Bookie* review: The Crimson Petal and the White

I try not to be a snob, really, I do. In fact, if anything, I hate pretentious crap trying to pass off as art, when it seems like a thinly guised marketing ploy. When watching movie or film adaptations, I try not to be a book snob: you know, the one that thinks movie goers are mindless morons and readers intelligensia suprema and movies can never be as good as the book.

Ray Bradbury, in an interview printed in the 50th Anniversary edition of Fahrenheit 451 (Voyager, 2004) uses Moulin Rouge as an example of how TV “substitutes for our thinking”. For a fuller quote, go here.

While I understand his issues with the speed of MTV-style of cinematography, I have to respectfully disagree with him, much as it pains me, since he is one of my favourite authors. The thing is, the very nature of film is that movement of light and sound at a specific number of frames per second and I do not see anything wrong with manipulating the medium to the extremes in storytelling. Just like a comic does not take away one’s imagination while providing graphics (and yes, I know that is a charge leveled at comics), I do not think a movie takes away one’s imagination, or does our thinking for us. That viewpoint takes humans as mindless sheep, which I really have a problem with.

Where does this bring me, viz The Crimson Petal and the White? The book, written by Michel Faber, is a hefty 835 page that BBC recently transformed into three 2 hour episodes (BBC, 2011). Beautifully shot, the film version hits all the plot points with speed (relative to the tome!), telling the story of the writer-prostitute Sugar in a graphic way unexpected of BBC. In itself, the manifestation of Faber’s metaphor of human emissions was not disturbing (although, repugnant to read to me.) That it verged on voyeurism in the film, did give me pause. It was clumsily handled, and because of that, it loses the symbolism of cleansing and became a mere representation of a prostitute washing semen out of her vagina. This becomes problematic (getting to my point!) because, to a certain extent, the media of film becomes the obstacle to metaphors, in this case. Thus, it is not the speed of a film but the acting out of a metaphor that reduces it to a mere act. That, I think, is where movies adaptations usually fail: to translate metaphors in books. Which is not to say a movie cannot be metaphorical; metaphors in movies necessarily takes different forms.

That being said, the BBC production was a wonderful summary of Faber’s book. But Faber’s book remains far superior in storytelling.

But I’m not being a snob! (Am I?)

*It seems to me that I do a lot of book/movie review that I had to use a shorthand for it. And mook sounds insulting! Fook, even worse.

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About A. Faris

A. Faris spent her formative years at libraries and scribbling odd tales that somehow always end up romantic. She writes in between running after her son.
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