150. Bookish

Tapehead no 150

For years I have learned to live according to the morality of the majority and live like everyone else,” Albert Camus says in Bookmark.

“I said what was necessary to say in order to bond, even when I felt separate. The upshot of all this was catastrophic. Now I am wandering among the wreckage, resigned to my singularity and my disabilities.”

Albert, me old mucker, Tapehead couldn’t have put it better himself.

A large part of Booker Prize week has been given over to reiterating; there is nothing more guaranteed to make you miserable than being a writer. (Phillip Schofield and Jenny Turner never had such problems.) The Camus quote, by the way, comes in part three – Happiness.

Bookmark’s approach is to be Deeply Serious, with sumptuous photography and pained piano music, though at 90 minutes, you cold read A Happy Death in less time.

Director James Kent predictably declarers poor Camus 

“in need of reassessment” but mercifully does nothing of the kind, dragging us through his life and loves, culminating with the fact that even when he won the Nobel Prize, it only made him more miserable.

The film is short on football, long on theatre and excellent on his many (mad, miserable) “long-term lovers”. 

(“The windows of the clinic are always closed.” How true that is.)

The line “he was a Don Juan and she was a Don Juana” is not exactly erudite, but pretty great nonetheless.

Sadly, gnomic French intellectualisms worthy of Brass Eye’s Jacques Liverot abound – character such as Roger Quilliot saying things like “From this moment, Meursault enters the world of judgement and the world of judgment is the discovery of man”. (Eh ?)

Still, at least Bookmark relies on its subject-matter to hold our attention rather than its presenter, and has a decent (ie professional) narrator (Brian Cox). 

The Works (Kerouac, by Andrew O’Hagan) and Omnibus (Oscar, by Michael Bracewell) confirm that while actors narrate and TV presenters present, journalists should journo.

O’Hagan start off with the 65 days that Kerouac spent as the solitary fire-watcher on Desolation Peak near the Canadian border (next to Damnation Part and Mount Terror, right opposite Mount Despair), predictably (pointlessly) going up there himself and narrating as if he were speaking English for the first time.

The remotes fire station in the fire service (a case of Off The Road) having cultivated his Catholic upbringing into an interest in Buddhism (“Boo-dism” as the Americans call it), Kerouac declared that, with no drugs o drink for company, “If I don’t get a vision up on Desolation Peak, my name ain’t, er, William…Blake.”

Already intense and miserably enough, Kerouac didn’t get any religious visions but “a fleeing of desolation” (what, on Desolation Peak ?! Who would have thought it, eh ?), writing loads of tosh about “abysmal nothingness” and being “face to face with my old hateful self instead.”

“I learn that I hate myself – because by my self, I am only my self.” Everything is nothing,” he wrote. Indeed.

The most intriguing part of Omnibus is director Hugh Thomson’s insatiable appetite for filming journo-presenter Michael Bracewell’s back, watching him trudging gloomily down endless corridors and stairways, like a miserable version of the White Rabbit. We see more of Michael than Oscar.

Of course, there’s an obvious case for Oscar Wilde ad “the century’s first pop star” as Bracewell puts it. But surely he deserves more than being reduced to the status of some sort of Boy George/Ziggy Stardust self-invention. 

Occasional allusions to Wilde by the likes of the Rolling 

Stones and “other pop Dorians” are seized upon to prop up this premise, but what The Who or Finley Quaye have got to do with the dear old boy is anyone’ guess.

The genius of Wilde’s line “one’s real life is the life one does not lead”, and how he dealt with it, are surely intriguing enough without any pop-culture context.

It’s bad enough inflicting It’s A Sin into things but Neil Tennant’s evaluation of Wilde is surely of minor interest. His big theory about the artist’s “imperial phase” is typical Pet Shop Boy bogus intellectualism.

“As in Napoleon’s career,” Tennant pontificates, “an artist’s triumph is followed by survival or disaster before the whole thing fades away.” (No shit, Sherlock.)

“I’m sick to death of cleverness,” Wilde wrote. “Everybody’s clever nowadays.”

Astute as always.


Bookmark: Sat, 10pm, BBC2

The Booker Prize Live: Tues, 9pm, C4

The Works: Sat, 7.30pm, BBC2

Omnibus: Sun,10.40pm, BBC1