “The real protagonist in both seasons is ‘the system’. The cruelty of the system, how spread around the world it is. How unaware of this power we all are.” Asked about the future of Patrizia, Cristiana references this cruel and volatile system “I will be there. But you know, I could be shot in the first episode… who knows!”

The first and second season of Gomorrah are available on Blu-Ray and DVD now and plans for the third and fourth seasons have already been set in motion.

Grow your own Jesus with Johnny Depp

A look at the character of Dr Will Caster in Transcendence. I ruin the film outright so don’t watch it if you haven’t seen it.

Check out the original article for my argument on why Transcendence is actually a very interesting and subversive film that has been unfairly overlooked and disregarded. Or don’t. Whatever.