Published Feb 01, 2000Well it's off to the UK for more Skin Flick madness. Was it only a year ago that I shot this dirty, controversial little movie in London? Time seems to be folding in on me like a J. G. Ballard story.
My first stop is the Edinburgh Film Festival, part of the larger arts festival that fills this picturesque city to the brim for the month of August. Wandering into a pub for a pint of Guinness, it feels not unlike an Irvine Welsh novel, the one in which a hapless attendee of the film festival wanders into a pub for directions and ends up getting smashed in the face with a pint glass. Having read Mr. Welsh's entire oeuvre, I can't help but think of Scotland in those terms - junkies, nae mates cunts, a country not merely of wankers but colonised by wankers - but alas the element to which I am introduced as a visiting dignitary are for the most part only the most civilised, cultured denizens of Edinburgh, not the ones who would sell their own bairn for a packet of white powder.
My screening is the night of my arrival, and it's a rather low-key affair. Owing to the sensitivity of the subject matter, the movie is shown in a small theatre without any advance press screenings. I am asked to do a question and answer session afterwards, and although some members of the audience appear to have been offended, for the most part they seem to be on the same page, or at least in the same solar system.
For the remaining two days of my visit I am left pretty much to my own devices. I hook up with a couple of actor types who were at my screening and ask them to show me the town. Strangely, they are a mixed race, black and white gay couple - or perhaps former couple, it's a bit sketchy - the black member of which was raised by adoptive white parents and has been pretty much assimilated into white culture, a scenario that bears several striking resemblances to the characters inSkin Flick . Unlike their bourgeois counterparts in my movie, however, these two are decidedly bohemian, the white one, in fact, reminding me of Withnail, the down-on-his-luck actor played by Richard E. Grant in the cult movieWithnail and I . The black one is quite handsome and dashing and I quickly develop quite a crush on him, but their murky couple status makes it impossible for me to put the moves on him, and I don't think he's all that interested anyway.
These two lads prove their Irvine Welsh credentials by producing, despite their relatively impoverished lifestyles, a seemingly inexhaustible supply of charlie, and I'm not taking the perfume. Let's just say that for the next two days I became unusually familiar with almost every bathroom cubicle in the city of Edinburgh. On the second evening we end up at a dance club and, adding a little Ecstasy into the mix, get really off our heads. By the time I hit the closing night film festival party the next night, I virtually have to prop myself up with a wooden pole the way Marlene Deitrich used to do on stage when she was on her last legs. My Withnail compadre tries valiantly to sneak me into the VIP party where Tim Roth and the King of Scotland himself, Sean Connery, are rumoured to be, but no dice. Despite the fact that I am treated rather more like a real celebrity than I am used to, the co-ordinators of the festival are a little nervous around me, as if I may have some explosive device strapped to my chest ready to be detonated at any moment. Hey, that's not a bad idea.
London is still there. It's still noisy, still over-crowded, still trendy, and still swinging. I'm ensconced in a three star hotel right near Oxford Circus in a small, hot room with a fruity canopy over the bed. Unfortunately, owing to my extravagances in Edinburgh, I've come down with a nasty cold that I can't manage to fight off. Despite my watering eyes and hacking cough, I am obliged on my only day off to take a train a couple of hours north of London to King's Lynn to meet up with the script doctor who is currently treating my latest screenplay. I'm expecting some bookish, nerdy nebbishy nothing to pick me up at the train station, but instead am greeted by a rather attractive, well-built fellow in tight trousers and an open shirt that allows occasional glimpses of a heart tattoo above his heart. He looks very much like the "I" ofWithnail and I . He drives me in my delirium 16 miles into the country to his rustic farmhouse where he lives with his wife and child. We discuss the script at length over tea before driving over to pick up his cute blond mop-topped son at the local nursery school. He drops me back at the train station and before I know it I'm back in my tiny hotel room, the whole experience registering only as a dream.
After a couple of days of feverish tossing and turning in front of the colour television, I have to crawl out of bed for some media appearances. Donning dark glasses and a black baseball cap - my new found, celebrity-at-the-airport look - I install myself in the hotel bar for some print interviews, then drag my weary carcass over to a local television station for a spot. The TV people want to do an on the street number, which I'm not really up to, but consent to anyway. Londoners get very cranky when they see someone being interviewed on the street - "Who is 'e then?," they ask derisively, or "You better not be getting me on telly" - so it's a bit unnerving.
On one of my nights off my photog friend Johnny Volcano takes me to see an amazing Japanese band called Thee Michelle Gun Elephant, so named because that's what the members of the band thought they heard when they first became aware of the Damned's "Machine Gun Etiquette." Attention local club promoters: these four cute Japanese rock'n'rollers blew the roof of the club I saw them at in Islington. The Japanese can always eventually do everything better than anyone else in the world, it just takes them a little longer to figure it out sometimes, that's all.
The rest of the time I spend with my friend Brook from San Francisco who has been living in London for the past few months with his cute, surly little skinny blond 17-year-old boyfriend. (Brook is a self-confessed chicken hawk.) We loll around together at the Werner Panton show at the Design Museum, and check out some of the Matador bands playing all weekend at U.L.U. Brook is one of my friends who seems like he should be a celebrity but isn't; he's been propositioned by almost every member of the Velvet Mafia you can think of, and turned them all down. He's got scruples.
Finally the premier screening of Skin Flick goes down like a swallow of broccoli-flavoured cum at the National Film Theatre, co-sponsored by the British Film Institute. Three to four hundred people show up for the event, which is being bravely if somewhat nervously presented by Millivres, my UK distributor. After the screening the NFT has set up a video camera to record the discussion of the film. For my first question, a black man gets up at the back of the theatre and offers, "I haven't seen any of your other films, but I'd just like to say that I think you're a racist." Later I am told that this gentleman had walked out halfway through the movie and returned to make this statement, but never mind. I ask him why he thinks this is so, and he replies, "I don't talk to racists" and walks out of the theatre. I knew the shtick was eventually destined to hit the fan-base, and here it was. After a little shaky recovery, the discussion of the film proceeded for the next hour and although some others were equally offended, they did at least stick around to civilly debate the issues.
The following night Brook and I go to meet my parents at a hotel not far from my own. My parents have never flown in a jet airliner before, let alone overseas, so they finally got up the gumption to take a small vacation to Scotland and England. Strangely, by complete coincidence, they left for Scotland on the exact same day as I did, and are to return to Canada on the same day as me. It's strange to be sharing a pint with my Waltons-esque parents in a foreign country. Fortunately they were unaware of the previous night's entertainment at the NFT.
After returning to Canada, I hear that London's premier black newspaper, The Voice , has denounced my movie as racist under the headline "Sick Gang Bang Fantasy." Although they apparently haven't seen the movie yet, they plan to picket the opening at the Institute of Contemporary Art. The anti-Nazi league condemned the movie at first, but after seeing it revised their opinion. Stay tuned for more.