Magazine article Screen International

'Chemsex': Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Chemsex': Review

Article excerpt

Dirs: William Fairman, Max Gogarty. UK, 2015, 85 minutes

This timely investigation into the recreational habits of a growing sector of London's gay male population may have began in a spirit of serious and sensitive concern, but the attention-grabbing outcome will surely become grist to the tabloid media mill, once the manufacturers of outrage boil the contents down to their salacious concentrate. Sex and drugs, already interesting as individual subjects, make for a pretty irresistible combination, especially when you throw in reckless endangerment of health and the mindboggling topic of deliberate HIV infection. The challenge for niche distributors will be to convert generous column inches into ticket sales, thus avoiding the fate of becoming the controversial film everybody needs to know about, but not necessarily see.

The origins of Chemsex date to a June 2013 feature at Vice.com entitled: "The Meth-Fuelled, Week-Long Orgies Ravaging London's Gay Sex Party Scene". William Fairman, a director at Vice, and Max Gogarty, former head of development for the media. As the film delves deeper into the lives of its subjects, the confessionals turn darker and more disturbing company, embarked on a project to chronicle the activities described, calling on participants to come and tell their stories. The brave volunteer subjects that stepped forward are introduced to us discussing their current or past chemsex lifestyle, seated in front of, and in a few instances behind, a red curtain - a neat metaphor for the figurative pulling back that ensues.

Filmed mostly inside their own apartments, these men describe their injection of drugs such as crystal methamphetamine - "slamming" in chemsex speak - that reduces inhibition and fires up the libido. GHB (Gamma Hydroxybutyrate) and mephedrone are also favoured by scene participants, who use code letters on mobile-phone hook-up apps to indicate their chemical preferences. But, as one interviewee explains, the slang is also about packaging and self-deception: "We're not injecting, we're slamming. We use 'pins', not needles." And partying with "Tina", "Tina Turner" or "T" helps brighten the image of crystal meth, the drug more generally associated with tragic underclass addicts depicted on Breaking Bad.

One of the film's most notable contributors is David Stuart, substance use leader at 56 Dean Street, London's pioneering NHS clinic offering free counselling to gay men engaged simultaneously in risky sexual activity and recreational drug taking. …

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