Thursday, July 27, 2006

Karen Young was 25 when she made her debut as a rape victim whose first step toward revenge is to learn to shoot. The movie was Handgun, from 1983, and you'd be forgiven for thinking this was some salacious exploitation flick. But the writer-director Tony Garnett is no sensationalist; he started out producing some abrasive British TV and film work, including Ken Loach's Kes and The Big Flame (both 1969) and Family Life (1971), and Mike Leigh's Hard Labour (1973; the one in which Ben Kingsley has a bit-part as a cabbie who arranges abortions).

I don't know much about his career, apart from that he was later executive producer on the superb mid-1990s BBC2 series This Life, about which I will not hear a disparaging word said. (This may be due to guilt. I had to review the opening episode for a national newspaper, and found it all rather irritating and mannered. Which I suppose it was. But it picked up momentum pretty quickly, and I still find myself wondering what Warren, Anna, Miles, Ferdy etc are up to. But not Egg. Oh, no. I could never stand Egg.)

Aaaaanyway. Garnett. He made Handgun, which is an exceptional, tough little picture that invests a B-movie format with the kind of reasoning, passion and detailed characterisation that you would expect from someone who was there stoking the furnace of British drama at its peak.

And that's when I fell for Karen Young. There was something a bit impish and (tom)boyish about her; more importantly, she was delicate but very cerebral - she seemed alive to every possible choice and interpretation open to her. You can still see that in her recent work. She didn't go on to get great film offers. Look, she has Jaws - The Revenge on her CV, which no one deserves. Though she did appear in The Boy Who Cried Bitch, which has now overtaken A Town Called Bastard (a 1971 western aka A Town Called Hell) as my all-time favourite film title. There really isn't enough cussing in titles. It was nice that Sammy and Rosie Get Laid was going to be called The Fuck, but for maximum points that title needed to make it onto cinema marquees.

Recently there's been a bit of a Karen Young revival. She's back in paid employment, which is good news for all of us. The first sign was when she played FBI agent Robyn Sanseverino, assigned to Adriana in The Sopranos a few seasons back. Originally the character was played by Fairuza Balk (who started out brilliantly as Dorothy in the twisted Return To Oz in 1983, but has since become a rent-a-kook).

Young stepped in after, I think, one episode. What a character she played. Robyn was petite but hard as nails in that grey suit, hair scraped back, everything about her clipped and crisp and classy - a younger sister, perhaps, to Lilith Crane, ex-wife of Frasier.

Robyn would just appear out of nowhere and jab at Adriana with her threats and insinuations, always delivered in the slightly wheedling voice of someone who's on at you to keep up your car repayments. The turning point for me was when we saw her in that brief FBI pow-wow during which she mimicked mercilessly Adriana's whiny self-deluding excuses. That's when you saw her sharp little claws spring into action. It was the shortest of scenes, but long enough for Young/Robyn to draw blood. I'm praying that she'll turn up somewhere in the new season, even though [SPOILER] her previous responsibilities have now come to an end.

Young was also outstanding recently in Laurent Cantet's Heading South, as a divorcee who has come to Haiti to find the teenage gigolo with whom she had sex three years earlier. She has some crackling scenes with Charlotte Rampling, who is also smitten with the same lad; they keep the film alive whenever it sinks too far into its own gloominess. Watch Young in the scene where she dances with a child - who will, inevitably, become a gigolo himself in five or six years' time - and then realises what she's doing, and jolts out of the embrace as though waking herself from a terrible dream.

David Cronenberg's Crash is on TV as I write. I love Howard Shore's score - so spare and flinty, but with something bittersweet about it too. Exactly ten years ago I was sent to Paris to see the film (it was out there in July 1996, but wouldn't be screened in Britain until a year later) in preparation for an interview with Cronenberg.

Crash is bound up with my memories of that trip. Hitting the hotel in the afternoon (the cheap one right opposite Gare du Nord, where everyone goes who hasn't booked in advance), having incredible sex with my new girlfriend, then drifting off into the evening to see the movie, followed by collapsing in a drunken heap on a patch of grass at the end of the Champs Elysees before being dragged into a cab. Then, the next morning, more sex, after which I bounded out of bed like a young gazelle and promptly cut my head open on the window's metal handle. Cue sniggering ambulancemen crowding into our sperm-and-sweat-smelling room, embarrassing trip to the hospital and eight staples in my head. It could almost have been a scene from Crash, if only I'd garnered some carnal pleasure from the accident itself.

As soon as I reached Waterloo, I took some photo booth pictures of my injuries. And you know that if I can possibly upload those snaps onto this blog, I will.


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