on 16 July 2004
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The authors begin by exploring the LA porn scene, and meet some fascinating people. We meet Bill Margold, an aging Buckshot Bill of the porn world. He explains to them that there aren't many men in porn, because few men can meet the physical demands of porn. Even though he is a porn Godfather, having spent decades at the top in the industry, he lives in a seedy dump of an apartment in an undesirable district. He is a complex character who genuinely cares about the girls who work in porn, but who seens to have no feelings for his own children. We also meet Sharon Mitchell, a Florence Nightingale type who runs a health clinic for porn actresses. Her friend and fellow ex-porn-godess Nina Hartley flirts with Charlie Skelton (the co-author), and poor Charlie is probably still recovering. In general the people we meet are perfectly happy with their lives. One actress, Julie Meadows, memorably tells the authors that she doesn't make love to her husband if she has been working that day, "because I don't want him to have sloppy seconds." Besides her working day, she lives a pefectly normal, well-adjusted life. And she is stunningly beautiful. We also meet the spectacularly-named Dale Da Bone, which presumably is not how he appears on his birth certificate. Again, he seems to be perfectly hapy to work in an industry where his physical abilities are in demand.
The second half of the book, where they move to Amsterdam to shoot the film, I found less interesting, though again the cast of characters is fascinating. One of their actors is described as being "an old-fashioned romantic. Not old-fashioned romantic for a bisexual Yugoslavian rent-boy, just old-fashioned romantic." Martina, the main protagonist in the film's oral sex scene, is an ex-junkie nurse who spends Christmas with dying AIDS patients. She has plans to get out of the sex industry altogether, and you would be inclined to wish her well after reading about her.
The film itself, quite frankly, sounds like a load of you-know-what. But this is a fine book, well written, funny (not laugh-out-loud hilarious, just genuinely funny), interesting, revealing and well worth reading.
The premise of the book is quite interesting and potentially amusing. Two journalists who also happen to have a sideline reviewing porn films decide that they could do a better job and set out to make a porn film that has integrity, plot and soul. They are incredibly English, one the daughter of a renowned English journalist and the other the son of a vicar. There is real potential here as different cultures and political and moral persuasions meet head on.
Books written by two people are often uneven in tone and this is no exception. The writing styles whiz back and forth as do the comments on each others writing and ideas, which although supposed to be funny I found a little distracting and a bit too luvvie.
The narrative is quite picaresque, whisking between locations, ideas, scenes and cutaways to random pieces which I think are meant to add colour, humour and humanity, but which don't always work. The emotional tone also veers between the farcical quality of a production of 'whoops there go my bloomers', to discussions of fisting and then on to the moral dilemmas of whether hiring an asylum seeking victim of political violence who is wanted by the authorities and has no warrant card, who is forced to work in the sex industry just to eat is a good thing or a bad thing.
The film, they admit, turns out to be a bit of a mess, neither fish nor fowl, and clearly put together by rank amateurs. The book comes across in much the same light, which is a shame. I understand that in many ways this was a 'fun thing to do', which turned into an emotional journey and took them to places they never expected to be. This much is clear from the narrative. It doesn't excuse the fact that the book could have done with some serious editing and a bit more thought to bring out what are some excellent ideas and in parts some really good stuff, which as it is are lost in a melee of random stuff just thrown onto the page.
on 28 August 2002
The book, in essense, is a Story of two late 20 something, middle England (dare i say "nottinghillesqe?) writers who - after a stint of reviewing porn films for an erotic magazine - decide that they could do better and decide to embark on a journey to make the "greatest porn film ever". The book spans the period of coming up with the idea in London, to venturing on a fact finding mission in the Porn Mecca of LA, and finally the casting and filming in Amsterdam.
The description of this book by some critics a "rip roaring, thigh slapping comedy" falls a little short. It is more than that. It is also a moving, dark and often sad self discovery process for the authors and also the reader as they explore the 'darker' side of humanity...in the form of rent boys and whores with no money, no prospect and no passports just trying to get by in the city of sin - of people taking advantage of others - and of people seeing and living this dark side and then trying to make a difference. There are some witty, profound, sexy and occasionally downright weird characters that Vicky and Charlie (the authors) pick up along the way, but all are given a chance to explain themselves and their industry, and i think the authors give them a very open minded (if not slightly tongue in cheek) hearing before handing down judgement. The authors also seem to maintain an almost psychotic sense of optimism even in the most dire circumstance (actors walking off set...refusing to do certain backdoor scenes etc) which only adds to the affection you feel for them by the end of the book!!
The only thing that slightly bogged the book down (i think) were the slightly lengthy asides the authors were prone to on the morality of making such a film...they obviously discovered it wasn't going to be the pg swashbuckling adventure they had imagined and it starts to take its toll on their conscience.
Anyway - in a nutshell - a great, funny, poigniant novel with a dark, shaddy and rather sexy underside. Its no catch 22 but give it a read just the same.
on 21 August 2002
I think this is one of the funniest, sexiest and most touching books I've read in ages. True, the cover does make you think you're about to enter a sleazy world of porn and moral debauchery, but you come out of this oddly refreshed about humanity - and a lot more knowledgable about the porn industry.
Coren and Skelton are two likeable, attractive, bright young writers who land a job reviewing porn films for the Erotic Review and then, when they've had enough of applying their witty and critical skills to every variety of porn imaginable, decide to make their own film and write this book about it.
Some porn is just funny to start with - the titles, the actors' stage names, the plots (where they have them), so you'd expect two writers who are pretty funny themselves to make the most of it as they try to realise their bizarre and often hilarious script with a memorable assortment of naked Europeans in various locations around Amsterdam.
Those who are a bit frightened of porn should probably stick to cooking and gardening books, but I think that the script for the film itself is worth the price of the book and as an intelligent, sometimes painfully honest tour of the porn world it's a cracking good read. As a cleverly layered account of friendship, sex, love, loss, art, artifice and more sex, it's equally engrossing and would delight the likes of David Lodge readers with it's subtle plays on structure. The pictures are pretty good, too.
on 15 May 2003
This book is readable and compelling enough, but nowhere as exciting as the jacket and commentary here would suggest. First of all, I suspect non-UK readers will not find it all that funny, as it is an intimate account of two very British subjects coping with the world outside the Isles ... from within the realm of their Isles mentality. Second, most Dutch readers will soon get tired of hearing yet another account of the same British / American clichés about Amsterdam all over again (FYI: Smokey's pre-rolled joints are a tourist scam and DO NOT - I repeat: DO NOT - get you high. The very British, very charming and very gay bartender does exist, though).
What keeps the book going is that the two writers do sound honest, and who isn't interested in a story about two outsiders that get themselves in way over their heads and react by ploughing on with all their might and meagre resources ... out of sheer desperation.
Which gets me back to the original point. Either I am missing a huge joke here, or I'm going to have to claim that the book presentation is extremely misleading. It is pretty clear from early on that this pair is not out to make "the greatest porn film ever". In fact, from the scarce yet alarming technical details that once in a very long while show up throughout the book, they never had a chance ... or really tried. Sure, modern DV cameras are excellent tools by themselves. But the same could be said of English - and if you do not know how to spell or use grammar properly, you'll never write anything "great". Likewise, you cannot make a great movie if you do not know anything about cinematography, light, sound ("we discovered that our cameras had no input jacks for external mikes" - pleeeeease) , etc.
In summary, this is a book written by people who do know how to write about their experiences trying to make a movie that, far from being "the greatest porn ever", sounds a lot more like a high-school class movie project. The key words here are "highly amateurish approach to filmmaking". Thus, the book does not really teach you anything new about porn that you couldn't find in the many articles written in the mainstream press about the subject - but it does dissect extremely well the reactions of a pair of well-educated Western liberals to the world surrounding blue movies. In that sense, it reminded me quite a bit of "Patpong Sisters", in which an American woman dives into the Thai sex industry and tells yet another intimate account of a liberal Westerner confronting the sexual taboos of the times - looking to write her PhD dissertation about it. Intriguing in both cases, but don't expect to be blown away.
Note to the authors - next time, consider giving some explanation about the budget. Where did the final figure come from? Where did the money come from? At the end of the day, the only reason porn movies are made is to make a profit. Discussing the finer points of the script is good, but the script is not the movie, like the shoot is not the movie and the editing is not the movie. The movie is a combination of it all, and there are large gaps in this portrayal.
on 20 November 2012
All the blurbs on the cover of this book were about how 'surprisingly heartwarming' it was, so I shouldn't have been surprised at how heartwarming it turned out to be. But I was pleasantly surprised. As someone who has always believed in the potential for porn to be cuddly and wholesome, this was a nice affirmation. If you have ever spent any time enjoying the ridiculous aspects of porn, then you will probably enjoy this book, and might even find it surprisingly heartwarming yourself.
on 12 January 2003
This book is absolutely hysterical. These young writers go into the world of porn and report back on it without judgment or negativity. They bring humor to some very dark lives and some outrageous moments. I can't tell you how many times I laughed out loud while reading it and was asked what I was reading.
on 1 January 2004
Like one or other reviewers here, I had high expectations for the book - a humourous story with the added spice of a bit of erotica. In the event, it disappointed. I didn't really mind the lack of sexual excitement, but it wasn't really that funny either. Charlie Skelton's embarrassments and Britishness did occasionally bring a smile to my lips, but we don't know enough about him as a character to make it really funny.
The other irritation is their quest of making a "good" (in all senses of the word) porn film. Despite the assurances of the authors, I am not sure that it is possible to make a "porn film with a conscience"; in the event, it sounds as though they have made something pretty tacky, without its even being particularly erotic. I have no doubt that the cast and crew did become something of a family, and did care for each other, but you don't have to make a porn film to do this.
I really wouldn't bother.
on 19 October 2002
Having read a brief extract in the Observer, I was more than a little intrigued by this book. Having bought it (and already being mid-way through another deeply gripping novel) I thought I'd just read the prologue. Truly unputdownable, the book proved; so much so that I read it flat in two days and everything else went forgotten. Vicky & Charlie take you into their odd sojourn and make you care deeply about themselves and the characters they meet. Touchingly written, it's moving, sad, but above all, funny. Helen Fielding and Bill Bryson are the only writers who can make me laugh out loud consustently. Skelton & Coren have done the same. Genuinely hilarious, it's the sort of book you'll want to press on anyone. Not exactly high literature, but so brilliantly written with a knack for economic, snappy prose, it's a genuine must-read. Make sure you do. Although you may have to withstand the odd glances from people on buses/trains given the 80s neon-lit look cover.
on 5 September 2003
The aim: to write a 'psychologically profound, emotionally taut, sexual drama with three dimensional characters and powerful themes', a 'clever, sophisticated sex film with professional porn actors [where] everybody would be well treated, HIV tested and paid more than usual'.
At what point should the authors have given this up as a failed project? When they had to give up on writing a good script and write a silly script instead because it was deemed easier? When they settled for paying the actors the market rates? When they hired people who only resorted to sex work as a result of drug problems, or of having no work permit, or because a domineering husband told them to? Or when they heard themselves trying to convince a boy to perform oral sex on a gay prostitute who didn't use condoms and wouldn't have an AIDS test (assuring him "the risks of contracting HIV through pre-come are very low")?
There is an argument that a book about a failed project could be charming - Tony Hawks failing to hitch hike around Ireland with a fridge perhaps, or Dave Gorman failing to find 54 namesakes. Failing to avoid exploiting vulnerable Eastern European sex workers is NOT the basis for a good book. And they don't even acknowledge that they failed!
This is a terrible book. Not only in terms of content but also in style - especially problematic is the existence of two 'I's in the single joint narrative, and the rather desperate tendency to write at least one punch-line per paragraph. Don't buy it, you'll only encourage them.