The further I dig into Alan Clarke’s back catalogue the more often I find myself thinking “How the hell did he convince the BBC to broadcast this on national television?” Christine is similar in form to Clarke’s seminal Elephant in that it is built up of endless, roaming steadicam shots only here they are broken up with occasional dialogue. We follow Christine, a young teenager and heroin addict as she mopes around from council estate to council estate interacting with fellow junkies and losers in search of her next fix. It’s an especially bleak character study but an important one.
I am in awe of Clarke’s experimental approach to these topical stories. There’s a very melodramatic version of Christine that could easily be made but instead Clarke strips everything back to its bare minimum. It’s almost European in that sense. Christine’s existence is repetitious, banal and more or less inconsequential to many of those around her so it’s only appropriate that the film too adopt many of these qualities. There’s no story to speak of, no characters to invest in. It is just a brief peek onto a way of life that many either ignored or were oblivious to. This is about as fly-on-the-wall as you could get. I can’t imagine what your average British couch potato thought when they flicked on the BBC and were faced with this. It’s such a provocative piece of work and really quite stunning in how casually confrontational it is. Clarke really knew how to push buttons without actually pushing them himself. Just like Elephant, this looks and feels like a landmark in British broadcasting. Even now I am slightly troubled by it.