The Odd Blog

And when our cubs grow / We'll show you what war is good for

Book and film recommendations

Posted by That Other Mike on 13/04/2008

From my recent reading and viewing:

Marching PowderMarching Powder, by Rusty Young, is the fascinating memoir of Thomas McFadden, a British drug smuggler locked up in a Bolivian prison after being caught trying to leave the country with a huge stash of cocaine hidden in his luggage. He was incarcerated in San Pedro prison, surely one of the strangest prisons in the world – inmates are forced to buy their cells and pay for everything they eat, the prison is full of labs turning out the purest cocaine in the world, and many inmates even have their families living inside the prison with them, the children leaving during the day to attend local schools.

This engaging and interesting book, told in the voice of McFadden, charts his story from drug smuggler to prisoner, highlighting the corruption and brutality of the Bolivian system and how intertwined it is with the international drugs trade.

The book is funny and sad in equal measure, and the details given are just so strange that I advise you to use a rubber band to secure your lower jaw to your face on the first reading – the prisoners give paid tours around the prison complex, the guards can be bribed to allow overnight visitors, the prison governor is a coke-sniffing procurer of whores who can be bought at the drop of a hat, cells are sold on the open market inside the prison for hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars, and one of the poorer inmates owns a cat which is addicted to the smoke of the raw cocaine he smokes daily.

The book ends up on a mixed note which is partly hopeful, although the suspense leading up to it leads me to think I ought not tell you what exactly happens to McFadden; let’s just say that the ending lives up to the whole tone of the book and leave it at that.

POST OFFICEPost Office, by Charles Bukowski, is the story of Henry “Hank” Chinaski (Bukowski’s alter ego) who finds himself sucked into life as a postal carrier after taking a temporary holiday relief job in order to get drinking money. He ends up becoming a permanent employee of the United States Post Office, being written up again and again, most instances to do with having ignored or thrown away the previous write-ups. He pisses off his superiors, aggravates his co-workers and engages in various terrible conversations in his head with the people on his rounds, most of whom seem to be complete morons:

Another woman stood on her porch.
“You’re late today.”
“Yes, mam.”
“Where’s the regular man today?”
“He’s dying of cancer.”
“Dying of cancer? Harold is dying of cancer?”
“That’s right,” I said.
I handed her mail to her.
“Yes, mam, that’s all I can bring you.”
I turned and walked on.
It was mmy fault that they used telephones and gas and light and bought all their things on credit. Yet when I brought them their bills they screamed at me — as if I had asked them to have a phone installed, or a $350 t.v. set sent over with no money down.”

Chinaski views them with utter contempt, and rightly so.

The book is a grim and grimy, as if covered in a thin patina of grease, yet darkly funny account of one man’s life spent bumming around by accident as a Post Office employee.

The AddictionThe Addiction, starring Lili Taylor, is something of an unconventional vampire film. Kathleen Conklin, played by Taylor, is a philosophy student at New York University. One night she is attacked by a woman who tells her to “order me to go away”. When Kathleen is unable to do so out of fright, the woman bites her on the neck and drinks her blood.

Kathleen later develops some of the characteristics of vampirism, but the film focuses more on her slide into a moral and mental pit – she starts to prey on her friends and random strangers to feed her blood lust. She finally picks the wrong person in the form of Peina, played by Christopher Walken, who has dealt with his “addiction” to blood for forty years, having starved himself the entire time. His calm and suave exterior is played in sharp contrast to Taylor’s bedraggled and stinking appearance; he then treats her as she did her victims – as a disposable resource, fit only for the blood she holds.

The end of the film is ambiguous – Kathleen is shown confronting the woman who first bit her and finally resisting her, and then walking away from a headstone with her own name on it. Whether this signifies her death or an embrace of her vampirism is unclear.

The film is clearly an allegory about drug addiction and how it can destroy lives, although it is told in so much better a way than the usual drug parable. What is interesting about The Addiction is that it shows both sides of the traditional vampire archetype –the suave, cold-blooded predator, in the form of Walken, and the stinking, decaying monster at war with herself over her guilt and blood lust, as portrayed by Taylor– and uses both of them to make points about drug addiction: some people can handle it and live normal, productive lives, but most end up destroyed by it.

6 Responses to “Book and film recommendations”

  1. The Addiction’s the one I’m thinking of, right? Shot in black and white?

    Saw it a while ago and loved/hated it. One of those films that I just couldn’t make up my mind about. Genuis, or pretentious nonsense? Probably somewhere in between.

    I must read the Bukowski book… as you know, I’ve always wanted to be a postal worker 😉

  2. Mike said

    That’s the bunny. I actually found the vampire “orgy” genuinely disturbing. It’s a film that could be tweaked a little IMO and maybe lose a little pretension, but generally it’s good.

    You could be a motorised cyborg postman…

  3. a film that could be tweaked a little IMO and maybe lose a little pretension

    Yup, I’d go along with that.

    You could be a motorised cyborg postman…

    An immortal motorised cyborg postman, thank you very much…

  4. Mike said

    You could be Davros!

  5. I’m too good-looking for Davros!

  6. Mike said

    Well, there is that. Not too hot on the looks front, him.

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