John Walsh: Tales of the City

How dare Hollywood not warn us about the dangers of sex with an apple pie?
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The Independent Online

A zephyr of sanity has drifted into the fetid playroom of Hollywood films. For too long, the makers of blockbuster movies have shoved their irresponsible messages of anarchy down the throats of the impressionable and now they're being called to account, in the pages of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. The Journal has published the findings of a review board whose members watched the 200 highest-grossing films to see how far they reinforced or undermined public-health campaigns for safe sex and saying No to drugs.

Hard to believe, I know, but they didn't find much evidence of birth control arrangements or information about sexually transmitted diseases. In 98 per cent of the sex scenes shown, no form of contraception was employed, not on screen anyway. When Michael Douglas got it on with Glenn Close in the lift in Fatal Attraction, at no point did he cry, "Wait! Wait! I must put on my Trojan Extra-Lube prophylactic before we go any further!"

Incredible to relate, when Sharon Stone crossed her legs while under interrogation in Basic Instinct, it did not lead to a discussion of the benefits of using a diaphragm with water-soluble cream. When the horny Jason Biggs is found by his father having penetrative sex with a fruit-and-pastry pudding in American Pie, the ensuing homily failed to deal even glancingly with the risk of Aids.

Nobody knows for sure if Bogart and Bergman actually had it off during their Paris idyll in Casablanca. We just assumed it was pretty likely. If the script-writers had been smarter, they could have incorporated a warning into the dialogue: "Here's looking at you, kid - and remember, incautious sexual behaviour can have consequences potentially damaging to your health." A bit of judicious script-editing in Gone With the Wind would have provided Clark Gable with a more pungent exit line: "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn if you have got thrush..."

The head of the committee, Hasantha Gunasekera, said film-makers should seriously consider the impact of their work on public health. Quite right, too. But I can't go along with his insistence that films should show the "negative consequences" or "damaging effects" on characters after having casual sex, smoking, getting drunk or taking recreational drugs.

Many films show the consequences of shagging, fagging, boozing and snorting - Trainspotting, The Lost Weekend, Looking for Mr Goodbar, Days of Wine and Roses, The Man with the Golden Arm - but it seems obsessive to insist that everyone should be seen to suffer from indulging in a little wickedness.

How tiresome if James Bond had to be seen waking up at 3pm, nudging Mary Goodnight by his side and saying: "God, my head is splitting due to dehydration brought on by the seven vodka martinis I inadvertently consumed last night. Got any Nurofen?"

Dr Gunasekera fails to realise the majority of human activities, from walking down the street to believing in God, can have terrible consequences; and that the risk of infection is the least you have to fear in the world of blockbuster movies - way behind being machine-gunned by Bruce Willis, eviscerated by Uma Thurman or mown down by Vin Diesel.

Like so many people in charge today, the doctor is over-cautious to an insufferable degree. I expect he'll get a furious letter from David Hockney any day now.

Cool new hangout

I visited the fantastically groovy Ice Bar in London on its opening night, and was rather impressed. Located in Heddon Street, now the trendiest hundred yards of real estate in the capital, the bar sounds like a concept aimed squarely at poseurs and serial onanists. It's a room inside a bar/restaurant called Below Zero, sealed off like a decompression chamber, where the temperature is a constant minus-5 centigrade, the bar, the walls, the shelves, the seats and indeed the glasses are all made of solid ice; where you pay £12 to go in, wear funny clothing, score a free vodka and get kicked out after 45 minutes lest you die of hypothermia.

Does that sound fun? Yes, of a Scandanavian kind. The bar is a collaboration between Absolut vodka and Ice Hotel, the famous frozen estaminet in Jukkasjarvi, north Sweden, and it will (the press material tells you cheerily) "offer visitors a chance to experience the icy cool of the Lappish winter in the centre of London throughout the year."

Just can't get enough of that Lappish winter stuff. At the venue, an Absolut hot-air balloon bobbed above the crowd, a chap with a pickaxe hacked at an ice statue and le tout Londres queued for a look at the party-in-a-fridge. Jake Arnott, the crime writer, came sensibly attired in fur-trimmed leather. Fergus Henderson from the St John restaurant stood inspecting the premises of his new rival, eyes glittering behind his granny specs.

At the allotted time (you have to book), you're helped by ice-maidens into a silver cloak lined with fur, and a cowl trimmed with ermine - an up-scale hoodie. The first slap of cold air across your cheeks is a shock, but you're soon aware that you're in here to drink, not the Absolut cocktails, but the air itself, which is spookily pure and refreshing. The décor is light-industrial-meets-Tyrolean-glacier, and the solid-ice seats have cushions to ward off haemorrhoidal commotion.

You'd probably be well advised not to lick the walls. The drinks are served in solid cuboid lumps of ice with a cigar-shaped hole in the middle, and are hell to negotiate your lips around. But it doesn't matter because of one thing. Everyone, clad in their Dr Who shiny cloaks, looks so ridiculous they're forced to talk to one another. Total strangers were soon saying "What do you look like?" to each other, and "Got a light?", and asking the barman where to put an empty glass ("Keep it as a souvenir," he said amusingly.)

We moved around slowly and glidingly, as though under water, hands splayed before us in the novelty of extreme cold. This may be the reason the Ice Bar succeeds: it gives the British punters an extreme reason to talk about the weather.

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