Tag Archives: dark city

Living in Joburg, 2010

Six months ago, Alistair, Boo and I arrived in Jozi from Cape Town. No, I did not burst into tears (those came later) or ask where the mountain was. I was keen for a “new adventure” and happy I didn’t need a job right away. I’ve always been one of those Capetonians who like Joburg (we exist), but visiting a place and actually living there are two different things.

Before the move I became very tired of people who’d lived in Cape Town their whole life, except for that “horizon-broadening” gap year in the UK, always reacting to news of our impending move with one of the following:

  • “Oh God, but why?”
  • “Oh shame, why?”
  • “Oh no, how can you live somewhere like that?”
  • “Joburg? I couldn’t live without the mountain and the sea.”

The last comment was inevitably spoken by someone who went to the beach once every three months, except in summer of course. How did they think I felt as a surfer who went every weekend?

We spent our last night in Cape Town in our small, empty flat in Gardens. We slept very badly on a blow-up mattress. Seven years of memories and freezing tiles kept me awake. I thought of all the parties, the dinners, the friendships made in this home.

I went onto our massive wraparound balcony and stared at the rain-shrouded Table Mountain like I had a thousand times before, moving my eyes over Lion’s Head and the city. Gentle, wild, comforting.

Five months later I would be at a book launch on the roof of the Lister Building in Jeppe Street, watching a thunderstorm break over the angles and grit of Jozi skyscrapers, the vastness of it making for a different wildness; an industrial beauty I appreciated simply because it was so alien. I felt love.

But the first few months were brittle and brutal. I missed my family and friends. I missed stepping out my front door and being able to walk five minutes and find myself in Long Street or Deer Park. I missed the smell of the sea. I missed the call to prayer from the mosques in Bo-Kaap. I missed how close everything was. I missed the noon day gun.

The saving grace was Joburg’s welcome brigade. I’ve socialised more in the past five months than I did in Cape Town in five years. Someone is always ready for a drink, a dinner, a coffee, a lunch. People call each other. I like it.

I also like how oblique everything is – the hills, the roads, the trees, the buildings. Cape Town’s physicality is overt, but Joburg’s beauty is always surprising. It requires discovery. It is a mosaic up close. I dislike Joburg being referred to as “The Big Smoke”; it’s too tired and uninvolved an expression for such a complex place.

Living in Joburg, I now know a few things I previously did not:

  • Who “the mielie lady” is and why people find her annoying.
  • Why people complain about taxis so much.
  • Joburgers talk about the traffic the same way Capetonians talk about the weather.
  • How green Joburg is and how ridiculously pretty jacarandas are.

Next week I go back to my city for three weeks. Yes, it’s still my city. My soul resides in the waves of Blouberg and Muizenberg, that won’t change. But my heart has opened to Joburg, a foreign lover thats oddly familiar and still so unexplored. 2011 will be an even greater adventure.

The Other Cult Classics

Matrix, Blade Runner and T2 all have their classic box-office place, but these films challenged reality without the fanfare.


Dark City
Strange beings make a whole city sleep and change who the people are. Factory workers become CEOs, policemen become gangsters. When they wake up, they don’t remember who they used to be. But one night a naked and confused Rufus Sewell does…. Noirish and surreal, with a gorgeous Jennifer Connelly and mad Kiefer Sutherland, this is one of my favourite films of all time. It’s a reminder that Alex Proyas once made great, not just good, cinema.


Lawnmower Man
Simple but kind gardener gets transformed into evil super-brainiac by Pierce Brosnan’s computer technology. It’s like a twisted Flowers for Algernon on acid. Definitely cheesy and overblown, there’s still something spookily watchable about Jeff Fahey giving it to all those aresholes who treated him like shit when he was dumb. Morale of the story: Don’t tease the stupid people.


12 Monkeys
They say this film didn’t do well at the box office because Brad Pitt plays an ugly lunatic and Bruce Willis plays a nervous dork. Still, it’s oddly intriguing and highly watchable. Madeleine Stowe (her last decent movie) is the empathetic beauty who tries not to believe her patient’s story about a killer virus wiping out humanity. Think love story meets time travel meets insane asylum meets apocalyptic future.


Strange Days
In the days of pre-millennium uncertainty, this film captured the nihilistic hedonism of the times – we’re all fucked anyway, so let’s party. With virtual reality devices the drug of choice, a killer soundtrack (Ray Manzarek goes trip-hop with the title track), and Ralph Fiennes in leather pants, it’s like Escape from New York for the 90s.


Donnie Darko
How does anyone describe this film? Donnie wakes up on a country road and walks home to find an aeroplane engine has fallen from the sky into his bedroom. He goes off his medication, hooks up with proverbial naughty Catholic schoolgirl, Jena Malone, and starts having visions of a giant white rabbit. Eric Roberts is brilliant as a man with a dark secret. The ending has a massive twist but still leaves you wondering what it was all about. Brilliant.


Genetic engineering has led to society being divided into Valids and Invalids (also known as ‘God children’). Ethan Hawke is an Invalid so determined to reach the stars that, despite a chronic heart condition and severe myopia, he manages to feign being a Valid at the Gattaca space centre. This film gave us a first glimpse of Jude Law, back when he was “one to watch” and not nanny-shagging tabloid fodder. Uma Thurman is ice queenly majestic too.


Before Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Christian Bale was a gun-wielding agent in a frightening future dystopia where emotion is outlawed. Emily Watson is passionate and flawless, as usual, and the fight scenes are the most enthralling since The Matrix. Best moment: When Bale’s character sees the rain and experiences feeling for the first time (he’s also shirtless).


28 Days Later
Genuinely terrifying, and without (much) gore or over-the-top stunts, Danny Boyle gave us nightmares with this tale of survivors trying to escape from rage-infected hordes. Sustained suspense keeps your pulse elevated throughout. The most surreal moment is when Cillian Murphy wakes up in what appears to be a deserted London. Brilliant theme music too, full of fear and desperation. Goosebumps.