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Low Culture Essay: The lingering presence of Christiane F, by Christiana Spens

In this month's Low Culture Essay, Chritiana Spens looks to Berlin and Christiane F, the cult film of heroin addiction and sickness, and how it haunted her own life

I remember first finding a DVD of Christiane F. in Fopp in St. Andrews when I was about fourteen, and because the label covered the last two letters of the title, I thought, "A film with my name in it! And she looks like me too!" (Christiana was not a common name in Fife, Scotland, so it was rare to see my name anywhere). Anyway, I turned it over to read the blurb: 

“13-year old Christiane F. lives with her mother in a high-rise estate in Berlin. To get away from family troubles, she goes out with friends to the Sound, listening to David Bowie and experimenting with acid and hash. But then she switches to hard drugs and gets addicted to heroin, eventually turning to prostitution to afford her habit.”

I felt a little disheartened by Christiane's fate, and yet of course I wanted to watch it, too. I was drawn not only by the strange resemblance, but by the general, melancholic aesthetic, and the sense of danger. Christiane looked like me but she was doing things she shouldn’t be doing; she looked and acted how I felt and wanted to but could not. She represented a sad kind of freedom. 

It is a grim film, though. After a Bowie concert, Christiane starts taking heroin, partly to be closer to her new boyfriend, with whom she is infatuated. They both become addicted, and quickly the glamour of Sound, the club they go to, and the music all fades away to the dissolution of dependency. They both resort to prostitution to pay for their drugs. They try and fail to go cold turkey, shivering together. Their friends start dying around them; one girl’s face is in the papers as the epidemic of addiction, and a particularly bad batch of heroin, becomes a news story. This is the panic that led, presumably, to Christiane F. being approached to tell her story in a memoir, which was then adapted to screen. 

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