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Friday, 28 September 2007

Belle, Book and Candle...

I must have been ill. I'm so evidently flu-engulfed that I get sent home from work early. I'm thus denied the pleasure of spreading my germs at large throughout the ranks of the new student intake who, when they're not stabbing one another, have begun to shuffle listlessly around the campus in a manner more befitting old wretches on death row than young people in the prime of life and on the cusp of a brilliant academic career. Which is excellent because it means I can watch Billie Piper in Confessions of a Call Girl as it is screened and am thus spared the temptation of spending all of today wanking over it when I could be doing something really indulgent and aimed solely at my own self-pleasuring. Like writing.

As with most things that we men work ourselves up into a teeth-gritting, grunt-festooned triumphalist fever over before being overtaken by humiliating feelings of inferiority and worthlessness (but I'm sure Geoff will be doing his own preview of the West Ham v. Arsenal game), ITV2's adaptation Belle de Jour doesn't quite live up to the billing. It's not all Billie Piper's fault, to be fair. She looks lovely; silky, wavy hair that you'd give your signed 1980 Cup Winner's Cup final programme to have wrapped around your gonads. And, whether being eased out of her jeans or all kitted out in her 'professional' get up with all the trimmings we get to see plenty of her being fucked. Surprisingly for a fetishist, man and boy, like myself, it's when she's dressed in the former, playing the girl next door being intimately fucked and not when she's cavorting on top of a chap wearing a saddle (that's Belle cavorting on the saddle, by the way, not the chap - what do you think I am? Some kind of PERVERT???) that provides the programme's most genuinely arousing moment.

The problem is, she's just not Belle:

On the way to the meeting point, I passed a poster for Intolerable Cruelty and managed to convince myself that I looked not unlike Catherine Zeta-Jones.

But it's not so much that she's a brunette or looks like one sexy young actress a bit more than she does another. In the same way that the irritating Bristolian whimpering of Martina Topless Bird (or whatevah) on the soundtrack is preferred to (for instance) Al Green's sublime 'Belle' (itself a meditation on the conflicting lures of the sexual and the spiritual), like the programme's makers, Billie just doesn't radiate the maturity and been-there-seen-it-done-it-had-it-inserted-into-me-and-mopped-it-up-with-the-t-shirt knowingness of Belle's literary voice. Billie has the youthful good looks and general well-turned out, 'I'd give her one'-ness a high class call girl would need, but she just doesn't seem for real, man. She's a fine actress, don't get me wrong, but she's been mis-cast in this. Even Cherie Lunghi, who performs the role of Belle's agent d'un certain age here with just the right mix of playfulness and coldheartedness, would have been a more plausible choice.

But perhaps the problem is more deeply rooted. In my view, Belle de Jour worked, first and foremost, because it was a blog. You can tell a lot about blogs from their opening few words. Some just pitch you into the middle of the author's tedious existence and hope for the best:

Another day wasted. 7 hours Shuttling between the website of Spanish daily and Real Madrid mouthpiece, La Marca and the Grauniad Ulnimited's Football talk forum for an end to the Vieira nonsense.

Others provide a more seemly opening before pitching you into the middle of the author's tedious existence and hoping for the best:

In analogue times, people who were slightly drunk and at a loose end might begin writing bad poetry, or stand on a soapbox at Hyde Park Corner, or just phone the speaking clock and scream obscenities at it.

Whereas some have quite clearly been designed to have legs beyond that initial post, their beginnings like that of a novel, hold the seeds of the story that will sprout like a mighty oak out of this taut and pithy kernel:

I spent my mid-twenties merrily gallivanting around the world without a care in the world, having a ball. I was on some Thai island paradise one day with a gaggle of fellow 20something raucous females, when I declared flippantly,

"Oh, I'll probably be in my thirties saying 'I haven't had a boyfriend since I was 23'..."

But they all have one thing in common, no matter how literary or contrived they may seem. You assume that you are on the receiving end of a singular voice, a unique experience. It's just like a novel, in many respects, only you can hear this, see how it's been updated, read it almost in real time, every single day. You can find out how its author has been and what they might do tomorrow. Or they might just tell you who they wanked over or what they watched on TV. And so it was with BdJ:

Located what sounded like an excellent, small, discreet agency (word of mouth, as they say). After email contact and sending my photos, I finally arranged to meet the manager at the dining room of a central London hotel. She sounded very young and had a very strong Eastern European accent. Polish, maybe? Should I ask? Oy vey.

It is very literary, even then, looking back at that very first post. It's crying out to be read on, to be continued; to be published as a book, even. But for all that literariness, it's very real in the way that all blogs come across as being 'real' - in other words, I suppose, as the unmediated product of an individual consciousness. I still think BdJ worked best on that other small screen. For me, much of the power of the writing came from its central conceit (somewhat lost in book and televised form, in my view) that this was a blog, written by (as so often they are) a blogger.

As such, and as much as her erotic encounters entertain, we also get to see a very vivid and personal London filled with very real Londoners and the ordinary minutiae of life through the eyes of the anonymous Belle. She's sat there, as we are, on the tube, only she is probably being eyed up by a potential assaulter. She may inhabit a very different professional world from our own, but she lives in the same one that we do and it is beautifully evoked. And that's why material that might otherwise have seemed like made-to-measure smut is able to transcend the genre and become quite a powerful piece of subversion. Because the insinuation returns with every post that this could be anyone. And so, the logic sits up, pert-breasted and fiddles with its short cut skirt, anyone could be Belle.

This universality is, of course, lost in the adaptation. I've not read the book, but it strikes me that the published form would also strip the work of that initial destabilising intent. We forget, I suppose, that this is an artform in its infancy. I'm doing some research on Daniel Defoe at the moment, and it's interesting how much stick he was on the receiving end of. Novels like Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders, based as they were on personal accounts of castaways and the Belle de Jour of her day, were deemed to be the work of a scandalous charlatan; Defoe was a literary freakshow proprietor who was happy to earn his coin relating and embellishing the misfortunes of others. And yet where would the novel be without Defoe? Blogs may well become one day what novels were to Defoe's time. When was the last time I read a novel that was, well, novel? And yet one is surrounded by novelty on the blogosphere. One day, perhaps, we'll be as happy to subscribe to read the author of Belle's newest work as we are now to hand over our readies for a paperback. This will no doubt come across as the embittered ranting of someone who knows he will never be published (which, to be fair, is only to be expected) but I, for one, can't wait.

L.U.V. on y'all,


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  1. You maight get published if you keep writing these good reviews Bob.

    Any chance of a write up for that DVD I sent you? You know the one..."Chip shop girls in fanny batter".

  2. Don't you think that a lot of blogs, rather than offering a singular voice, offer a voice that sounds half-inched from literary forms that aspire to intimacy, informality, one-on-one-ness; for example, BdJ and its ilk surely owe something to Bridget Jones; more blokey ones might suggest Amis or Welsh; sometimes I find myself slipping into the Self-isms, and have to stop myself. The truly honest, artless blog post is rare indeed. Or maybe that's because I don't seem to read many blogs written by people who don't read books...

    But very thought-provoking stuff, as usual, Bob. Have yet to see Ms Piper in action. Must set aside a few private hours to do so. Ahem.

  3. I nearly crashed the car on the A4 yesterday after getting distracted by a gianormous billboard of La Billie with not much on. The reason of the crash had I not done a most impressive emergency stop would have been that I was distracted by all the large amounts of airbrushing that seems to have been applied liberally prior to printing and er ooh aahh...erection of the afore-mentioned billie-board.

  4. can see her pubes on the poster an' all, Ro-ster. ITV have no shame, do they?

    Lively afternoon at Fratton Park yesterday Timster - I await your deconstruction of the 11 goal thriller with interest...

    I would leave a comment for Istster, only I know he'll be watching the women's World Cup I should be too...

    Brazil have just missed a sitter, btw..


  5. "Mwaruwari" has always struck me as the sort of noise that 14-year-old boys make when mimicking the action of sticking your head between a pair of bounteous bosoms.

    Mr Redknapp spent most of the post-match blah taking the piss out of Calamity.

    I'm glad he's not my psychiatrist.