Men in lipstick, and life in their shadows (or somewhere between a cosmic zero and a perfect one)
I will intersperse this with parts of the monologue and voice over going on in the film. I like to think my investigation a living thing, evolving.
Cold winds and the faces that echoed of beauty
Indiegogo has this tagline for the short Fluorescent Sin, a Hot Sun Foundation film: an international collaborative short that chronicles a drag queen having a nervous breakdown at a train station in an African city.
The short is hardly a chronicle. It is more of a pause in the events of her life, all of which have been left out of the film. There is no way of telling that Stella is a drag queen. As far as plot structure goes there is the arrival, the waiting and the implied departure. But the tagline does not stop me from my fascinations with her; the beginning of a romance, if you will.
Stella Brown is one of my most memorable Kenyan film characters. Some of the character are also female, although most are not Kenyan; one belongs in a Fellini film, a story for a different time and place. I will refer to Stella Brown as a lady. She deserves it.
Stella wears a purple velveteen dress, a little tight against her bare and flat chest. Thick red lipstick. One of her heels is broken so she walks in a constant limp. She has on a sort of printed cap dapped over her frame, a dirty wig. Cheap jewels coated with some imitation dust. Yellow and blue eye shadow. It is usually action that tells us about people (Show don’t tell etc) but with Stella you have to peer into her through the surface. A Wilde approach.
I could walk among stares of recognition.
She carries a brown travelling suitcase. Although the train never departs it’s clear she is leaving Nairobi and, in this act of leaving without moving, her entire life interests me. This experiment with departure reminds me of a line in Waking Life: the idea is to remain in a state of constant departure while always arriving. It’s a trick I have not quite mastered. In my leaving I always find that I have carried the place at my next arrival. Train stations and waiting rooms are all alike. Perhaps the though of leaving is enough to wash away the reasons for leaving.
This is by no means a review.
It’s a celebration of Fluorescent Sin as it makes the list of the films of my life. A testament to Telley Savalas Otieno’s triumph as an actor. I can see a long life examining characters like her.
This is a mismanagemet of her grief, and a very subjective view of Stella Brown. My Anti-heroine.
We can all relate to the places we have learnt to love. Sometimes people look for revelations as they leave behind the cities that loved them. You are in a slow moving train and thinking about the last few years of your life and you make a few promises to yourself. Not me. I’m looking for an act that will reduce the city to the lover who stays back, the one who has to take up new insecurities, the lover who lost. I want the city to be aware of the disdain I harbor for it. I find Stella Brown as a starting point for my regrets. She’s beautiful in her bare chest. She’s beautiful in her lopsided walk along the aisle of the train,
Sometimes I viewed her as a bride walking away from the alter. A sort of salvation awaits her on the other end. But still, the bride is printed cloth is walking away from the altar.
I’ve been to the Railway Museum and I know that the train Stella Brown walks into is one of the old relics, although it has been used as a real train in the short. Does my fascination with Stella, and the film in general, change now that I know the train will not move? I think so. It grows.
There is a marked absence of life in the film, set in the most populous city in the region. It is a film set in a city of ghosts. They hover in the background but you will never know they are there. The notice board on the platform is as empty. Because the city is non-existent – apart from a sign in red paint and a lady in kitenge – and people are nowhere to be found, this film is a remake of that gothic alienation that draws me to it’s central character.
I also got the feeling that this film is also about the passengers set to arrive, the sign is a mark of place, and it is a welcome sign for an audience that has not lived in the city. My few visits to the platform were always when passengers had just disembarked from the trains, in the morning and late afternoon. As I watch the film I anticipate an image of the millions who use the train everyday. In leaving out the masses the short is creating a different world. Fiction, I guess. The simple act of having the name there imbues it with so much meaning the film transforms into a different medium. I like that I can always depart from the film and come back to it. I can close my eyes and depend on its sounds for meaning.
I have lived and loved here and as soon as I see the name the city’s history becomes a part of the short. I have not forgotten that the city literally started from that small station. Now we have a departure from a city’s first establishment. Think of the city’s outward growth also as a departure, a seeking of new stimuli.
I knew I’d fall in love with her the moment I saw her. There is no one at the station to bid her farewell. A few cigarettes and a lady are her only audience. The presence of rain, too. In a strange way she makes me miss this city that has cast her out, I want to take part in her annihilation. I see a bit of myself in her and I hate this fact.
In a perfect romance there is a train station and rain, even when it is the indulgent romance of a single individual. Another line from Waking Life comes to me:
This entire thing we are involved with, called the world, is an opportunity to examine how exciting alienation can be.
The monologue is a long line in a poem. It feels disconnected. It does not present us with a linear set of events. It offers us its music and ambiguity. This is a great way of talking for anyone at the brink of leaving. As I said earlier, there is no chronicle of events. She walks into the Nairobi Railway station and sits on a park bench on the platform, talking to another lady. Her smoking is incessant and such a big part of the charm that continues to draw me towards her. Stella is engaged in a long monologue, interspersed with voice over. She smokes and paces the platform during the intermissions.
So here we are, in love with a chain-smoking degenerate.
Somewhere between a cosmic zero and a perfect one
The thing that made her a lady to me is a certain pose she assumes at the 3:18 minute as she says…
And all this time I was a hunter amidst the maddening whispers of those long forgotten.
She is supposedly a drug queen. I’m not interested in that, in the past. It’s the now that matters: then happened so that now becomes more than a possibility. In the time it takes me to say this now has gone, Stella Brown’s voice is gone and the credits are running. The score: ‘Every one else is sleeping’. And for some reason it has not been credited.
The lady asks,
Anaye kufanya ulie sijui ama anastahili machozi yako
Whoever he is, he’s not worth your tears
This first use of the ‘he’ pronoun has its implications, none of which interests me.