The Weekend's Television: Louis Theroux: The City Addicted to Crystal Meth, Sun, BBC2
Revelations: Talking to The Dead, Sun, Channel 4
Rock'n'Roll Hotel, Fri, BBC1
Monday 10 August 2009
"I'm studying to be a drug counsellor," said Diane, in Louis Theroux: the City Addicted to Crystal Meth.
She grinned a little sheepishly as she said this, the awkward fact being that Diane is also addicted to crystal meth and currently gets high around four times a day with her husband Karl. Empathising with her clients was going to be no problem. Remembering to turn up to her appointments with them might be. It has to be said that neither Diane nor Karl looked like typical meth-heads. The modest house where they lived appeared neat and clean – rather than an insanitary sty – and their relationship was clearly durable. The longest time they'd spent apart was seven-and-a-half years, the result of two inconveniently overlapping prison sentences, but incarceration aside they'd bucked the meth-head trend, which is for a trail of broken and violent relationships. They even seemed to have fairly reasonable dentition, rather than the mouthful of broken urinals that is one of the drug's gifts to its devotees. But they were both hooked, and, one sensed, not enormously interested in getting unhooked. Diane wept at the thought of her five children, all lost to her, but when asked about rehab Karl was dismissive: "Rehab only helps those who are ready to quit and if you're ready to quit you don't need rehab."
Theroux filmed his documentary in Fresno – a Californian city which is the crystal-meth capital of the United States – and it was a bleak landscape he captured: flat agricultural land filled with strip malls and paste-board houses and populated (from this partial perspective) by grievously damaged people who were doing an inordinately good job of damaging the people next in line. When Theroux visited a former dealer called Kevin, he discovered Kevin's infant children wandering round the house as his cronies got high. Shouldn't they, umm, perhaps be in bed? he asked, all trademark hesitancy. "We cain't be asleep when they're up," replied one of Kevin's friends in a "duh" tone of voice. This way, he implied, adults and infants could synchronize their crashes. Other children had survived relatively unscathed into teenagehood – if seeing your mother only on supervised visits counts as unscathed. And Theroux didn't probe to hard about the economic underpinning of a £100-dollar-a-day habit. Asked about his relationship with one of his friends, Kevin said: "Really, I'm like his manager. He gets stuff and I tell him what it's worth and help him sell it."
Theroux also visited a rehab centre where drug workers were struggling to cope with the social costs of this breakdown – a regime that seemed to consist of a lot of low-rent Jeremy Kyle sessions, in which users and relatives confronted each other in front of an audience who clapped and whooped at each positive affirmation. It didn't seem to be working very well. Senteka – who'd sworn blind that she was clean and going to stay that way – was last shown back in prison. At the film's end, Diane was still doing meth, and Karl revealed that at least one of the sources of the pain she was attempting to dull was her own childhood, when she'd been pimped out by her parents to drug dealers in return for a couple of rocks. "It look tempting, Louis, eh? It look tempting?" Kevin had asked, lighting up in front of the reporter earlier in the programme, oblivious to the fact that he had the only angle in the room from which it didn't look like hell.
Richard Alwyn, who made Revelations: Talking to the Dead, a film about a spiritualist church in east London, described himself as having what he'd thought of as a "healthy scepticism" when he began work. Not nearly healthy enough from my perspective, since it faltered in the face of a pretty underpowered lucky guess from one congregant about what his dead grandfather had been like. A healthily sceptical film about spiritualism would be very dull, since it would have to include all the errors and false starts and cul-de-sacs that mediums stumble through as they grope their way to their "astonishing" revelations about the dear departed. Still, in comparison to crystal meth this particular anodyne is relatively benign, even if it exploits similar griefs and fears, and in the end Alwyn's gentleness with his subjects came across as tender-hearted rather than dumb. I loved the headline from the Psychic News too: "Diver Claims to Have Seen Steve Irwin in Spirit Form". Wouldn't you think his spirit might prefer dry land?
Rock'n'Roll Hotel is a jolly-enough study in character, the character in question being Mark Fuller, a nightclub owner who is converting a Soho building into a boutique hotel for musos. His mobile appears to have the Carmina Burana as a ringtone, which I can't feel is the best way to ease the pressure of the fact that almost every call is more bad news.
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