You can never get enough Hanki Kleeneshi if you ask me. I know they’re not asking me, but they should, because I am Hanki Kleeneshi.
I’ve been told to meet a student from some former polytechnic scrapheap where I’m on faculty. They call it a tutorial. I’m supposed to guide him through the filmmaking process. He’s made a short film. I haven’t seen it all, but I can tell from the first ten seconds that it’s nothing like my graduate film that was nominated for a Bafta, back when they recognised talent.
We’re going to my favourite French bistro. It’s just round the corner. Keep up. I said half eleven, it’s getting on for twelve. I’ve often wondered, what’s the most polite amount of time to keep somebody waiting? It correlates with how many awards you’ve won. Fifteen minutes used to be right, but I’ve upped my lag-time to half an hour since I was given another professorship. Any longer and they’ll whinge about me not having turned up and report back to the university. Not that they can afford to sack me after their performance in the last Research Excellence Framework. The head of film studies is a fan. I gave him his first job at Studio Toss in Soho. I had him mopping spunk off a Beemer’s bonnet in between takes. Then the male lead took ill and Nigel stepped in. Nobody knows about that. Imagine if it got out. I’ve still got the reels in my attic. Don’t tell him I told you, I’m just thinking aloud.
Here we are, Café Noir, where I signed the deal for my breakout picture, the cult classic, Washing Machine. You’ve seen it? Good. I always do business in here when I’m not paying for – I mean, whenever I’m in London. Here’s uh, Mark? Fred? Rupert? Ah, yes, Dean. I knew it was one of those aristocratic names. I’m conventionally middle class. Everybody hates us. Are you from the aristocracy, Dean? Haha, your mum works for Tesco and your dad’s a postman. Right, yup, yup, I’ve always wondered what a thrill it must be to deliver all those letters, the news, because I receive so many of them – letters, but bills and invoices mostly – from places like Lahore, New York, Center Parcs.
Tuition fees are going up, are they? Right, hmm, yes, yes. Anyway, I’m Hanki Kleeneshi, pleased to meet you, Dean. These people are following me around, doing a thing about me. Do you mind if they sit in? It will be good experience for you to see how one of these things gets made properly. Here she is, the waitress. I love the little pinafores they have on, with the badge, la tour Eiffel. I’ll have the terrine and toast to begin, followed by the beef with garden vegetables on the side, oui, oui, un petit peu, aussi. To drink, a cappuccino, an orange juice, and a glass of white wine, oui, un grand – you have to do the hand gestures – une grande vin du blanc. And a slice of cake. Darren, what are you having?
“Just a cup of tea, please. Where’s the toilet?”
I could go to campus to meet them, but they prefer to see me in my natural habitat, the café, oui. Darren came here with his crew cut and Adidas trousers expecting me to be charmed or possibly scared, I don’t know. He comes to Bayswater, dunks his biscotti in his tea, and thinks it will impress me? He probably expects I’ll take one look at his film and have Ray Winstone on my speed dial, that I’ll fax his script over to Channel 4, but it doesn’t work like that. At the end, he’ll ask me for a contact, a producer, a commissioning editor, something like that.
Have you got a pen? Write this down. 0900 800 800. That’s a production firm called Big Sneeze productions. They’re very hip, very cool, but very busy. Based in Shoreditch. You will have to wait to speak to somebody. Do as they tell you. Keep waiting. Don’t hang up the phone. Do you know what an elevator pitch is? Have that ready. Not a problem, Darren.
I don’t usually take care of the bill. It’s a thrill for them to be able to say, I took Hanki Kleeneshi out for lunch.
See you at the Baftas, Darren.
That number I gave him isn’t really a production company. That would be unethical. It’s a premium rate number I set up a few years ago, after the court case. It’s not my main source of income, but it keeps me ticking over. For an 0900 number it’s actually quite reasonable. Two quid, two fifty a minute, plus a fiver connection charge, something like that. I got the idea from a drug dealer I used as a consultant once. He said he made more from his phone number than from the actual product. I’ve taken that idea and given it the Hanki Kleeneshi garnish. You call that number, you hear a woman’s voice telling you we’re very busy, but we are interested in your film. One of our producers will take your call as soon as he has a minute, please hold the line. I hired an actor to do the voice of the producer. We’ve got seven or eight different producer conversations in case somebody calls up more than once. But I’ve programmed it so they’re never on hold for more than six hours. After six hours, Big Sneeze productions guarantees you will have had the chance to pitch your film to an actor pretending to be a producer.
You know why it’s called Big Sneeze, don’t you? That’s what Mickey Rourke calls me. He yelled it across the balcony at the Chateau Marmont once. “Hey, Big Sneezy.” I love Mickey, just don’t tell him I called him two-faced.
I need to go in the library to return some DVDs. They’re a few weeks late, so they’ve accumulated some heavy fineage. But it’s alright, I’ve got more library cards than Baftas. Twenty five, thirty, something like that. Library cards, I mean. There’s a YMCA hostel at the end of my road, doing my house price no favours, so I’ve registered myself there. All my fines goes direct to the hostel, so I don’t have to deal with them, it works better than way.
So here we have three DVDs to return: Washing Machine by Hanki Kleeneshi (1986), Duller Than Dishwater by Hanki Kleeneshi (1988), and The Same Old Crap With The Same Old Actors (1997), also by my good self. Didn’t get such good reviews, that one. Never mind. God is an auteur.
I do this essentially because I’m paranoid. Paranoid that when my two sons come to this library, they won’t see their dad’s DVDs on the shelves. They go to a posh school in West London, where the kids play a game of whoever’s-parents’-aren’t-in-the-local-library-gets-his-head-flushed-down-the-toilet. There’s some rule-bending that goes on. Wheels are greased. I make sure the library keeps my films in stock by continually renting them. Often when my kids come in, they say they can’t find my films, because they’re out on loan. So I tell them to check the catalogue. If it says they’ve been loaned, they’re popular. Double points. Hosanna.
This year was my first time judging a school talent competition. My boys didn’t enter. They’re going to be accountants, so they can help daddy with his money when he’s older. In exchange for expertise, I got them to waive half a term’s fees. None of the kids were any good, but they won’t need to be. They’ll have the best accountants.
Now I’m going home to apply for an Arts Council grant, and then I may watch the episode of Jeremy Kyle that I recorded. I always watch Jeremy Kyle for anthropological research, but it doesn’t half twist my melon. Last week there was a bloke on called Paul Block who had fifteen kids, claiming the best part of a hundred grand in state hand-outs, who refused to go for a job interview because he was so fat, he couldn’t get out the door. “I’m willing to work from home,” he said. To get him into the studio, they probably floated him down the Thames on an aircraft carrier, took the roof off the studio, then lifted him in. That’s where my tax money goes. I’m considering voting UKIP at the general election.
On the doormat, a letter from Colombia University in New York. I can’t think what they want with me. Let’s open her up. A statement of earnings for the last financial year. Ooh, that is very generous, I’d forgotten about this.
If you look on Colombia’s film studies website, you’ll see me listed as what’s called a professor emeritus. Universities are allocated funding based on something called a research profile. What I do is, I say to these universities, you can put me down as a professor whatever, in return for whatever you think that’s worth, and you can have my films count towards your research profile. I’m a professor or a lecturer at over fifty universities. They don’t make me teach any actual courses, but sometimes, if they’re being really pushy, they’ll ask me to mentor a student, which is what happened back there with Darren, although only because I’m on very good terms with his head of department. I’m doing my bit, but I make sure it never adds up to more than four hours a year for any institution. Some will drag me to a lecture hall once a year, where I run my hand through my hair and hope the sun coming through the blinds kisses my profile like a stoic philosopher, before I say something about Fellini or Jimmy Dean or the genius of perfume adverts. Sometimes I’ll do a Q&A when I have a new film to promote. I did one the other day at Leeds University, where I’m a Filmmaker in Residence. I didn’t choose the title, because I’d never actually been there, and had no intention of visiting. This thing I did last week was only my second time in ten years.
There were about fifty students there. As soon as they opened their mouths, it was like none of them knew who the fuck I was – or am. They were there to persecute me. They probably didn’t know that I once urinated next to Daniel Day Lewis, who was also urinating at the time, I should add. They asked me what it was like living with Lizzie Lush, the Nineteen Eighties pop starlet who also happens to be my ex-wife and the mother of my two sons. I can only assume they asked me this because while I was talking about the auteur theory of filmmaking – I’m part of that tradition – I must have mentioned how hard it was getting films made when I lived with the Female Satan – sorry, Liz.
If you try and get me to talk about that again, I’ll bite your nose off. Look at my teeth. They’re brand new, with gold ones at the back. Paid for by Syracuse University. Hosanna.
Hold on, I’m reading the second page of my letter from Colombia. It says my contract has been terminated. I’ve brought the institution into disrepute for comments in a public forum. Quelle surprise. It must be something I said in Leeds.
I told them Film Studies is a waste of time.
Some mature student in the front row took umbrage. “Mr Kleeneshi, you studied film at university. Isn’t film studies a waste of time when it’s taught by lofty hypocrites who don’t put any effort in?”
“Speaking as a lofty hypocrite,” I said, “I’ve had the pleasure of mentoring film students all over the world. The students I get from Leeds are invariably awful. Here’s my advice to you: become accountants. That’s what my sons are doing, because they have no artistic abilities.”
I thought I’d aced it, but my Google updates show me all over the news. “Washing Machine director under fire after rant goes viral.” It’s in the Guardian. “Kleeneshi then took a bizarre swipe at accountants, saying they lacked artistic abilities. Some Leeds film students are eager to prove the director wrong. They issued a statement last night inviting Kleeneshi to judge a student film competition. Others have been incensed by what they see as Kleeneshi’s hypocrisy, urging students to boycott any such competition. ‘We don’t seek the validation of those who hold us in contempt,’ said Patricia Archer, 47. ‘After his comments, Hanki Kleeneshi is fit to judge maybe a wet-t-shirt contest or a vegetable growing event at his village fete. But a film competition, never.’”
I’m on medication that makes me claustrophobic. If I stare ahead – I could be framing a shot, imagining a line of dialogue, or the time I pinched Helena Bonham Carter’s arse in the toilets at the Groucho club – the walls get closer. I put my hands over my ears and scream. It’s like I’m in court, watching a judge look for codes, allusions, double meanings in my scripts, trying to cast members of my family and take my house away. They’re waiting outside with an aircraft carrier and harnesses, the same they used to lift Paul Block into Jeremy Kyle’s studio. The studio lights are blinding and somebody is screaming at me, demanding answers to questions, but I don’t have the answers.
It takes a lot of imagination to make the truth seem plausible.
Let’s go back to Café Noir for a glass of wine.
What’s that policeman doing, talking to the waitress at the table we were sitting at earlier? What’s Darren doing with them? He’s probably tried to steal the cutlery or run away without paying. The waitress is pointing at me. The policeman’s coming out.
“Mr Kleeneshi, we’d like a word with you about not paying your bill earlier, and your possible involvement in a fraudulent phone…”
Fuck, run. This way.
Put the camera down. Squeeze in if you can. I can hear walkie talkies crackling. Wait for them to pass. They’ll never check behind this dumpster.
My hands used to be blistered from holding cameras. They were callused from cutting reels of my own tape. I look at my hands now and see a wash of red, like a scene from Peeping Tom, when Carl Boehm is a voyeur who himself is being watched. I’m not very good at being the goldfish.
That vision’s coming back to me, the one with the bright lights and the voice asking questions. They’re wheeling me towards a stage – I’m at a film festival or a in a lecture hall or something. I can hear other voices laughing off to the side. My father’s voice is in the cacophony. He’s on their side, laughing from his wheelchair. It’s getting louder and louder.
I’m being swindled.
Let’s get out of here, onto Bayswater Road.
Somebody’s calling. I don’t want to hear any more about Leeds. Tell them I’m an enfant terrible – what did they expect? Hold on, Shirley’s on the other line. Shirl, if you’re calling about the dinner you owe me, I’m walking past Puccio’s, where we had the wrap party for Thinly Disguised Portraits of My Family. Shall I jump in and make a booking? I don’t read the vice chancellor’s blog. I’ve never met him, so I wouldn’t know what colour his face is normally. I thought he’d be too busy designing a new Film, Media and Jobcentre Application degree. Why is the accountancy department offended? I wasn’t taking the piss, I was serious. I love accountants. An accountancy course is most certainly not a waste of time. I wish I’d taken one. Well, there are thousands of film studies courses, Shirl, and only one Hanki Kleeneshi.
They’re giving me forty eight hours to apologise. I’ll think about it then tell them to get stuffed.
This launderette here is where we shot the interior scenes for Washing Machine. It’s been owned by the same Turkish family since the British Empire’s imperialist massacre in Gallipoli.
Can I borrow a tenner? Mahmet’s under the impression that I owe him for some washing I did last week. I pawned my machine to Cash Converters. Mahmet, think how I put your gaff on the map. We need to go into the back room for a bit. There’s a gang of autograph hunters round the corner.
Can you hold the door open a minute? Let me see if I can squeeze in here. Legs or head first? Fuck off, Mahmet. When I’m in, shut the door and keep an eye out for the fuzz. Pretend to be adjusting the settings. It’s a bit tight, but I’m in. Lock the door. I can’t open it from in here, so don’t elope. It doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold. You’re not going to switch it on, are you?
Lewis Parker is a writer of fiction, poetry and journalism. His work’s been in the Guardian, Dazed & Confused, Salon, The Moth poetry magazine and others. Works the streets as an écrivain public/literary prostitute occasionally. Rarely tweets @LGParker1