Michel Houellebecq and his recipe for Eroticism

Yesterday I watched Michel Houellebecq’s short film La Rivière, which was produced by Canal+ presumably to, ahem!, fill some slot in their programming schedule in 2001.  What slot they required to be filled I can only imagine, because this is essentially a soft core lesbian porno.

Now, I have previously read Will Self’s comment that Houellebecq is “just a little guy who can’t get enough sex” – but I dismiss this because Houellebecq’s height has nothing to do with anything (unless, of course, he is experiencing problems in reaching for some “top shelf” material) and, anyway, Will Self is, in my opinion: (i) just a guy who looks like a feeble-minded monster, (ii) a verbose and tedious writer.  So why take any notice of his opinionated opinion?

But when considering what I thought Houellebecq might have done with a short film entitled “Eroticism seen by Michel Houellebecq”, I had thought it might be more interesting than it was.  I get the lesbian thing – it’s a given that for some reason or other men seem to be interested in the idea of women together – but why, I wonder, does Houellebecq’s idea of eroticism include various tedious (and essentially pointless) conversations between two of the women?

Perhaps he didn’t think that a film that consisted solely of lesbian sex would be “erotic” enough, but I’m not sure why conversations like this would even feature in someone’s idea of eroticism:

Conversation One

Woman 1:  Your house is ancient

Woman 2:  12th Century – it was a Cathari fortress.  There’s been a lot of fighting for this place.  In the 20th Century it became an inn

Conversation Two

Woman 1:  When did the first men appear?

Woman 2:  400,000 years ago – a little higher in the valley

Woman 1:  The memorial isn’t mentioned…

Woman 2:  How old is your map?

Woman 1:  10 years old

Woman 2:  Things have changed…

Conversation Three

Woman 1:  When did you plant them?

Woman 2:  Seven years ago.  They died suddenly

Woman 1:  You don’t know what they died of?

Woman 2:  No, we didn’t try to find out.  We just buried them.  Naked, in the ground, with nothing.  Above each body we have planted a tree

Woman 1:  Are you sure they were the last ones?

Woman 2:  They told us.  They knew they were the last ones.  They knew they were going to die

Okay, so perhaps men do not feature in Houellebecq’s idea of eroticism, so there’s no German guy turning up to fix the photocopier they have installed in their 12th Century Cathari fortress – but is there really any need to make excuses for the lesbian sex?  The boring conversations above explain that there are no men, so this is presumably the reason why these 7 women are now turning to each other to fulfil their sexual needs; they’re lesbians by necessity.  But why they even have to go into the history of the Cathari fortress, I don’t know.

The women don’t bother to have a conversation about why they walk around naked except for a bandeau they wear around their midriff; they don’t explain this at all.  So here’s my imagined conversation about the bandeau:

Woman 1:  Why do we have to wear the bandeau?

Woman 2:  If we didn’t we would be totally naked and that wouldn’t be quite so exciting – I won’t have seen you totally naked until you remove your bandeau

Woman 1:  I see…

Woman 2:  Plus, if we didn’t wear a bandeau we would get chafe marks from our rucksacks

Woman 1:  Now you put it that way, I understand

I shouldn’t knock La Rivière totally – the cinematography is good; the film is well-made.  It’s just that it’s too half-assed to be a porn film and it’s also too boring – I don’t know much about lesbian sex but they really didn’t seem to be making much of an effort.  And on the other hand it’s not interesting enough as a narrative for it to be considered an “art-house” film that just happens to contain some lesbian sex.  But I guess everyone’s idea of what is erotic is personal and different.

In case you’re interested, I’ve made one of my little diagrams summarising Houellebecq’s “eroticism”:

Michel Houellebecq recipe for eroticism diagram

 

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A Night with Michel Houellebecq

I guess it’s some people’s idea of a nightmare – not me, personally I’m a big fan – yes, a night with Michel Houellebecq; the TV show I recently saw on that theme definitely made it look like a nightmarish prospect though.  Well, let’s say it was a little uncomfortable at least…

If you’ve not already seen my post from last week – A couple of things about Michel Houellebecq – that’s also from the same show Durch die Nacht mit…  This is the more in-depth post about the show that I promised/threatened.  Here you go:

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So, the concept is that the show matches up two “celebrities” and they spend an evening in each other’s company with the cameras following them on their night out.  They matched up Michel Houellebecq – a very misunderstood and talented writer, in my opinion, and not so much an enfant terrible as a (sometimes) badly behaved adult on self-destruct who wants to épater le bourgeois in his own sweet way – with the Spanish theatre director Calixto Bieito, who makes “sexy”, violent, contemporary versions of operas and classical theatre pieces.

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I don’t want to disrespect Calixto Bieito because he seemed like such a lovely man throughout this show – even when having to babysit Houellebecq, who seemed highly disinterested in the entire process – but, firstly, I can’t stand opera anyway and, secondly, the one thing worse than opera to me is contemporary opera.  They showed some clips of the lovely Mr Bieito’s work on the show and, god, it made me want to spit up blood.  I have coined my own term for his type of opera, let’s see if it takes on: wheelybag opera.  Yes, wheelybags are despicable but wheelybags + opera = a pile of w***.  Speaking of which, here are some clips of Calixto Bieito’s work:

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During the show you see a clip of a very posh gentleman running out of one of Bieito’s shows to be sick – or to spit up blood? – a kindred spirit maybe!  Anyway, that’s all I shall say on this because I really did like this man Calixto Bieito.

The reason the show hooked up Houellebecq with Bieito was, no doubt, because they both do work that upsets certain people and also because Bieito was, at that point (2006), adapting Platform for the theatre to put on a show at the Edinburgh Festival.  Perhaps Houellebecq could offer him some advice?  Erm… All in good time!

Let’s run through the evening, what happens and what we learn:

  • Houellebecq believes it’s very important that people like him because he feels it’s the only thing that saves him from being locked up – good luck with that, Michel, I like you but somehow not everyone manages to see the good in you

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  • Bieito really admires Houellebecq and thinks he’s “a great visionary and above all a great humanist” – he identifies with his work and sees him as “a Romantic of the 21st century” (I have to chip in here and say I totally agree with Bieito on all of this – I think Houellebecq is a visionary who sees far too much and this is part of the problem for some people; Houellebecq offers up visions of a world that people find hard to stomach, but sadly it’s a future that’s far more believable than most would like to admit)
  • Bieito has to make all the effort with the conversation, when he doesn’t he and Houellebecq both sit in silence in uncomfortable “tumbleweed moments” – it’s a shame because Bieito is such a warm person, whilst Houellebecq finds it hard to hold a conversation.  At one point, whilst Houellebecq is having one of many cigarettes, a clock chiming across from the theatre only serves to indicate the length of time they have been stood next to each other in silence on the balcony

Tumbleweed moments with…

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Tumbleweed moments without…

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  • Bieito tries to make a nice gesture to Houellebecq – he takes him to a bookshop to buy him a book (which Houellebecq accepts – a bit ungraciously) and some music (which Houellebecq refuses – very ungraciously) – “I have no room in my pocket, it’s only a pocket book…” and he doesn’t really like Wagner anyway (he likes Bach’s Mass in B Minor), so he tells Bieito to buy himself some Ligeti instead “I will wait for you. Yes, do it.  The book is enough.”
  • Bieito refers to the theatre as “his” – in what sounds like a tense moment, although it’s possibly just a language problem, Houellebecq asks him “What do you mean when you say it’s your theatre?  Why is it yours?” Bieito is the Artistic Director of the theatre he’s talking about. Ah! The penny drops!
  • When Bieito tells Houellebecq he has a bar at “his” theatre, Houellebecq’s eyes light up, until he sees the bar then he immediately says, “You need to decorate”

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  • The most excrutiating tumbleweed moment ensues when Bieito asks Houellebecq for advice on Platform and if he could maybe stay for 3 or 4 days to help him with the text.  Instead of answering the question, after a long and painful silence he finally says what he thinks Bieito needs to bear in mind about how to portray Valerie – “You have to imagine what a woman wants to be according to women’s magazines.  Very good in everything.  I mean – a good worker, a good mother, a very horny slut and everything at the same time.”  He thinks Jade Jagger would make a good Valerie, but here’s what he thinks about Valerie:  “Valerie is a fantasy.  It’s a modern fantasy.  To have success in everything.  In a job, in sex, everything.  And she’s good too.  Morally.  In moral terms.”

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  • Houellebecq (regarding the Jade Jagger idea) says, “Sometimes I have good ideas.  Not very often but sometimes.  I don’t have a lot of bad ideas.  I have a few ideas.  I have one idea in two years maybe.  It’s a very slow process.”  Here’s one of my diagrams for you, I’ve got into doing them since the Kaurismäki post:
  • Houellebecq ideas diagramMH21MH22Houellebecq is a bit nonplussed when a guy in the bar asks him to sign an autograph in turquoise pen – “You like to write in turquoise?  It’s strange to write in turquoise.  It’s a beautiful colour really.”  He then scribbles in the guy’s book just so he can admire the colour of the pen

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  • Bieito asks Houellebecq if he would like to test out the acoustics on the stage by saying something – he firmly declines
  • Bieito introduces Houellebecq to a famous Spanish actor called Josep Maria Pou, who is a big fan of Houellebecq’s and declares himself capable of playing any of his characters when Houellebecq asks him which of his characters he would like to play.  Considering Josep Maria Pou was at that time playing a man who has sexual relations with a goat (in an Edward Albee play – The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?), it’s always possible
  • When Josep Maria Pou tells Houellebecq, “I can’t speak French”, Houellebecq replies, “You should”!

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  • Because Josep Maria Pou has been bragging (sort of) about being able to “play anything”, Houellebecq tells him that he can “play nothing” and a debate ensues wherein Bieito and Pou (ha ha, I just said poo!) try as they might to get Houellebecq to appreciate that it is impossible to play nothing – “Just a man only on the stage thinking is playing”.  Houellebecq just looks bored  (I sympathise with Houellebecq here, they’re taking things too literally and their “craft” too seriously)

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  • Bieito takes Houellebecq out to dine at Casa Leopoldo and they have a conversation about relaxing and the pressures of work – Houellebecq’s thoughts on it all:  “There’s not a lot of pressure but it’s a strange life.  I’m not sure I want a life more intense.  But myself I’m not a happy person.  So I like to be in a place where people are sad sometimes.  I couldn’t live in Ibiza…”
  • Does Houellebecq think he could be happier?  “Maybe it is better if you try to have less money and less problems.  Become more modest with ambitions.”
  • Somehow the conversation turns to the question of whether or not all Latinos are macho, believe it or not.  Houellebecq is uncertain but Bieito is firm on this one – “No, don’t piss me off!  Don Juan doesn’t exist anymore.  No.  Only in pieces of theatre.”  Whatever…

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  • Steering Houellebecq away from any further racial stereotypes, Bieito opts for something more lighthearted – an easy, fun (two-part) question like “What is your role in this huge masquerade? What is your mask?”  That’s when Houellebecq tells him he knows two things: he is a good writer and he is going to die.  A two-part answer with an unhappy ending.  Although he does concede, surprisingly, that “I think maybe I am simple because to be famous is very good”
  • In the car on their way to the next venue, Bieito and Houellebecq discuss good parenting skills.  Bieito admits he is a softie with his kids but Houellebecq says he was able to discipline his son because he was shocked at his ego and you have to do it because the ego is unlimited.  “You are not the only person in the world.  Slap!  I exist too!”

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  • Bieito tries to round off the evening with one of those media events that he doesn’t like going to (which surprises me somewhat) – so they head off to MACBA (the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona) where Houellebecq tells him that he likes these parties because “It’s very easy to have a drink”
  • At the MACBA party Houellebecq perks up a bit (for a short time at least) because he gets talking to a female – his face lights up when he meets ladies, look

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The best picture to sum it all up is this one – Houellebecq smiles for the lady, ignores Bieito and Bieito looks sad and lonely:MH43

  • Bear in mind, right, that earlier in the evening Houellebecq had told Bieito that he thinks he could do contemporary art himself because “it’s easy”, but he’s not sure why – how do you think their visit to the contemporary art gallery will go?

MH39Houellebecq somehow finds a nudie lady…

MH40And so does Bieito

  • Bieito tries to get things back on track with Houellebecq by forcing him to accept a hug and then suggesting that they link arms

MH41Houellebecq’s approach to hugging – “look, mom, no hands!”

MH42Aw! Friends forever?  What do you reckon?

  • By the end of the evening, Houellebecq is a bit worse for wear.  Bieito puts him in a car and tells him, “I’m very happy you were here.”  There is no response from Houellebecq.  So poor old Bieito, who has soldiered on all evening, says, “Take care of yourself.  Or not.”

MH7Take care of your blue eyes.

No doubt Bieito needed a hug from his wife when he got home.  You have to hope he managed to get over the experience somehow.  Still, I’d like to meet Houellebecq myself.  Not sure what I would say to him, maybe I’d just ask him to sign an autograph for me.  In turquoise pen.

Here’s a few more Houellebecq pics:

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This episode of Durch die Nacht mit was directed by Hasko Baumann.

A couple of things about Michel Houellebecq

I’ve obviously spent a lot of time watching TV lately – I saw this great but slightly uncomfortable TV show about the time Michel Houellebecq met the Spanish theatrical director Calixto Bieito (who specialises in modern interpretations of opera and theatrical pieces, involving mainly sex and violence.  Or so it seems…).

Anyway, I’ll write more on this another time because it’s worth a good write-up but in the meantime, here are two things Michel Houellebecq said he could tell Calixto Bieito:

MH33I’m a good writer.

MH34I write good books.  Yes, that’s true.

MH35I write very good books.  But it’s very good for my ego.

MH36I can tell you two things:

MH37That I’m a good writer.

MH38One of the best maybe, if you want.  Anyway, I will die.

What’s this strange preoccupation that Michel Houellebecq has with death these days?  First, he has himself brutally murdered in his own novel The Map and the Territory; then he is kidnapped in The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq (read more about that here on Hero Culte); and then he contemplates suicide in Near Death Experience, which (no pun intended) I am dying to see.  At least he is still among the living for the time being.  We should be grateful for that.  Well, I am, at least.

I’ll write more about this TV show Durch die Nacht mit… / Au coeur de la nuit shortly.  That’s a promise.

 

Michel Houellebecq needs a lighter

The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq (aka L’enlèvement de Michel Houellebecq) was released on DVD in the UK last week.  I got my copy on Christmas Eve and watched it immediately.  I’ve seen it twice now and thoroughly recommend it – it’s very enjoyable and laugh out loud funny at moments.

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The film is made in observational cinema style, as if it’s a documentary – it’s supposed to be based on the rumour that Houellebecq was actually abducted at some point when he failed to turn up for a literary promotional event.  If he was, I can well imagine that it went much the same way as the film did.

Initially we see Houellebecq going about his usual business – discussing the renovation and decoration work he is planning for his apartment; getting a bag of vegetables from a neighbour; writing poetry; moaning about esplanades; complaining that the media stresses him out; criticising his friend’s piano playing; signing an autograph for a fan.  Stuff like that.

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Then he is abducted by three guys who follow him to his apartment.  They eventually take him away to a house in the countryside where they keep him holed up until the mysterious “intermediary” pays the ransom and he can be released.

At first Houellebecq wants to know who has ordered his kidnapping; who is going to pay the ransom; when he can go.  Then he all he wants is something to take his mind off the boredom of waiting.  The things he wants most of all are cigarettes, alcohol and reading material.  He complains quite a lot to the kidnappers, which is a fairly good strategy for getting what you want.  They usually give in to his requests eventually but the one thing he never gets is free access to a cigarette lighter:

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MH Kidnapping 19Note the scary doll in the corner of the bedroom Michel has to sleep in 

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It really tickled me that when Michel was arguing with his kidnappers about literature, his threat of violence involved using an ashtray!

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And when he offers to write a poem for Ginette (the mother of one of the kidnappers and owner of the house they are staying in), Michel can’t resist referring to the lack of lighter in his life:

MH Kidnapping 83MH Kidnapping 84Just give the man his lighter back!

And when he’s not smoking, he is talking about smoking:

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Sometimes Michel looks for other activities to keep himself entertained.  He wouldn’t have been any more entertained at a holiday camp, here’s what he got to do:

Fighting – both watching and being trained

MH Kidnapping 35 MH Kidnapping 36 MH Kidnapping 71 MH Kidnapping 72 MH Kidnapping 73Michel gets Luc in a triangle choke

Sex

MH Kidnapping 57MH Kidnapping 68MH Kidnapping 81Ginette gets a local prostitute, Fatima, to visit Michel (twice) by saying he’s “charming” and “not bad” looking

Studying vintage cars

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Socialising

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Learning to whistle

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Dog handling

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Bodybuilding displays

MH Kidnapping 58MH Kidnapping 59Michel is most amused when Luc pronounces bodybuilding incorrectly as “bodabuilding”

By the end of the visit, Michel is even considering taking up one of these new activities himself:

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As much as Houellebecq is a fairly demanding kidnap victim, his kidnappers are also a bit moany:

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Their complaints include:

Michel’s dropping crumbies on the floor (eating his sandwich whilst handcuffed)

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Michel’s got his shoes on the bed (which he is chained to)

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Michel’s smoking in bed (he’s chained to the bed)

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Michel’s drinking too much (his defence is “With a meal, two glasses of wine isn’t excessive”)

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Michel’s smoking at the dinner table whilst eating (no excuse, he’s just being clumsy)

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If the above is not enough to convince you that this film is well worth a viewing or two, well, then you might as well watch Lord of the Rings with its “capes and swords and pretty boys”.

Houellebecq rocks and the rest of the cast are great too – all of them are very realistic, to the extent that you can almost believe it’s really happening.

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Go and see The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq now or buy it on DVD so you can watch it many times.  The film is directed by Guillaume Nicloux and has been released by Studio Canal with English subtitles.

One final thing, check out Ginette’s impressive collection of wolf plates:

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