I saw The Driller Killer for the first time last night, and I've since decided that you must not form opinions, conclusions or ideas about anything before you yourself have taken the plunge. There is never any substitute for watching, reading or listening to something yourself. Of course, you can gorge yourself on images and synopses, but nothing will ever compare to that unique connection created between you and any given work of art should you ever grace it with your full and undivided attention.
I've heard it said that, when questioned by the Pythons over whether they'd actually bothered to watch The Life of Brian, those self-righteous moral guardians replied along the lines of “You don't have to see a pigsty to know that it stinks”.
But this isn't about close-mindedness. It's about the discrepancy between perception and reality, and it happens to me all the time. I'm not in the habit of forming opinions in advance of experience, but I can't help but harbour ideas about things. And, in my defence, The Driller Killer does itself no favours.
For a start, there's the name. And the poster:
And the tagline: “There are those who kill violently!”
And the whole video nasty connection.
OK, The Driller Killer is a nasty film that leaves you feeling grim, grimy and in dire need of a wash. But, despite a superfluous lesbian shower session and a completely unnecessary scene that details the butchering of a skinned rabbit, I'd hardly call it exploitative. Rather, it comes across as a low-budget labour of love which, at times, veers deliriously close to the art-house.
There are some moments of extreme violence, but even those seem tame by today's standards. The remainder of the runtime is taken up by a dark, dank and claustrophobic account of desperate New York City low-life. It's like a cinematic interpretation of a Lou Reed song, or a loose adaptation of a forgotten Bukowski.
It's a visceral thrill, with talking paintings, performances that are either terrible or faithful to a whacked out state of mind, and scratchy footage that's so grainy I'm sure it would be rendered unwatchable on a HD TV.
But what I really wasn't expecting is just how punk rock is The Driller Killer. I don't use the term “punk rock” to describe something that's self-consciously anarchic. Rather, it evokes a snotty glue-sniffing frazzled sort of energy, with an in-house band called The Roosters who would be amazing (so long as they weren't living next-door). At the start you're even instructed that “THIS FILM SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD ”.
An extreme close-up of a life I'd never want to live myself but which I find utterly thrilling to visit, I would never have expected so much from The Driller Killer. For so long I've been happy to think of it as an exploitative, ultra-violent video nasty. Instead, it's a DIY low-budget Taxi Driver with an incredible soundtrack.
I might never have gone out of my way to see The Driller Killer, but I'm happy to have learned, in the best way possible, that everything has the power to surprise you.
Another recent incident of reality eclipsing expectation came last Halloween when I finally got round to reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
Thanks to seemingly every adaptation ever, I had certain preconceptions about Frankenstein that involved lightning, a hunchbacked assistant, deranged cries of “IT'S ALIVE!” and a lumbering monosyllabic hulk of a monster.
So imagine my surprise when, upon initially confronting his creation, Frankenstein's monster replies in these words:
“All men hate the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us. You purpose to kill me. How dare you sport thus with life? Do your duty towards me, and I will do mine towards you and the rest of mankind. If you will comply with my conditions, I will leave them and you at peace; but if you refuse, I will glut in the maw of death, until it be satiated with the blood of your remaining friends.”
That's right. Frankenstein's monster isn't a shuffling green giant with bolts coming out of his neck who communicates with one groaned word at a time. He's an athletic, acrobatic, eloquent philosopher who manages to teach himself how to talk, think and reason just by observing a family from a distance.
Again, I was quite happy with the images that sprang to mind when someone said “Frankenstein”. The reality, though, is infinitely preferable to my perceptions.
Then there's Phileas Fogg, who never once uses a hot air balloon in his journey Around The World in 80 Days. And Captain Nemo, who doesn't travel to a depth of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Rather he journeys a distance of 20,000 leagues.
My dad hasn't seen Titanic. Every time he's asked about it, he jokes “I know how it ends!” The implication is that there's no need to see a film if you know the ending.
I've passed over so many books of which I've already seen the film adaptations. Similarly, there have been many times when a preconception has made me somehow reluctant to watch a film or listen to an album.
It has been proven to me, numerous times, that even if it doesn't differ so much, the experience always outweighs the expectation.
I wonder how many life-affirming, mind-expanding, soul-enriching or just plain entertaining experiences I've denied myself as a result of skewed perception?