Jan 28, 2013

Story of a Junkie


It’s like a good love affair…It’s nice when it starts…then it becomes fucked” or so says North American Aryan junky punk skate rat “Gringo” (John Spaceley) regarding his wild and wayward relationship with heroin in the pseudo-documentary drama Story of a Junkie (1987) aka Gringo directed by Polish-American documentarian auteur Lech Kowalski (Hey! Is Dee Dee Home?, On Hitler’s Highway).  Featuring real-life heroin addicts really shooting up in 1980s East Village NYC, Story of a Junkie is more of a candid documentary than a drama/docudrama in its wretched and raunchy rawness as a portrait of a drug-addled 'anti-hero' who was born to lose, even if he knows how to score a couple bags of smack each day so as to appease his haunted soul. A bleach blond dope fiend sporting an iconic eye patch, Gringo is a scavenging and sidewalk-surfing opium-pirate who is just looking to find another fix so as to temporarily dissolve his pain while carelessly cruising the superlatively seedy streets of New York City. Opening with newspaper headlines of various white-collar figures who got busted or overdosed on heroin and/or cocaine, Story of a Junkie briefly highlights these high-profile individuals' influence on society as a whole and the countless unknown addicts they have helped spawn. Story of a Junkie does not feature the fag fantasy opium den of trust fund junkie William S. Burroughs' novels nor the phantasmagorical dream realms of French poet/filmmaker Jean Cocteau, but a matter-of-fact depiction of the physical and moral degeneration that is heated and hellish H addiction. Featuring authentic footage of jaded junkies shooting up, dubious drug dealers sharing their insights on the tricks of the trade, and the overall sterile yet 'unconventional' loser life that is opium addiction where no scam is too small and where no form of self-degradation is too devastating for one to get their next hit, Gringo sums up the diamorphine maniac life as follows, “heroin is a cruel mistress…a brutal overseer, man…it wakes you up early in the morning and takes you and makes you do things you would never do…and, uh, you just don’t have time to worry about other things, things that you maybe should be worrying about…facing reality sometimes is a hard thing to do.” A sad and sarcastic slave of the dealers (who are many times slaves of their own addictions), Gringo must show off his many track marks to prove his genuine 'junk status,', which he is rewarded with a bag of dope and the super sound piece of advice, “don’t OD now” by an outstanding businessmen. Psychopathic semites and a couple amphetamine-addled Anglos may run Wall Street, but in junkie-land nefarious Negroes and hopped-up Hispanic homeboys run the seemingly derelict drug trade, thus making “Gringo” (a named bestowed upon him by his curious and oftentimes callous colored friends) – a man who has no problem sporting a Benito Mussolini t-shirt – a special target in Story of a Junkie; a severely sordid cinematic tale about the trials and tribulations of selling one's soul for a temporary fix.

Lone junkie punk ranger Gringo (Spaceley) has come a long way since his more youthful years as a momma’s boy and a teenage hippie degenerate. A self described “anarchist” who has “never filed income tax,” Gringo is a fierce fuck-up without a cause except heroin. Gringo may be all about the three terribly tempting counter-culture sins of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, but heroin is indubitably his one true love, albeit an exceedingly erratic one that oftentimes forces the junky punk to beg for money from his mom, stalk the streets for naive individuals who he can hustle a couple bucks from, and fight with fellow dope fiends. Shooting up and fucking up make for one ominous and overwhelming odyssey where death is around every corner and every friend is a potential – both literal and figurative – backstabber. Dope sick sex is the nearest thing to romance for a junky in love, but as Gringo the Great discovered, being horny on heroin can eventually result in bloody miscarriages and mini postmortem fetuses, but luckily he does not live too far from a dumpster so as to dispose of such unwanted progeny. Gringo may not have a job, but he still wears a uniform of post-adolescent punk rock conformity. When jaded on junk, gainful employment is not an option because looking for a new fix is a career in itself that comes with its own benefit package, including (but surely not limited to) STDs, track marks, liver damage, a short life expectancy, vagrancy, prostitution, quasi-narcolepsy and a complete heroin chic physical makeover. When not getting his skateboard stolen by small and ancient teddy-bear-like negroes, Gringo is hanging out with a junky chick that looks and sounds like “Buffalo Bill” from The Silence of the Lambs (1991) who has a funny fetish for hoarding peculiar packs of pets, including rabbits, rats, mice, and tarantulas. As Gringo explains throughout Story of a Junkie, his lethally lecherous lifestyle consists of one bloody beat down after another, including a blinding incident with an anally retentive drag queen who brought deleterious destruction to the junkie’s eye, hence his trademark eye-patch. Gringo may be a pathetic fighter and an impotent lover, but he has the strut of an elderly jigaboo on crack as a crazy character with the sort of unconventional charisma that can only come from a contrived chemical high. As depicted quite soothingly and scenically at the conclusion of Story of a Junkie, especially in comparison to the rest of the film, when it really comes down to it, Gringo truly lived by an ethos of “skate or die.”  Unfortunately, like most of the real-life junkies featured in Story of a Junkie, John Spaceley ultimately perished doing what he did best.

John Spaceley was far from a seasoned street fighter, even if he was battle-scarred and spent a good portion of his life in the gutter, but, at the very least, he could kick the shit out of fellow NYC junkie Johnny Thunders – rocker of the New York Dolls and The Heartbreakers – as depicted in Story of a Junkie director Lech Kowalski’s subsequent documentary Born To Lose: The Last Rock and Roll Movie (1999). The documentary also features Spaceley, who no longer has his bleached blond hair, dying in a hospital bed in 1992 from AIDS that he contracted via junkie business. Apparently, as mentioned by Story of a Junkie producer Ann S. Barish, Spaceley got clean for a number of years (even rejecting caffeine and wine), got an acting agent, and even attempted a career in acting, including an uncredited (but quite memorable) cameo appearance in Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985) and as a Chelsea hotel resident in Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy (1987), but would inevitably get back on the junk as a ‘true’ gutter punk. As starkly and unsentimentally depicted in Story of a Junkie, director Lech Kowalski is not some sort of moralist, even once stating in an interview, “I think that it’s good to try and destroy yourself because that’s what life is all about…trying to destroy yourself to find out who the real person is.” Judging by Kowalski’s philosophy, John Spaceley was a self-destructive fellow who was totally incapable of living anything resembling a normal life as a man who could only find solace in skateboarding and heroin.  Needless to say, the latter killed him, but at least he left Story of a Junkie as his legacy of lechery as a decidedly daunting document infinitely more potent than any D.A.R.E program or miserably melodramatic after-school special in its less than glamorous portrayal of a dumpster-diving drug addict's non-life. Forget opium romanticizing big-budget cinematic works like Trainspotting (1996) and Requiem for a Dream (2000), Story of a Junkie – a work distributed (but not produced) by Troma of all film companies – is the real junky deal; a disgusting, degenerate, despoiling, and devastating gritty celluloid affair. 

-Ty E


eddie lydecker said...

In the picture of him and the bird, he looks like Woody Harrelson.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Yes, we should indeed forget all about "Trainspotting" because it is a ludicrously over-rated and completely unwatchable pile of British made dog-shit, however, we should most certainly NOT forget about "Requiem For A Dream" simply because it is a true AMERICAN cinematic masterwork. Trash British films all you like but dont say anything bad about American movies, OK.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Its incredible to think that when "The Story of a Junkie" was released in North America in July of `87 Heather had just completed filming on Poltergeist III.

teddy crescendo said...

"The Story of a Junkie" is freely available on YouTube but i dont think i could bring myself to watch it because it would just make me angry being reminded of the appalling lies and hypocrisy that governs virtually every aspect of the 'so-called' drug-culture in North America.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Why are drugs demonised in North America ?, for the sake of Hollywood scriptwriters, thats why ! ! !, what fucking ludicrous hypocrisy.