I don’t care who knows it: I love arte, the French/German television channel. It’s the most unpredictable, adventurous, uncensored television channel any human will ever see.
Switch it on, and you might see anything from a 2-hour performance by a Taiwanese dance company to a documentary about salt caravans to a docu-soap about French girls auditioning for a job at a cabaret to a performance of Pierrot Lunaire to an interview with Emanuel Levinas to a debate on the French headscarf ban to a feature on Slinkachu, an artist who attaches tiny figurines like Drain Guy to the streets of London.
What do I see last night? Fucking Sheffield. That’s name of the film: Fucking Sheffield, a documentary by Kim Flitcroft about the crumbling South Yorkshire town of Sheffield and its least upwardly-mobile inhabitants:
Cassi is a Lap Dancer at the Blue Minx Gentlemans Club, but her dancing days are numbered. Cassi wants to be a singer. Mick is a junkie who has lost everything to his heroin habit, everything except his beloved Vespa scooter. Stevlor is a photographer on a mission to prove that Sheffield is filled with beautiful girls. Glen returns home to Sheffield after ten years in life’s darkest places. There isn’t a bridge that Glen hasn’t burnt. With humour and tenderness the film follows these four characters as they face their crises and chase their dreams.
The only thing more brilliant than this documentary was the fact that it had German subtitles. I could barely understand a fookin’ syllable any of these people said, and I’m a native speaker. Where they found a German who could understand South Yorkshirese — often being slurred by drunks or junkies — is beyond me. Maybe the subtitler just guessed half the time; I certainly wouldn’t know how to double-check a translation of "Fim ye minge doon at the nairgle poontray fer me vespa, since ye’s got layens on the tiebee, ye fuck."
In Fucking Sheffield (perhaps the name comes from the fact that "fuck" or a permutation thereof is said at least fucking twice in every fucking sentence every fucker in Sheffield fucking says), Flitcroft films these friendly, funny, fuck-ups being themselves, with seemingly total access. No dopey commentary or voice-over.
All of the characters were interesting, though you wouldn’t necessarily want them living next fucking door:
Cassi was actually kind of sweet, a talented stripper and not a half-bad singer, even though she drank a bit too much for a woman who was 2 months pregnant at the time of filming.
Stevlor the photographer lured fresh-faced Sheffield Roses to his council flat and took quasi-artsy nude pics of them. My favorite prop was slices of bread with holes cut out of the center to accommodate one model’s perky, pierced nipples. At the end of the photo session, Stevlor asked her whether she’d like to take the bread home; "No, me boyfriend’s allairjick te yaste." Stevlor had books of his photos printed privately and smuggled them into bookstores, where they all sold despite having no bar-code or price on them.
Glen the ex-junkie tried to get a job in a porno video shop, but apparently lacked persuasive dildo-marketing capabilities. He ends up doing very hard landscaping work, and very hard drinking afterward. He has two children, but isn’t allowed to see them anymore. Still carries pictures of them in his wallet, though.
Mick the not-so-ex-junkie was constantly roving around Sheffield on the hustle; he reminded me of Johnny Boy in Mean Streets, except less psychotic. You feel a sense of relief when he finally gets accepted to the methadone clinic. It’s too late for his teeth, though — because junkies can’t feel pain, they don’t know when they have a toothache and their teeth go all rotten. Mick gets three of them yanked out of his mouth in the dentists’ office.
Just one of the many parts of Fucking Sheffield that you want to avert your eyes from but somehow can’t. An intense, human, intermittently howlingly funny film, and yet another splendid choice by arte.