the future terrifies me/I often wonder howmuch longer I must endure myself/I havechewed on this, steadily, without pause, and now my jaw is tired/cecilytoldme that her ex-partner tried to sell her for a line of cocaine/I’ve been sifting through ashes/I terrifymyself/I care but I show it in the wrong way/I’m awful, cecily, but I would pay any price/Ifonly I could endure happily, and not in this passive aggressive manner/I’m going grey/already I am going grey/I gaze into the mirror and the white hair gestures to me offensively/I’ve been sifting through ashes for too long/and all I have done is make my hands dirty/there was a story recently in the news of a girl who jumped off the balcony in a coffee shop/the call of the void/I don’t know if she died/but it’s not important/I endure nevertheless/she had asked for five pounds from her father, for a mocha, which had surprised him, because of the calories/kelly has a scar on her back/she won’t talk about it/she’ll letyoufuck her from behind onlyif you don’t ask about the scar/kellyis not for sale/although I would pay any price, for her and for the girl in the coffee shop/for cecily too of course/the coffee shop girl had anorexia/has it, maybe, I don’t know/the call of the word/I did not set out to write like this, but I am not capable of more/I don’t feel capable of this either/the void calls me/the french call it l’appel du vide/I often think about having the phrase tattooed on my neck/the more I covermyself in tattoos, the more my options diminish/it is only recently that I have realised that this is deliberate/I am sabotaging myself/I am painting myself into a corner/in Berlin I met erin/blonde, beautiful and broken jawed/at the end ofthe night wewalked out of the cocktailbar without paying for our drinks/my hands have turned grey/I’m frightened of spiders but I can no longer kill them/when I was younger I convinced myself that the way to deal with my fear was to hate, not to love/but now I can’t bear the brown smear, the twitching leg stuck to the wall/we went back to her place/she told me that this had been her plan from the beginning/if you weren’t awful, she said/I once wrote book reviews/butnow I sit in my room, cat-eyeing the dark corners of my life/letitia took an overdose/when she woke up in the hospital she begged her mother to let her die/the darkness swells and spreads/I’ve tried to read/watching her feet falling through the glass/erin was happy that she could give head again/when I was a child my hair was white/my father collapsed with kidney failure/he was in a coma for weeks/my mother called me when she found him covered in shit/she wanted me to come over and help clean him up/she was too embarrassed to have the ambulance people in the house while there was shit everywhere/she would rather, it seemed, my father have died/sometimes, when I close my eyes, I see kelly’s arched back/the twitching leg, the shit-covered sheets/my brother wrote the word fuck in dust on the coffee table/what I feel is terrifying/in Harajuku I collapsed/and ever since I have experienced a falling sensation in my head/falling, feet first, through the glass/I tell, and re-tell, these stories, because it’s the only way I can make my experience seem real/repeating these stories until they are tight and entertaining and believable/








I have been sifting through ashes for too long/and all I have done is make my hands dirty



I have been sifting through ashes for too long/and all I have done is make my hands dirty



I don’t usually write about art; I don’t consider myself qualified, to be honest. Lacking any great practical ability myself, or any serious technical background, the most I can manage is to suggest, is to point and say ‘look at that, isn’t it amazing?’ Recently, however, I have been thinking a lot about a specific painting, one that is well known, but isn’t especially famous [if that makes sense – my friend, who takes an interest in art wasn’t aware of it], which is Ivan the Terrible and his Son Ivan by Ilya Repin. The painting itself is below.


What it depicts is the aftermath of the murder of the younger Ivan by his father. I’m no expert on Russian history, but apparently Ivan Vasilevich [Ivan the Terrible] was a complex figure. He was responsible for overseeing the conquest of numerous countries and creating a kind of multi-ethnic Russian superpower; he was, it is said, a devout man, yet also prone to violent outbursts of temper. One such outburst led to him beating his pregnant daughter-in-law, causing her to lose the child. His son confronted his father, and in another outburst was struck and killed.

Obviously, you can make your own minds up about Repin’s work. It may touch you, or it may not, of course. Unfortunately, I do not have the ability to force people to feel certain things. For me, however, it is the most extraordinary painting. What strikes me most of all, and I’m sure I am not alone in this, is Ivan Vasilevich’s eyes. I have never seen – in art or in real life – a more powerful representation of terror and grief.

Ivan_the_Terrible_&_son_-_detail (1)

If one came to the painting without knowing what inspired it one would perhaps immediately think that the Tsar had found his son in this state, but closer inspection tells a different story, because there is guilt in that expression too. In The Idiot Dostoevsky wrote a passage about capital punishment, and the horror experienced by those who know their final moment is upon them; he meant specifically the moment when death is not days away but is about to happen, is unavoidable. It is, he said, the worst kind of psychic pain, and I agree with him. To have been responsible for the loss of a loved one is, I would say, second only, in intensity of feeling, to that experience. Unlike that experience, however, one must live with the pain. How do you do that? It is incomprehensible.

What have I done! We have all said that to ourselves, we have all felt the panic of having done something that can then not be undone or changed, which cannot cease to be. The anguish of actuality, or of a new reality. I have felt that many, many times. I remember some years ago cheating on a girlfriend, one whom I wasn’t even particularly serious about, and when I woke up in the morning I experienced a suffocating sensation of newness, of life now being stained in such a way so as I could not rub it out. It’s not the same thing, of course, it’s not as brutal, as paralysing as what Ivan is feeling in the painting, but it gives me some idea of what is going on in his mind.

The other notable thing about the painting is the expression of the son. He, although the wronged party, is calm, he is away, has been released. It is the guilty one who must live and pay. Looking at Ivan the Terrible and His Son is, for me, a kind of existential confrontation; one is forced to confront human weakness, in so many of its forms.


I’m fully aware that my audience, what little audience I have, is probably not teeming with hip hop fans. For most people, and certainly for most book lovers, serious literature and hip hop do not sit comfortably beside each other. I have spent long enough trying to convince the naysayers that rap music, good rap music, ought to interest anyone with a love of language, with so little success that I won’t bother to reiterate those arguments here. All I can say, really, is that hip hop is a big passion of mine. It moves me [maybe being a working class kid has something to do with that] and intellectually engages me in profound ways.

This is not a definitive list [there are plenty of great songs missing], and it isn’t meant to be a rundown of the most important hip hop tracks [how could it be with no Rakim or NWA or Wu Tang?]. My intention is simply to showcase some of my favourites, and to hopefully introduce the receptive few to one or two that they may not have heard before.

1. Hip Hop by Mos Def

Mos Def’s ode to the genre is probably a great place to start.

2. NY State of Mind by Nas

Nas’ Illmatic is my favourite album. This is the opening track [if you ignore the skit that precedes it]. Some have interpreted the line “with the pen I’m extreme” as an admission that Nas, to paraphrase Jay-Z, scribbled in his notepad and invented his life. Being ‘for real’ is bafflingly important to many artists and fans of the genre. I would suggest having an imagination is a much greater boast.

3. It’s All Real by Pitch Black

The words ‘Produced by DJ Premier’ are pretty much a guarantee of quality.

4. The Survival of the Fittest by Mobb Deep

Gangster rap. Or whatever you want to call it. Drug dealing, guns, smoking dope, and murder. All of those are present in Mobb Deep’s lyrics. However, I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. There is something cinematic about the best gangster rap, something appealingly visual. Take these lines from Shook Ones II:

Your crew is featherweight
My gunshots’ll make you levitate
I’m only nineteen but my mind is old
And when the things get for real my warm heart turns cold

My gunshots will make you levitate? Great image.

I chose this track, however, because of Havoc’s weird, minimal production. Gives me chills.

5. Let Me Ride by Dr Dre

Lyrically many of Dre’s records are appalling. Indeed, some of them are simply indefensible. Musically, however, he is a genius. His G-Funk era work is still unsurpassed.

6. The Stakes Is High by De La Soul

Almost the antithesis of Dre. Produced by J DIlla, this is my favourite hip hop track. My favourite lyrics too:

I’m sick of bitches shakin’ asses
I’m sick of talkin’ about blunts,
Sick of Versace glasses,
Sick of slang,
Sick of half-ass awards shows,
Sick of name brand clothes.
Sick of R&B bitches over bullshit tracks,
Cocaine and crack
Which brings sickness to blacks,
Sick of swoll’ head rappers
With their sicker-than raps
Clappers and gats
Makin’ the whole sick world collapse

7. SpottieOttieDopaliscious by Outkast

Less G-Funk and more, um, just plain funk. This isn’t really a hip hop track, but it’s too great to exclude.

8. Ebonics by Big L

Big L gives us a rundown of slang terminology.

If you 730, that means you crazy
Hit me on the hip means page me
Angel dust is sherm, if you got AIDS, you got the germ
If a chick gave you a disease, then you got burned
Max mean to relax, guns and pistols is gats
Condoms is hats, critters is cracks
The food you eat is your grub
A victim’s a mark
A sweat box is a small club, your tick is your heart
Your apartment is your pad
Your old man is your dad
The studio is the lab and heated is mad

9. Liquid Swords by GZA

GZA has better metaphors and similes than 90% of novelists. I’m serious.

“I flow like the blood on a murder scene.”

“Your lyrics are weak like clock radio speakers.”

10. They Reminisce Over You by Pete Rock & CL Smooth

Like DJ Premier and Dre, Pete Rock is one of the truly great hip hop producers.

11. Check The Rhime by Tribe Called Quest

This narrowly beat out Award Tour.

12. Check Yo Self [Original] by Ice Cube

Every hip hop fan has heard the remix, which samples Grandmaster Flash, but the original is far superior.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

13. Fasers by King Geedorah

King Geedorah is Viktor Vaughan who is actually MF Doom. Doom is a metal-mask wearing MC who is of the most inventive lyricists in hip hop history.

14. Things Done Changed by Notorious BIG

It took me ages to get into Biggie. I just could not let his friendship with Puff Daddy slide. I mean, fucking Puff Daddy? Anyway, eventually I got over it. Things Done Changed isn’t glamorising violence, it is more of a lament.

Back in the days, our parents used to take care of us
Look at em now, they even fuckin scared of us

I find that oddly moving.

15. Fight The Power by Public Enemy

This runs The Stakes Is High real close as my favourite song. With kids in America being gunned down by a police force that appears to believe that it can murder black people with impunity this kind of music is more necessary than ever.

16. Don’t Feel Right by The Roots

Sex, drugs, murder, politics and religion
Forms of hustlin’, watch who you put all your trust in

For me, hip hop is the only form of music that consistently has something meaningful to say. People can listen to their guitar bands who sing about how some girl with butterfly hairclips ditched them at the local indie disco, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t speak to me.

17. I Used To Love H.E.R. by Common

We’ll end where we began, with another ode to hip hop, although this one is not celebratory, but, rather, reflects on how the genre has changed for the worse.


Friday 28th November 2014. I am in the pub and Little Red Corvette comes on. One of the guys, an older guy, who is at my table casually says, “no one likes Prince these days.” And immediately I’m like, “what? That’s bollocks. I love Prince!” I look at my friend, who is sitting next to me, and silently plead for some kind of moral support. He shrugs. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard any Prince,” he says. Obviously this is an outrage. I try to explain that Prince is massively influential, that a lot of modern r’n’b is indebted to him to the point of ripping him off. I cite Drake as an example, and The-Dream. I talk about the great albums, Purple Rain and Sign O’ the Times and Parade. And, I want to talk about another…but…I’m a bit drunk… the name escapes me…it has a black and white cover…I’m pretty sure Prince is in his pants…all the songs are about fucking…

…I never did remember the name, at least not until I was walking home. Then, with the wind and cold aggressively slapping my face, the title of the record hit me me too. Dirty Mind. It’s called Dirty Mind. And it’s brilliant.

The year 1980 must have been a weird, exciting time for music. Punk had eaten itself, giving way to post-punk, which itself was starting to give way to the new romantic movement. Prince straddled all of those genres. When I first heard Dirty Mind I was completely baffled by it, much like I was with another great album released that same year, Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. I bought both around a similar time, when I was about nineteen. This is decades after their release, of course. By that time, both were established mainstream artists [even though Talking Heads had long since disbanded], and yet those two albums seemed so inexplicably odd to me. Dirty Mind, especially. I listened to underground hip-hop, and Japanese hardcore, and weird electronica, without batting an eyelid, and yet Prince’s brittle new wave-y funk was a problem. I couldn’t decide whether I liked it. So I kept playing it, and eventually it started to make sense.

The album kicks off with the title track, which, with its stabbing keyboard riff, sounds like eighties work-out music. I’m not kidding. It puts me in mind of people in spandex and headbands, which is probably what Prince was wearing in the video. The vocal, a high falsetto that sounds like a backed-up Mickey Mouse, is even weirder. The second track, When You Were Mine, is, I think, something of a fan favourite. Here, Prince drops the funk that dominates most of the record in favour of out-and-out pop; it sounds, to my ears, like XTC or, closer to home, Manic Monday, the song he wrote for the Bangles. Yet, lyrically it is typically subversive, with Prince throwing out lines like “when you were mine, I let you wear all my clothes,” which sounds somehow simultaneously innocuous and, well, dirty, not only because of the suggestion that this woman was wearing her man’s clothes as part of some kinky sex game, but also because of the probability that she lets him wear all her clothes too [I mean, it’s only fair].

While Prince and his music are both often described as overtly sexual or sex-obsessed, Dirty Mind is the only one of his albums that probably deserves that description; it is, in fact, easily his most consistently filthy record. I guess only you know whether that is likely to be problematic for you. Some people find it discomforting and some just plain silly. I, however, unashamedly love this kind of thing. Indeed, my love for it is at such a pitch that I used to write my own parody tracks, my own odes to carnality, with an ex-girlfriend of mine; songs called things like Sex Graze and [Hit It] Like a Great White Shark. Unfortunately, I no longer have copies of them, so I cannot share them with you. Anyway, Dirty Mind includes a song called Head, which I guess is pretty self-explanatory, and another, Sister, which is, er, about incest. No really, it is. However, the highlight of the whole record, and one of my favourite Prince tracks, is Uptown. It’s the one song on the album, for me, where the lyrics and the music are in perfect sync; indeed, I am going to conclude this review with some lines from it…

She saw me walking down the streets
Of your fine city
It kinda turned me on when she looked at me
And said, “C’mere”
Now I don’t usually talk to strangers
But she looked so pretty
What can I lose,
If I, uh, just give her a little ear?
“What’s up little girl?”
“I ain’t got time to play.”
Baby didn’t say too much
She said, “Are you gay?”
Kinda took me by suprise
I didn’t know what to do
I just looked her in her eyes
And I said, “No, are you?”



I must confess, I am no blues expert. Nor am I a fan of all branches of the genre. Chicago blues, for example, I can live without. It is only really acoustic blues that interests me, and even a big chunk of all that I find pretty tedious. If I was to try and nail down the kind of blues I really like I would perhaps call it Delta Blues, but, really, I don’t know what I am talking about. Southern Blues? Country Blues? Yeah, maybe. I was watching a documentary the other day and Chuck D, the rapper from Public Enemy, spoke about the wailing of cats at night; they don’t do it, he said, consciously, there is no decision involved, they simply have to, they feel compelled to. It struck me immediately that that is what I look for in the blues, that is what I feel drawn to; it is the sound of someone compelled to howl into the void.

1. Nobody’s Fault but Mine by Blind Willie Johnson

The story goes that young Willie was blinded by his stepmother, who threw lye in his face, which just goes to show that evil stepmothers are not simply the stuff of fairytales. Nobody’s Fault but Mine is equal parts terrifying and uplifting.

2. Spike Driver Blues by Mississippi John Hurt

Nothing to do with the academy award nominated luvvie English actor. Proof that the blues can be pretty.

3. Preachin’ Blues [Up Jumped the Devil] by Robert Johnson

Probably the most well-known name on this list. Robert Johnson is, of course, said to have sold his soul to the devil in return for his ability to play the guitar. In reality, his talent was probably the product of long dextrous fingers and practice, but that doesn’t sound half as romantic.

4. A Spoonful Blues by Charley Patton

Would you kill a man? [Yes I would, you know I’d kill him] just ’bout a…

A song about either sex or drugs. Or both, maybe. Indeed, in the youtube comments section for this song some wag suggests that vaginal openings [his phrase, not mine] look like spoons. Voila. Mind blown. In any case, whatever it is, Charley would do anything for it.

5. Death Letter by Son House

I remember hearing someone a while ago say that the blues isn’t only about agony and hardship, but that it is equally about humour. In fact, the structure of blues songs, he said, is like a joke, with obvious punchlines. I think you can see something of that in Death Letter.

Son House sets up the joke with this:

I got a letter this mornin, how do you reckon it read?

Then he delivers the punchline:

It said, “Hurry, hurry, the gal you love is dead.”

And, yes, you could say that is grim, but it is funny too. It is funny because it’s, like, pretty much the fucking worst news you could get in a letter.

6. Statesboro Blues by Blind Willie McTell

Let’s face it any bluesman whose name begins with the descriptor ‘blind’ is going to be great. It’s just one of the laws of the universe. McTell sings in a nasally whine reminiscent of Bob Dylan; and the tune is a jaunty thing, meaning that lines like ‘My mama died and left me reckless/My daddy died and left me wild, wild, wild’ take on something of a celebratory flavour.

7. Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues by Skip James

As far as I am aware a killing floor is the place where livestock is butchered in a slaughterhouse; so the killing floor, metaphorically speaking, i.e. in terms of this song, would be a bad place. I guess. Of course, Skip may simply have worked in a slaughterhouse.

8. Fixin to Die Blues by Bukka White

I’m lookin’ funny in my eyes and I believe I’m fixin’ to die, believe I’m fixin’ to die
I’m lookin’ funny in my eyes and I believe I’m fixin’ to die
I know I was born to die but I hate to leave my children cryin’

Yep. Not a lot you can say about that.

9. Make me a Pallet on the Floor by Willie Brown

Noted more as a accompanist to Son House than a soloist. I love his voice.

10. Catfish Blues by Robert Petway

Apparently very little is known about Petway. There is only one photo available of him and there is no record of his death. We have this song though; that’s enough.

11. Going Down to the River by Mississippi Fred McDowell

There seems to be two versions of this song. One slower and entirely acoustic, and this one. Makes me want to shoot alligators.

12. Canned Heat Blues by Tommy Johnson

With his staggeringly weird falsetto, Johnson sounds like some kind of Morrissey sings the blues novelty act. Canned Heat Blues is about the practice of imbibing a potent and, I would imagine, lethal alcoholic drink made from Sterno. According to wiki: it is said to have become popular during the Great Depression in hobo camps, or “jungles”, when the Sterno would be squeezed through cheesecloth or a sock and the resulting liquid mixed with fruit juice to make “jungle juice” or “squeeze.”


Welcome to my new mixtape feature, where I will be compiling and posting themed playlists. Got no woman? No dog? No central heating? Then this is the playlist for you. It is not, nor is meant to be, comprehensive, but here are 17 songs to depress the living fuck out of you this winter.

1. I am the Cosmos by Chris Bell

“Every night I tell myself I am the cosmos,” gulps Bell, in a desperate [and futile] attempt to convince himself of his own importance. This is, for me, a genuine contender for the most miserable song of all time. Bell and his bandmates sound like they are on the brink of collapse; the Beatles-like melody is stripped of all its potential sparkle and effervescence by a performance so sluggish that even Sloths would roll their eyes at it.

2. Superstar by The Carpenters

The Carpenters made a lot of eerily sad music but Superstar is the saddest. It is a song that is either about being a discarded groupie or, and this is my preferred interpretation, about obsessive fandom and being in love with someone who doesn’t even know you exist. The inaccessibility makes the longing even more acute…

Long ago, and, oh, so far away
I fell in love with you before the second show
Your guitar, it sounds so sweet and clear
But you’re not really here, it’s just the radio

3. On Your Own Again by Scott Walker

“You’re on your own again,” Scott whimpers, and it’s the again that is the real killer. He hasn’t just been forsaken once, this has happened before. And, yeah, it’ll probably keep happening.

4. All Your Women Things by Smog

Poor Bill Callahan has been abandoned and all she has left him is her frilly underwear, out of which he makes a doll…y’know, as a replacement. Aw, come on, we’ve all done it.

5. Stay With Me by Lorraine Ellison

Listen to that vocal, that is a woman on the edge. She’s not asking you to stay, she is tearing at her face and pleading with you.

6. Flirted With You All My Life by Vic Chesnutt

Vic wrote a song telling death to fuck off. Then killed himself.

7. Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinead O’Connor

A song so sad that it reduced Sinead to tears in the video. She’s inconsolable, counting the days and hours since her lover left. Eventually she goes to the doctor, who tells her she “better try to have fun,” and while that is good advice I would suggest that really he ought to have been prescribing some heavy-duty anti-depressants.

8. Tired Eyes by Neil Young

If there’s a better opening line in musical history than “well, he shot four men in a cocaine deal” I haven’t heard it. A song about grief, and death, and the people who simply get lost. Throughout Neil sounds wrecked, and the band don’t exactly play like they are sober either.

9. Bright Eyes by Art Garfunkel

Rabbits. Dead ones.

10. Remember (Walking In The Sand) by The Shangri Las

So, like, get this, he made all kinds of promises to me and then he goes overseas and meets some girl and so, like, sends this letter breaking it off with me. What a douche.

11. Only The Lonely by Frank Sinatra

A song to drink and smoke and weep to.

12. Lord I Just Can’t Keep From Crying by Blind Willie Johnson

Quite frankly, this doesn’t make me sad, it terrifies me.

13. Ne Me Quitte Pas by Jacques Brel

Extreme misery. In French.

14. No Easy Way Down by Dusty Springfield

Saturday afternoon hangover music. Sad but strangely soothing.

15. Bring Me My Shotgun by Lighnin’ Hopkins

I don’t think you wanna know why he wants that shotgun, folks.

16. Cryin’ In The Streets by George Perkins 

One of my favourite songs. Apparently it is about Martin Luther King’s funeral; that it reduces me, a man who was not even a gleam in his mother’s eye at the time of King’s death, to a gibbering wreck is proof that no matter how specific one’s words or intentions are a feeling is universal.

17. One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong by Leonard Cohen

This song so upsets Old Laughing Len that he starts wailing uncontrollably towards the end.


I think I have mentioned before that I once made an ex-girlfriend of mine turn off The Killer Inside Me. It may seem overly squeamish to some, or overly touchy, and I do appear to be in a minority with this, but I have absolutely no desire to watch a woman being beaten to death. I grew up around that stuff; I don’t want to see it re-enacted for my entertainment. I get nothing out of it; I worry about the people who do. Genuinely, I do. I once had a discussion with a friend of mine about why he watches so many torture porn movies [by which I mean things like Hostel, The Human Centipede etc]. I said to him that what he is seeing must involve some level of enjoyment or pleasure, and he denied that. Yet, it is obvious to me. If someone voluntarily holds their hand over a hot stove one would have to assume that they are enjoying the experience [or that they are mad], because if they were not enjoying it they would remove their hand. Likewise, there must be some accompanying pleasure for my friend when watching brutal, violent films, otherwise he would turn them off.

Anyway, bearing in mind that there is no pleasure involved for me in all that [and I am not, as far as I am aware, mad], it was perhaps a silly idea to put on William Friedkin’s Killer Joe. I was aware, after having glanced at a few reviews, that the film is meant to be violent and grim, that it involved a redneck [I hate that term, but, with the characterisation being especially unsubtle, it is appropriate] family who arrange for a hitman to take out their mother, and being unable to pay him use the young daughter/sister as collateral; and I was also aware that there was one scene in particular that ‘shocked’ critics and audiences, so I ought to have known better. The thing is, I love the Southern American accent; I could listen to it for hours. I am, then, drawn to anything that is set, like Killer Joe is, in Texas. I also, at least partly for the accent, have some kind of weird borderline homoerotic crush on Matthew McConaughey, the star of the film. So, basically, I could not resist.

And I didn’t entirely regret my decision. McConaughey is, as he always seems to be when I catch him in something, brilliant; again, maybe it is just the accent, but I find him, and found him here, enthrallingly charismatic. He brings a kind of evil, yet irresistible charm to Joe that means that the film, despite its many, serious flaws, is [almost] always watchable. It is occasionally funny too; laugh out loud funny, in fact. There is one scene, which was my favourite, where Joe is conversing for the first time with Dotty, the young girl who he claims as payment for his services. Dotty asks him about his job as a detective and, I think, the worst thing he has seen. Joe then tells her a story about a man who, to get back at his partner, set his genitals on fire. Was he ok? Dotty asks; and Joe replies, in a wonderfully deadpan manner, No Dotty, he set his genitals on fire. I chuckled for a good thirty seconds over that.

As well as good casting, and some noteworthy performances [Gina Gershon does the best with what she was given and Juno Temple is, miraculously, kooky without being overly irritating], the direction is smart too. I’m a big, uh, fan of The Exorcist and one of the reasons for that is Friedkin’s inventiveness as a director, and he brings that same quality to parts of Killer Joe.   I thought some of scenes were particularly eye-catching, especially the moment that Chris comes face to, er, bush with his naked-from-the-waist-down stepmother. Then, as Chris enters the house, she turns around and there are bruises on her arse. I thought that whole scene, without having to vocalise it, communicated more about the nature of the family than anything related in the plot.

Unfortunately, one of the principle problems with Killer Joe is that the rest of the film lacks that kind of subtlety, particularly in regards to the central family. I am not American, I am not from Texas, and yet I find the insistence on portraying Texans et al as no-good rednecks tiresome, predictable, and borderline offensive. Killer Joe doesn’t miss a trick; there’s pretty much the full set: the dumb, permanently beer-swilling father, the hoodlum brother, the simple-minded sister and the slutty mother-in-law who wears too much make-up. Indeed, I watched the film all the time expecting, waiting for, one of either the father or brother to show an inappropriate interest in Dotty. That doesn’t happen, but incest is about the only hick stereotype the writer[s] failed to conjure up. Maybe it is just me, but I find it hard to appreciate a film whose plot I could have devised and script I could have written myself in about twenty minutes while simultaneously picking my toenails.

The lazy characterisation of the family isn’t the only issue either; as the film progresses the flaws begin to mount up. For example, the brother readily agrees to Dotty being used as a retainer by Joe when the idea is broached. Yet, later in the film we are meant to buy that he loves his sister so much that he can’t bear to allow the situation to continue. So, like, what? Are a couple of fucks ok, but long term it’s a big no-no? What kind of ethics are those? It just made no sense. The twist, the double-cross, is thoroughly meh too. It’s as though the mental energies of all involved in the script went into the retainer idea [and it’s a good idea, at least] and everything else was tossed off with a shrug and a yawn.

And so I come to the biggest concern. No review of this film could fail to mention the fried chicken scene. It is so odd and so disturbing that I decided to actually post the scene itself, so that if you haven’t seen it you can make up your own mind. Here it is:

Now, this scene is, as far as I am concerned, pornography and that has no place in conventional cinemas. Of course, it’s a drumstick and not a cock, but that doesn’t mean that it cannot be pornography. A quick google search threw up this definition:

printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement.

I would certainly argue that a woman simulating oral sex while sucking on a drumstick is sexual activity, and that the intention was to get people off. I absolutely believe that. There is no other worthwhile explanation. Oh look, I am sure some would claim that it is meant to be funny or whatever, but I don’t buy that. A woman being abused is not funny. Ever. Fuck that shit. Hang your head if that is your take on it. I also do not accept that it is meant to say something about Joe’s character, as though the audience has somehow managed to arrive at the conclusion of the film not knowing that he is a weird, violent, sadistic bastard. No, the only reason that the scene is in the film is to arouse you. Killer Joe, rightly or wrongly, thinks you’re the kind of person who might get off on this stuff.

But even if that was not the case, even if you could convince me that the scene has some other purpose, that would not make it ok. Not for me, not by a long shot. It would still be an excruciatingly long and drawn-out portrayal of sexual humiliation. I’m of the opinion that something like that is never justified, not in any film and not for any reason.