All I want to do is graduate from high school, go to Europe, marry Christian Slater, and die.
– Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
“Christian Slater was pretty big in the 90s wasn’t he?” asked Ruth from Flixchatter. The answer is, “sort of,” I’ll explain why…
I had a bit of a man-crush on Christian Slater when he carried the casual air of geek-chic in his early films. He was prolific, by the age of 25 he’d already appeared in 20 plus different films as well as having a theatre career, appearing alongside Dick Van Dyke in The Music Man. On account of his mother, Mary Jo Slater, being a leading Hollywood casting director, and his dad, Michael Hawkins being a day-time soap star, plum roles were never very far away. He was destined at an early age to be in show business as he was immersed within the culture – Mark Hamill made an appearance his twelfth birthday party as a special treat, because he was such a fan of Star Wars.
It was HEATHERS (1989) that first caught the attention of audiences and critics. He brought a manic glimmer to the role of J.D. Dean, a high-school agent provocateur who turns against the bullies. There followed a couple of star vehicles that failed to find an audience, but I like KUFFS (1992) an action-comedy where he plays a cheeky copper who breaks the fourth wall to bring the audience into his confidence, and PUMP UP THE VOLUME (1992) and TRUE ROMANCE (1993) are personal favourites that I’ve written about before. Amongst these films was a pile of dross such as YOUNG GUNS II (1990), MOBSTERS (1991) and the interminable ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF SHERWOOD (1991), but it was his antics off the screen that garnered the most attention. His reluctance to refuse any reasonable offer was due to him burning through his money during his teens. He had a hard-won reputation for having relationships with his co-stars, starting with Valentina Vargas in THE NAME OF THE ROSE (1986) then on to Winona Ryder, Samantha Mathis, among others.
It was his exploits with cocaine and alcohol that sent his career into a tail-spin. He faced prison sentence for head-butting a police officer after he’d wrapped a car around a lamppost while trying to escape arrest for driving under the influence. The medicinal refreshment also contributed to his forgetfulness when trying to board a flight to LA with a 6.5mm Beretta and six rounds of ammunition in a holdall.
This issue of The Face from January 1995 features an interview where he talks of reaching sobriety and a sense of perspective. He was about to appear as the interrogator of Tom Cruise in Neil Jordan’s INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE (1994), a role he inherited following the untimely passing of River Phoenix. The tone of the interview is about, “reaching potential” and “finding roles that matched his talent”. The comparisons with Nicholson seemed to hold a key to some latent ‘promise’ that he had not been able to reach due to the paucity of the roles that stretched his talent. He seems to suggest that his new found asceticism offers him a degree of clarity:
“I don’t feel like my life is boring,” he says, with apparent conviction. It’s still colourful. I get drunk in different ways: emotionally, on the drama of life. There’s something exciting about being sober. I think I’m more on the edge – I could go off at anytime.”
Slater donated his fee for INTERVIEW … to River Phoenix’s favourite charities as he felt uncomfortable about profiting from his death. There’s a sense that he was trying to rewrite the trajectory of his film career by turning away from the off-beat roles towards more measured characters. He’s just finished playing the lawyer defending Kevin Bacon in MURDER IN THE FIRST (1995). Despite the weight of these roles, Slater struggled to reveal anything new or deep, he had too much of a flair for the charismatic weirdo. There’s a sense that he never really shook off the persona of a nerd with attitude and he struggled with the serious stuff and his reinvention as an action hero in BROKEN ARROW (1996) failed to convince anyone.
His sobriety didn’t last too long. He was back in rehab and community service following a domestic violence incident where he tried to resist arrest (again) in 1997 and his career has not really recovered since then. The comparisons with Nicholson and the genuine chutzpa that he brought to his early roles were writing cheques that his talent could not cash.
IT WAS TWENTY YEARS AGO TODAY
I retained this copy of The Face because it features a review of 1994. It’s an interesting time-capsule from the moments just before the prolonged economic growth (and subsequent crash of 2008) and reflects that sense that PUMP UP THE VOLUME articulates very well: Generation X were struggling to find a voice of their own as it is stymied by the economic forces and the legacy of the baby boomers. The Face and its advertisers seem keen on positioning readers as consumers – “look at this new credit card – it has Mick Jagger’s tongue on it” – and a constant reminder that the rebels of the 1960s had sold out by exchanging liberty, equality and fraternity in exchange for Paco Robanne’s glitzy tee-shirts.
1994 was the year that the love affairs of Charles and Diana were revealed; celebrity voyeurism took on a new intensity following the arrest of O.J. Simpson for the murder; Beth and Margaret had a lesbian kiss on Brookside; the tories revealed their need to ‘get back to basics’ with a string of sleazy allegations about the sex lives of David Mellor, and others, stoked up by publicist Max Clifford (what ever happened to him?); and the world stood by as 1,000,000 Rwandans were massacred in the space of three months.
Remember ‘lads’? ‘Lad culture’ was a moment in the crisis of Western, working-class masculinity where Oasis, Loaded magazine and advertising executives attempted to seize the God-given right to be sexist from the evil forces of Political Correctness. The Face tries to be tongue in cheek about it in this issue, but it was soon collaborating with ‘the movement,’ until it reached its peak in 1996 when the European Cup was held in England, and even the most effete and even-minded of us were chanting about Three Lions. It didn’t matter then, because women had become ladettes and had ‘girl power’. Sorted.
OASIS and BLUR of course were serving up a lukewarm version of the 1960s, but a consumer-friendly version, that seemed more concerned with the joie de vive cigarettes and alcohol rather than seizing the means of production. Among the sound-bites and pictures, there’s an article by Gavin Hills, that addresses the issues that are raised by DJ Harry Hard On in PUMP UP THE VOLUME. He points out that the “ex-punks and hippies” who were now in the positions of power in the media were “slagging off the young for their apathy” while celebrating the good old days when they were young. He makes the point that the political orthodoxies of the past were worn-out and found wanting. Thanks to the successes of neo-liberalism political determinism had been replaced with economic determinism:
“Yet how sad the broken promises of the right and left look now that this century has played its hand. They still talk of vision, just about. John Major apparently lacks one. Tony Blair apparently has a marvellous one. There’s some with European ones and some with even world ones. I just wish that someone would tell us what they were. Without knowing these visions, we’re just left with the knowing.”
The 1994 was the year that the Criminal Justice bill was passed, a stick to beat the youth, that went on to become increasingly pernicious in its curtailing of basic civil rights to protest. Hills actually takes the view that legislation is a positive sign of hope that rave culture is taken seriously. The provinces were leading the way with technology based dance culture. He makes a cry to arms to seize the dawn of the new century and rise up from the cul de sac of slacker culture created by the media elite.
Did we listen? Did we rise up, and challenge apathy? No, we put Farrage in charge instead. Oh hum.
Here’s Christian Slater eating too much caviar: