For many years 70-something-year-old Drako Oho Zahar Zahar was a prominent figure in the British gay underground. In his time as a dancer he had posed for Salvador Dalí, worked with Andy Warhol, and can be seen, leather-clad, giant black dildo in hand, writhing around in the foreground of Derek Jarman’s The Garden.
But that was then and this is now. Today Drako suffers from anterograde amnesia: he is a man with no past, just a permanent, rolling present that forces him to take everyone, and everything, at face value, including filmmaker Toby Amies. When Amies first visits Drako to discuss making a film about him, Drako remembers nothing about their arrangement, but agrees to do it anyway, abiding by the code he has lived by, and has tattooed onto his arm, ever since losing his memory: ‘Trust, Absolute, Unconditional’. The moving and inspiring film that emerges from several years of regular visits to Drako’s cramped Brighton council flat, festooned from wall to wall with gay pornography and scribbled notes-to-self, is a deeply human portrait of a developing friendship, and of a difficult life lived to its fullest.
Rather than document Drako’s colourful existence before the accident that robbed him of his memory, Amies makes the bold decision to focus on Drako now, choosing to take his subject for what he is, rather than for what he used to be. As their bond strengthens, and Amies shifts in Drako’s consciousness from another unknown to a ‘cher ami’, so Amies’s role changes, from documenter to carer, and the genuine warmth between Drako, on screen, and Amies off it, is enough to heat even the largest gentlemen’s sauna.
This in itself should counter any accusations – and they have been raised – that the film exploits Drako’s mental health problems: indeed Amies confronts his subject with that very question. ‘I like to be used,’ moans Drako, staring into the camera, tugging at his stretched, pierced nipples through specially prepared holes in a chunky knit sweater. Just who, we are forced to ask, is using who here?
With all the current talk of ‘British Values’, it strikes this reviewer that every voting age adult in this country should be encouraged, or, if they protest, forced to see The Man Whose Mind Exploded. Here they will learn about the once deep-seated British Values of not just tolerance, but of celebration of difference and eccentricity that must be retained, and will surely be lost, in a world without Drakos.
Watch the trailer: