Book Review #2: Imperial Bedrooms

“They had made a movie about us.”

I can’t quite remember at what age I first became aware of Bret Easton Ellis. What I can remember is reading American Psycho on a train late at night, then standing in a near-empty station and squinting suspiciously at every around me. I was completely on edge, paranoid, jittery, and somewhat terrified. Something about that book, and Bateman’s character, manages to leach into your soul. Reading it in public made me feel like it was me having those psychotic thoughts, that I myself was dangerous, and dark. It was a peculiar feeling. And even though there are passages of American Psycho that I can barely make it through, it’s one of my favourite books.

I’d always meant to read more of Ellis, but put it out of my mind until I started seeing the most remarkably well read boyfriend I’ve probably ever had. He’d read (and enjoyed) infinitely more books than I had, despite my English degree, and he lent me a copy of Glamorama. I have to say, I found it harder to plough through, but his sheer enthusiasm for Ellis and the surreal, spinning worlds he creates made me keep trying. Glamorama was long and winding (like some sort of road that the Beatles would have sung about), and I eventually admitted defeat.

I’d just been reading that they’re doing a remake of American Psycho, and I suppose that lodged in my brain when I took myself down to the bookshop, where I swiftly nabbed the neon bright Imperial Bedrooms, Ellis’s comeback novel. I had purposefully not read any reviews, and therefore I managed to overlook the fact that this is a sequel to Less Than Zero. I muddled on all the same. It was typical Ellis – no chapters, just ‘passages’. Marathon sentences that made the reader feel slightly manic, due to the sheer volume of words. His writing is a fascinating study on the effect structure alone has on the reader. Simply by writing these endless sentences, one becomes drawn in to the narrator’s fragile state of mind, just as paranoid and sweating as the protagonist themselves.

Less Than Zero

The novel starts with the line ‘They had made a movie about us.’ And in one fell swoop, Ellis manages to dislodge the sticky remnants of the Hollywood film of Less Than Zero, an adaptation which notoriously strayed from the original novel and plonked some heavy duty moral lessons onto Ellis’s emotional wasteland. Thusly, Ellis can explain away the death of Julian neatly in a masterstroke of meta-narrative.

I knew what to expect from reading his previous works, and the style in Bedrooms was not, largely, different. Unflinching, unemotional descriptions of the most brutal violence punctuated with song titles, liquor brands, ‘hot’ restaurants. Obviously the constant references to ‘culture’ and ‘things’ are one of the keystones to Ellis’s work, and help not only to contextualize the work, but to construct the lens through which his characters view the world.

This was done to much better effect in American Psycho, where the infamous lengthy description of Patrick Bateman’s business cards sat alongside passages about the murder of prostitutes. American Psycho worked for me, and many others, due to the sheer volume of description relating to speakers, or exercise regimes, or Bateman’s grooming habits. As the book rattled to a close, these descriptions became increasingly interspersed with the violent passages. This set Bateman as an extraordinarily unhinged character, but also provided comedy. It was ludicrous and obscene how Bateman would involve us in an episode involving some prostitutes, a chainsaw and a rat, before discussing a new restaurant. (That’s a generalisation, forgive me if I’ve remembered incorrectly.)

But back to Bedrooms. The novel is alarmingly slim, which means you ratchet straight into protagonist Clay’s return to LA, and his rapid descent into hell. Ellis draws LA as the Gomorrah of the modern world, full of people disfigured by surgery, drug addicts, prostitutes, and those lacking even the word ‘moral’ from their vocabularies. LA is almost the main character, and while the novel implies Clay had been leading a relatively sane life in New York, his return to the place captures him like a cancer. It isn’t long before he’s embroiled with a young beautiful actress – although this being LA, she’s already over the hill at 22/23, her beauty is a currency that isn’t enough, and ‘actress’ is a byword for prostitute. How refreshingly 17th Century.

Bret Easton Ellis

Rain, as the “young” “beautiful” “actress” has named herself, is an utterly appalling character with no redeeming features whatsoever. I sometimes wonder if Ellis writes his female characters as either saints or whores, in the old tradition. Rain is most definitely the latter, and you can make your mind up about Blair when you read the little coda on the final page. Much of the novel centres on Clay’s “relationship” with Rain, full of power plays, hate, and Patron Tequila. The voracity and desperation with which Rain pursues the part in a movie Clay has written is somewhat nauseating, purely because it’s most likely rather true to life of a certain breed of young women.

Hollywood is a cruel, vile place in Ellis’s eyes. If you’re too old (i.e. 22!), too ugly and unable to afford the plastic surgery you require, you’re sunk. I managed to comfort myself slightly by thinking he was exaggerating the soulless, skewed aspects of the place, but then I happened to thumb through Glamour magazine to an exposé on how many young actresses in Hollywood are leading double lives, as prostitutes. As per usual in a Bret Easton Ellis novel, I finished with a sour distaste for both modern life and people in general. The most marginal bit of comic relief comes in the form of Rain’s instantaneous turnarounds of emotion as Clay dangles the movie role in front of her. Rain is an empty vessel, we never know what she thinks. But we never know what anyone feels, because of Ellis’s adherence to the minimalist style he is famous for.

Characterwise, he tends to go on describe faces not personalities, leaving the reader unsure of how to gauge certain characters. He has come under immense scrutiny from feminist critics for both the portrayal of women in his body of work, but also for the way they are treated. I personally disagree – Ellis has argued that his writing in fact incriminates men, that his novels are all about the terrible actions of men, which I would agree this. He creates characters in a long line of villains you ultimately want to ‘get away with it. I’d read Lolita at a very early age, and had fallen irrevocably in love with Humbert Humbert. As most readers do, I wanted him to get away with it. I wanted him to achieve his ghoulish desires, and there was no question that I was utterly on his side. See also Iago in Othello.

The novel is plot-driven, unlike some of his other works. I didn’t find it as fresh as his other novels – a strange term to use when describing such a jaded style of writing, but it just lacked the power that, say, American Pyscho had. Perhaps I simply knew what to expect? Those long paranoid descriptions of the protagonist being followed, feeling that everyone was looking at him…ultimately, it didn’t bring anything new to his cannon of work. That said, I think any diehard Bret Easton Ellis fan has been longing to see him tackle the modern celebrity culture, and to explore the endless bounds forward in technology. And true enough, in Bedrooms, iPhones, YouTube, the creeping feeling of social media and technology taking over our lives – these things are all present, and ultimately used to control certain elements within the story.

If you’ve read Less Than Zero, then you could read this as a ‘where they are now’ exercise. Clue: there are no happy endings in Bret Easton Ellis. Or you could read it as a comment on the throbbing, nauseating, ever-churning Hollywood star machine. If you like your chick lit or easy reading, you’ll probably want to drive a million miles in the opposite direction.

Top 8 misery-busting movies

I always find the start of the New Year a bit strange. You’ve built so many high hopes for the year, made your resolutions, started making plans, decided you want to completely change the way you do everything. And then January 1st rolls around and it just feels like any other day. In fact, if you’re like me, it feels like a day where you need to drink gallons of orange juice and lie in bed to exorcise your hangover. The very, very New bit of the New Year can leave you feeling a bit…lacklustre. It might be a bit hard to get motivated, or you might be easing yourself in gently.

Then of course there’s the fact that both Christmas and any New Year’s celebrations are now officially dead and buried. You might have spent months planning them, and suddenly it’s all in the past, and all you’ve got left are heaps of out of focus photos and a red wine stain on your carpet. It’s highly likely you might feel just the tiniest bit down as the New Year dawns. Now you’ve actually got to start doing those Resolutions, instead of just whacking them optimistically down on paper. Days with nothing to do stretch out, but it’s still getting dark early. Maybe you’re going back to school, university or work. That 2000 word essay you’ve put off is due next week. You’ve got to do your tax return. You really must join the gym.

With that in mind, I’ve popped together a list of my favourite ‘misery-busting’ films. They might not be what you’d find on a standard Top 10 Happy Films list, but they work for me. Some are uplifting, some are just pure comedy, and some feature Catherine Deneuve kissing a woman and singing. Actually, that’s just one. Read on to find out which. Anyway, with the nights still dark and the year still very much newborn, why not update your Lovefilm list with some of the following:

  1. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – There was no question that this was going to be the keystone of my list. In my opinion, FBDO is not only my favourite film of all time, but the perfect film to watch when you’re feeling a bit ‘at odds’ with life. Every time I see it, I fall a bit more in love with Ferris and his limitless optimism. Not just a John Hughes 80s corker, but a film with a message to put across too: make sure you stop what you’re doing and enjoy yourself once in a while, or life might just pass you by.

Best moment: a competitive choice, as there are so many. For me though, Ferris’s first conversation with Cameron, over the phone, makes me giggle every time. Listen out for the way the score changes between a Hawaiian style tune for Ferris and pure music of doom for Cameron. ‘When Moses was in Egypt’s land, let my Cameron gooooo……’ Oh, and obviously the parade scene:

2. Son of Rambow – I watched this for the first time the other night, and I had no idea whether it would end well or in a way that would traumatically scar me for life. Luckily it was the former. Centring around two boys from different backgrounds who become ‘blood brothers’ and make their own film, inspired by Rambo. Both young leads are fantastic, and it made me want to be a young boy in the 80s (something I’d have previously thought quite hard to achieve.) The shots themselves are beautiful – often as visually appealing as a Sofia Coppolla film – an odd comparison, but as a sweeping generalisation I find female directors often exhibit more visual flare in films. Also look out for a fantastically British Ed Westwick.

Best moment: again, so many. But it’s a tie for me between any shot involving French exchange student Didier Revol, and the rave-like party in the sixth form common room.

3. 8 Femmes (8 Women) – A film by Francois Ozon that sadly went a bit under the UK radar. It might be because it’s such a spectacularly French film that us Brits might have found it a little bizarre and somewhat disjointed. A pastiche of a 1950s murder mystery set in a country house, the film features everyone from Virginie Ledoyen to Catherine Deneuve, and one of my favourite Gallic actresses, Isabelle Huppert. The film gets camper and camper before your very eyes, and features all your favourite French actresses singing various popular French hits. It really does have to be seen to be believed. Seeing Catherine Deneuve grappling with a woman on the floor will stay in your head, whether you’re a straight man, a straight woman, a gay man, or a lesbian.

Best moment: The dance routine that the youngest member of the household (Ludivine Sagnier) performs in her pajamas, to the song ‘Papa t’es plus dans l’coup’ – see below.

4. Clueless – Another girlie entry, and one that I must admit I know most of the words to. You can’t beat this modern update of Jane Austen’s Emma, and as far as I’m concerned, this was the original teen movie, and the best. It certainly has more heart that most of the films made within this genre in the noughties. Alicia Silverstone is perfectly cast as the cheerful yet initially rather spoilt teenager who really does want the best for everyone around her.

Best moment: The brief exchange between Cher’s father and her ‘date’ for the night, Christian. ‘What’s with you, kid? You think the death of Sammy Davis Jr left an opening in the Rat Pack?’

5. Wayne’s World – an antidote to my previous two girlie films. I’ve been watching Wayne’s World since I was about 8, and I haven’t got bored of it yet. From the infamous Bohemian Rhapsody car journey at the start to closing minutes of the film, this is a cinematic classic. I dare you to watch it and feel miserable (it’s impossible). And then I dare you to go round talking in 90s slang for the rest of the week.

Best moment: Anything involving Wayne’s ex girlfriend Stacey, but really, most moments are ‘right on’.

N.B. If you’re a Wayne’s World fanatic like me, why not come along to the ‘Schwing Along’ at the Prince Charles Cinema, just off Leicester Square? Tickets are £12.50, and include entry to a ’90s grunge party’ – dressing up strongly encourage – and the film itself. Click here to check it out, and maybe I’ll see you there: http://princecharlescinema.com/events/events.php?seasonanchor=wayne

6. Sixty Six – Another one where you have no idea if it’ll end well or in total carnage. The premise is this: a boy is planning his Bar Mitzvah, which ends up clashing with the England World Cup final. He dreams of the perfect event, and spends hours sorting out things like place settings. Absolutely made by the young lead of the film, look out for scenes where he tests ‘cocktails’ out on his brother. Also features the spectacular Helena Bonham-Carter in one of her trademark ‘slightly batty mother’ roles.

Best moment: unquestionably, the end. I’m not giving away any more than that, so you’ll have to watch it.

7. Let’s Make Love – I was always going to feature a Marilyn Monroe film in any list of misery-busting movies. Monroe is absolutely luminous on any screen, but ‘Let’s Make Love’ trumped ‘Some Like it Hot’ in this list for me. Firstly, I like to mostly stay off the beaten track with my film choices, and secondly because it’s such an undeservedly overlooked film. A high-powered French businessman (Yves Montand) is planning on shutting down a local community theatre in New York. He goes down to visit it, and sees Monroe performing, and falls for her straight away, naturally. While he’s sitting there watching her, a director plucks him up, assuming he’s here to audition for the show….as an impersonation of himself. He gets the part. Hilarity ensues. It also features the Niles Crane of the 50s and 60s, Tony Randall. Ahead of its time in many ways, I really do recommend this.

Best moment: A tie between the dance number for ‘Specialization’ (Marilyn at her best), and the scene where Yves Montand hires some experts to teach him to dance and sing. The experts are Gene Kelly and Bing Crosby.

8. Easy Virtue – Without a doubt, one of my favourite films of recent years. It’s one of those typically English, PG Wodehousian, big country house romps. Son of the household returns home with an American bride (Jessica Biel). And not just any American bride, a racing driver with a rather murky romantic past at that. Jessica Biel is my hero in this film, and perfect in the role. An icy Kristin Scott-Thomas reigns supreme, with Colin Firth as her rather put-upon husband. Another part comedy, part musical entry, but a great one to watch if you find yourself feeling a bit of an outsider.

Best moment: The dance scene near the end. You’ll be completely and utterly on Biel’s side.

Book Review #1: How To Be a Woman

Aka, How Not To Be a Lady

How To Be a Woman was always going to be a challenging book for me. Put simply, I am a disgrace to feminism. I tend to go down the frightfully woolly line of ‘feminism is about choice for women, and I actually really enjoy cooking, cleaning and looking after people, so I choose that’. I was worried that the book would make me confront certain unpopular behaviours in myself. Namely, that the line most likely to make me drop my knickers when uttered by a man is: ‘don’t worry, beautiful – here, let me do it’. Closely followed by: ‘shall I carry that for you?’ and ‘god, you’ve got good legs’.

It isn’t that the feminist movement passed me by, as I lay in my pink painted bedroom on my silky quilted bed. Quite the opposite – I was fed on a diet of feminist literature and theory at university, and it was enough to turn anybody’s stomach. Sadly, the type of feminism we often encountered involved talking openly about certain parts of your anatomy, being really rather bullish when it came to getting your point across, and wearing –quite frankly – terrible clothes. Moran does actually address this in her book, stating that if you’re interested in any sort of fair judgement/rights for women, and you are in fact a woman, you’re a feminist. It’s unfortunate that the word has so many negative associations; I think most girls would be hesitant to align themselves with such a label.

Of course, there are degrees of feminism, but it’s the Nazi-like beliefs of some particularly militant groups (several believe men should be completely eradicated) that, in layman’s terms, ‘give feminism a bad name’. I had hopes for the book. I thought it was going to tell me that I could still wear my five inch heels and be remarkably empowered. It sort of does. Moran talks us through the issues facing women: fat, ‘fur’, naming your own anatomy, sexism, underwear…it amused me at points, but also left me faintly shocked. I also struggled with the fact that she frequently reinforces the very messages she’s trying to subvert.

Ultimately, I think I’m too repressed to properly engage with this book. I’d love to be able to stand on a chair and yell ‘I am a feminist’. I’d love to talk too loud, wear really big knickers and not wax. I’d love not to care. I’d enjoy naming my anatomy with particularly bizarre terminology, but I can’t. I am tightly and rigidly controlled, and my own belief system far too entrenched. The language in the book is, to coin a delightful phrase, ‘salty’ at best, and I was wincing at virtually every page. It appears I have the sensibilities of a Victorian maiden. I die a tiny bit inside when I read a lexicon of crude words for a woman’s body. I nearly fainted at the last few chapters (more on that later.)

It started getting better around the ‘Sexism’ chapter. And I shouldn’t imply that I hated the whole thing; I sat there laughing at points, cringing at others. I enjoyed Moran’s writing, up to a point. The ‘Sexism’ chapter rang true, and I was stopped dead in my tracks as she detailed her relationship with ‘Courtney’; a relationship she treated as a sort of ‘penance’. It so perfectly summed up that Dream Relationship vs. Real Relationship syndrome every girl has experienced at some point. You’re convinced you love someone, but you don’t actually like them very much. You stop being able to distinguish between the aching pain of love and someone who, quite frankly, is a bit of a tosser. The hint is, there isn’t really an ‘aching pain’ of love. It isn’t the 1800s anymore.

For a few chapters, I was flying. I chose to overlook the fact that comments on the sexualisation of young teenagers, bikini waxes and the size of underwear were massively hackneyed, and let myself get into the book. It was fine for a while, but then came the hugely graphic description of the birth of Moran’s first child. Trust me, women. DO NOT READ this chapter if you’re planning on having children. I, who masterfully conquered some of the vilest passages in American Psycho, was completely repulsed. I wanted to stop reading but couldn’t. It was all gruesome, heart-stoppingly horrible, and hugely similar to many an article in the Daily Mail. By the time we were at the chapter on abortion, I felt utterly miserable. I have to confess, I couldn’t even handle the final chapter, ‘Intervention’. I didn’t really want to read about how we’re all ‘dying, crumbling into the void’ very late at night.

Ultimately, I couldn’t escape the cynical feeling that Moran couldn’t sell her autobiography on the strength of her name alone, so she shaped it into a faux polemic on the state of womankind. Despite apparently being a book on feminism, no other feminist figures apart from Germaine Greer were cited. As far as I’m concerned, you could pluck out the most sexist, ill-read, beer-swilling of blokes, and he’d know that Greer is a feminist. It’s entry level. Where was the Andrea Dworkin, the Camille Paglia, Helene Cixous? If you’re going to write a book with feminism as the main subject matter, then perhaps it would be a good idea to, you know, read some feminist theory? The omission of anyone other than Greer led me to believe either that Moran simply hadn’t bothered to read anything else, or that she selectively chose just the tiniest portion of feminist ideology to fit with her own ideas.

I must also add that, to any man reading this book, it might appear a mite confusing. In the chapter addressing things like pole-dancing, Moran essentially seems to say ‘if we’re falling about having a laugh with our mates, it’s fine, but if we’re not, and we’re doing it for ANYTHING ELSE AT ALL, then it is WRONG and DISGUSTING’. Pfft. Women, eh? And also, I would have liked to see more of a discussion of how destructive women are to each other – it isn’t just men perpetrating myths about how we should behave, but women too. Women suffer sexism at the hands of female bosses too, you know.

The title is mostly a misnomer. It really is mainly a memoir, with a bit (a lot) of ranting tacked on. It should actually be called How To Be Caitlin Moran. Like I said, I think I’m just too uptight to enjoy it; next time I’ll just stick to my Collected Works of Nancy Mitford and leave this kind of malarkey to everyone else. It seems that in Moran’s world, it’s her way or no way. She makes snap judgments (rather like I’ve done on her book, I suppose) on what’s ok and what isn’t. Strippers bad, burlesque artists good. Katie Price bad, Lady Gaga good. I’m wrong for wanting to employ decent personal hygiene. On her grounds, I am wrong for so many things. It’s ok to be fat (ish), to be too loud, to wear cheap clothes. Fine, but what about the converse?

I know I’m more or less completely panning it, but I had such high hopes for it. Everyone seems to love it, and it’s won plenty of accolades. I suppose the crux of the matter is, while it might tell (some of) you ‘How To Be a Woman’, it isn’t teaching anyone how to be a Lady. And even in this empowered, enlightened, post-bra burning age, I still value being civilised and ladylike. I don’t go around saying everybody should be like that, or that people are wrong for wearing Doc Martens and dungarees. If you’re happy wearing it, then wear it and I’ll stick with my heels and 1960s minidresses. Just don’t tell me I’m wrong for doing so.

It was summed up perfectly by one review I read on Amazon:

“(It was) just a story about one woman who believes her life experiences are shared by everyone, and those who didn’t experience the same or who disagree with anything she writes are obviously oppressed by the patriarchy.”

Word. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to slip on my highest heels and continue to disappoint ‘the sisterhood’.

Black Mirror: The Entire History of You

Or, where did it all go wrong?

Even when I read the synopsis for each episode of Black Mirror, the third instalment was the one which grabbed me the least. I’ve got no idea why, but I thought it sounded a little flat, and a little predictable. In fact, I even read a book for children when I was about 10, which centred around the idea of a girl who could fast forward and rewind time. Readers, I should have saved myself an hour and got that book out from the library. Black Mirror: The Entire History of You (TEHOY, you know the drill by now. TEHOY, mateys! Avast, there be a terrible plot! Etc etc) revolved around the premise of a world where we can review our lives by flashing back to moments and replaying them. Over and over. And over.

Think of how much time we spend dissecting our lives already. I must have clocked up hours sitting down with friends and furiously muttering things like: ‘so, when he said that, do you think that meant he liked me?’ My well meaning friend would reply: ‘well, how exactly did he say it? Did he say, “see you soon”, or “see you soon”?’ Instead of putting on a gruff voice and imitating whatever my passing fancy had said, in TEHOY world, I’d just replay the scene for her. By the way, I’m not actually that neurotic – I was just illustrating a point. Of all the various premises of Black Mirror, this wasn’t particularly interesting, and was also very poorly executed. I didn’t even fancy anyone this week.

I’ll start with the characters. Our main man Liam (Toby Kebbell) is a lawyer who becomes increasingly suspicious of his wife (I think they were married, I really, really failed to absorb much info) having an affair with a ‘prick’ called Jonah. Jonas? A Jonas Brother? Judas? I finished watching the thing ten minutes ago and I already can’t remember. Maybe there is something to be said for ‘Grain’ technology, where I could just rewind back to the…oh, right. Yeah, 4oD.

I’m not going to bore you with plot details, because it was essentially a middle class version of Eastenders. I imagine. I’ve actually never seen Eastenders. I’m too middle class. Liam obsesses over the events of a dinner party where his wife/partner/girlfriend/who cares is reunited again with Jonah/Jonas/Jesus. For the entire agonising hour of the drama, he just plays and replays events using the Grain implanted behind his ear, analysing things. I’m going to say right here that WATCHING THE SAME THINGS AGAIN AND AGAIN IS RIDICULOUSLY BORING. We got the picture within seconds, we’re not idiots. We knew he could rewind and replay bits. We had no need of seeing each one of those bits again and again.

That was my first issue: that I was bored senseless. The second issue was that everybody was hugely unlikeable. Main man Liam was an absolute arse. Black Mirror worked in weeks 1 and 2 because I liked and/or sympathised with PM Michael Callow and Bing, respectively. But this guy? Please. I’m not sure if it was the writing or the acting, but I didn’t care a jot what happened to him. That’s another thing: you’ll be able to predict the end after about fifteen minutes in. His ‘life partner’, Ffion, was unsympathetic too, and….oh, I just disliked them all. I wish I could review the programme properly, but it was just terrible. Also, Stephen Mangan should have played the lead role.

Jesse Armstrong wrote the script, and I was surprised to find not even the merest hint of humour. After all, this is the co-creator of Peepshow and Fresh Meat we’re talking about. Nothing. I suppose it was slightly like an episode of Peepshow if Peepshow had been written by somebody bloated on a diet of Eastenders and misery, and if the actors in Peepshow had been plucked from some wanky, self-involved student production. I expected more from Jodie Whittaker, who is usually a very good actress. The single vestige of Peepshow that remained was those weird POV shots when one of the boys kisses someone. Even that failed to make me laugh. Oh! I just feel so irrevocably miserable about the whole thing.

Essentially, if you took away the technology, this would be a really crap version of Othello, or He Knew He Was Right. Jealous people will always be jealous, and you can still wreck a relationship without a PVR in your head. The other episodes looked at how technology was ruling and destroying our lives, but this hugely missed the point. Actually, I still remember seeing one of my friends playing and replaying a video on Facebook of a recent ex, sure that she’d seen him with an arm around someone. I don’t know whether that example illustrates the point of TEHOY, or does the opposite. Like I said, I’m feeling far too uninspired by the episode to bother making links. This is a terrible review for a programme that I can’t even really rip to shreds properly.

It felt to me like the episodes got smaller in scope. Week one was about Britain as a whole, week two was about one section of society, and week three was about a small group of people. Rubbish, boring, annoying people. I also think it declined in quality. I was disturbed by the first two programmes, but the final episode did nothing for me. Hence the one part review, which is unheard of for me. I can write 2000+ words on anything, but not this. It was poor, badly acted, unfunny, uninteresting, and there was nobody having sex with a pig. All in all, very disappointing. Should this kind of technology come in, you can rest assured I’ll be deleting this particular episode of Black Mirror from my brainbox.

God, I miss you. Please come back.

Toodle pip.

Fifteen Million Merits: Part One

Well then. Fifteen Million Merits last night, right after the X Factor final. Who watched? What did you think? For me, it made me realise how good I’d found The National Anthem, how disturbed I’d been by it and how thought-provoking I’d found it, whereas Fifteen Million Merits (FMM for short, because I’m not typing that every few minutes) left me cold, for the most part. And not in a cold sweat, which is what happened after last week’s. I think because I reacted so extremely to The National Anthem – too upset to sleep, flashbacks throughout the week (especially when a particular sound effect came on in The Archers, oh Jesus), and I was still thinking about it yesterday and making connections; it was going to be tough for anything to compete with that.

Funnily enough, the general consensus seems to be the other way round, that this week was genius, and last week was…well, something to be consigned to a pig sty. All I know is, during TNA, I was gripped for every single ghastly minute. During FMM I kept pulling up the TV guide on screen and making sure I wasn’t missing any good films. Then I spent most of the time on Twitter, which is both exactly what Charlie Brooker probably wants but detests me for at the same time.

So, FMM. Where to begin? We start with scenes of Bing (the amazing Daniel Kaluuya)  waking up in his screen-bound world, losing merits for every time he ‘takes’ something – toothpaste, skipping an advert, eating some food – and gaining them by just pedalling on a bike for hour on end, presumably generating the energy needed to run the technology that is keeping everybody prisoner. We see a selection of the ‘entertainment’ on offer, and let me tell you, there’s no such thing as ‘Frasier’ in this dystopian future. Nope, it’s all fat people stuffing their faces, computer generated bike rides, and X Factor style ads for ‘Hot Shot’ (a talent show) – oh, and the ‘Wraith Babes’ channel. Bearing the example from TNA in mind (i.e. everything you see means something), I knew to keep an eye on this ‘Wraith Babes’ malarkey, and that this wouldn’t be the last we saw of it.

Bing is in love with a girl called Abi (Jessica Brown Findlay), but in a world where everything is controlled and manufactured, can their love exist? So far, so 1984, as I’m sure everybody said. Being TV illiterate, I haven’t seen either Downton Abbey or Fades, which is what the two leads are known for being in, so I had no frame of reference for them as actors. I thought they were fantastic, and not unlike the way Rory Kinnear and Lindsay Duncan made TNA by playing it gruesomely straight, these two carved something from the script by injecting a very natural, very real romance into a world where everything is false.

PLOT TIME! It takes ages for the plot to get started, unlike the ‘PIG SEX’ precisely one minute into TNA. I think it’s to build up a picture (or, screen) of the eye-bleeding monotony of their lives, where everything, including porn, is prescribed. The edge has been taken off everything – fruit is all too perfect; the Wraith Babes seem to be performing a very clinical, softcore, Britney Spears backing dancer-esque set of wriggling about; anything created is chucked. Abi constantly makes little origami penguins, which the yellow-clad cleaners throw away repeatedly. ‘Debris’, they mutter as they swat the little birds from around her. So Abi and Bing slope onwards in their pointless lives, watching crappy TV, and listening to a guy who REALLY reminded me of comedian Lee Mack yelling at the screen and at the cleaners.

I am the MTV generation folks, whether I like it or not. My attention span isn’t the best. I was flagging around 40-50 minutes in, wondering where the scathing dissection of the X Factor was that I’d been promised. Christ, the only reason I’d sat through the bloody X Factor final was to provide some context for this show! Dear Mr Cowell, I will be invoicing you for the two hours of my life that I shall never get back. Anyway, Bing hears Abi singing in the bathroom and tells her she should enter ‘Hot Shot’. She explains that she lives ‘hand to mouth’, that she can’t throw away the merits needed (the Fifteen Million of the title.) Bing promises he’ll give her his. It’s a sweet scene, both actors play it very innocently, making it all the more unbearable when the huge screen opens up next to Bing broadcasting the Wraith Babes to all and sundry. Oh, didn’t I mention? The screens are like those hideous targeted ads that stalk you around the internet. You know, when you accidentally scroll your mouse over them and they open up and pelt you with loud noise and you can’t turn them off. Well, imagine that following you around. On all your walls.

Bing is embarrassed, because the screen clearly projects what you’ve been watching previously, or something similar. Now this is the KEY POINT. You’ve got to watch Abi’s reaction when the trashy looking Babes come on. She sweetly averts her eyes and looks at the floor until it’s gone, then raises her head awkwardly. This is the reaction you need to remember as foreshadowing of what’s to come.

Read Part Two here:

https://ameliaflorencesimmons.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/fifteen-million-merits-part-two/

Fifteen Million Merits: Part Two

About two million hours in – or, the length of an X Factor final itself – we finally got somewhere. Bing purchases the ‘Hot Shot’ ticket and accompanies a nervous Abi , who is beginning to have doubts about the whole ordeal. Bing talks her into it, and they swoop down to get her checked in. Bing gets a ‘Hot Shot’ stamp on his hand as her designated friend/family, and is told it’ll probably last ‘about two months’. No kidding, I’ve suffered at the hands of an overzealous stamper before when I’ve been on a night out, and it SUCKS. Led to the ‘backstage’ area, we get a glimpse of the ‘behind the scenes’ bit we always see on X Factor/Britain’s Got Talent, where hoardes of hopeless hopefuls are warming up or stretching out. The only difference is they’re all in grey tracksuits. No Kitty Brucknells here (THANK GOD.)

FINALLY, I think. We’re getting somewhere. Eventually Abi gets through to the stage, and we see the judges: Judges Charity, Hope, and…you guessed it, Wraith. A quote from 1 Corinthians (chanks Google, sadly I can’t remember huge chunks of the Bible myself) says this: ‘And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity’. Nice one guys, rhyming ‘charity’ with ‘charity’ was really ace. Anywho. I’m not in any way saying you’d have been better pushed to spend the time reading the Bible, no sirree bob. But what in God’s name was Rupert Everett thinking with his bizarre accent?

I still can’t work out if it was Aussie, New Zealand or South African. I like to imagine that he’s the kind of actor who gets really, really into the role, and just showed up at rehearsal and went ‘guys. Guys! I’VE GOT IT. I’m going to make him an Aussie/New Zealander/South African!’, and everybody just had to go ‘heeeey! Nice one Rupes, great idea’ etc etc until he shut up and drank his Starbucks. I adore Rupert Everett, I just didn’t understand what the accent was about. I would guess that they didn’t want it to be an impression of Simon Cowell, but last week worked on the basis of Rory Kinnear looking like a love child of Nick Clegg and David Cameron, so why would you deviate from that? Julia Davis was clearly giving her all to an impression of Amanda Holden. Everett just perched on the end looking like a mug shot of George Michael and acting up a storm, but with an ACCENT.

Aaand calm. Anyway, they hustled Abi into the spotlight, and she sang, and Judge Wraith began to talk about her taking her top off, and she looked confused and nervous, and Judge Hope (Everett) said ‘throw another shrimp on the Barbie, mate’. Then the crowd (all made up of avatars) cajoled Abi into signing up to be one of Wraiths Babes. She agreed. The kind, naive, innocent Abi was hauled off to provide 24 hour porn, which Bing himself would later have to watch (not having enough merits to skip it.) Even the scene where he had to watch her tartily made up face contorted on screen wasn’t quite there for me. I may be an utter pervert, but I wanted to see even more humiliation for her. Otherwise it was just a girl with some makeup on with some chap’s thumb in her mouth. A normal Friday out in Tunbridge Wells, what what!

Has anybody ever watched Babestation? Because that’s what Wraith Babes sort of was. If you haven’t, you’ve got to. True fact: you can actually hear your soul steadily seeping away. I remember flicking onto it with a friend and talking about the deadened eyes and plastic lips of the girls. It’s not even porn – the girls have sex with the air as opposed to a man/woman/pig, and they can never take their knickers off, I believe. What upsets me the most about watching it is thinking ‘that’s somebody’s little girl. That plastic chested, shark eyed girl was once a baby.’ Unbearable. I’d hazard a guess that a lot of girls who go for ‘modelling’ careers end up there. So, that’s what lovely Abi with the origami penguins and the fringe was consigned to for the rest of her life.

I don’t think a good enough reason was given as to why. Ok, she’d been drugged slightly before she went on, and the audience of avatars were cheering for her to do it, but really there wasn’t a moment when I saw that she had to make that choice. And she had a choice – it was porn or back to the bikes. Dude! The bikes weren’t that bad! Sorry, but if Brooker can make me think that the PM had no choice but to have sex with a pig on live TV, he should be able to make me think a girl can sell herself to a life of Babestation.

I found the avatar audience pointless. It lost the imposing feel of a real audience. If you’ve watched a talent show, you know that the ugliest part is when the camera turns on the audience and focuses on a single face as it turns from delight to anger, and starts chanting ‘off, off! OFF!’ And here’s where my stumbling block was. I was expecting this programme to really, really rinse X Factor/BGT for all it was worth. I thought Cowell would be completely lampooned. I thought the whole franchise would wriggle under the weight of Brooker’s careful and precise incisions.

Read the final part, Part Three here: https://ameliaflorencesimmons.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/fifteen-million-merits-part-three/