VIDEO: Part one of Stalking Pete Doherty. To watch the rest, click here.
When it comes to reality TV, the Brits operate with a pungent, hot-button immediacy that America’s producer tribe must envy. Celebrity Big Brother, over there, is front-page news: in January, after Jade Goody (a TV chat-show host) made racist remarks about housemate Shilpa Shetty (a Bollywood film star), the country went into liberal meltdown. The broadcast regulator Ofcom (Office of Communications) logged 40,000 complaints, and chancellor Gordon Brown urged the public to “vote for tolerance” by phoning in and having Goody evicted. Questions were asked in Parliament; the matter was taken up by newspapers in India. Goody was duly booted, and Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, went on BBC radio to express his “delight” at this outcome.
Last week I watched Stalking Pete Doherty, a gory classic of Brit celebreality: you can get the whole thing by clicking here, you lucky people. Doherty, as all the world knows, is the pie-faced troubadour who was expelled from the Libertines for drug madness, started Babyshambles, and then fell in love with Kate Moss; Stalking . . . records the attempts of documentary filmmaker Max Carlish to get close to him. Carlish has an Emmy in his bag but also a reputation for instability: “I’m looked on as a bit of a maverick,” he says, “in a not-good way.” As the film begins, he’s down on his luck, on the debit side of a manic-depressive disorder, and living with his mother in Birmingham. But stirred by something in the scuffed chords of Doherty’s music, he picks up his camera and starts trailing Babyshambles around the country. Swiftly he becomes infatuated (“The camera loves you, Pete! You always look good on camera!”), getting “in” with vague, rumpled Pete even as the various drug wolves and slumming baronets in the Babyshambles entourage hiss with scorn. (“You’re a cunt!” he’s assured by several different people.)
After a heroin-swept night in a recording studio, Carlish gets his Moment with Pete, on a balcony overlooking a London cemetery. Rinsed by early-morning light the two men face each other — documentarian and subject, idol and fan, lover and beloved. Doherty, his face the color of an empty milk bottle, grows wistful in contemplation of the ranked stones and crosses below. “I’ve got a lot of family buried out there, Max,” he says softly. “My aunt Lil . . . my dad’s uncle Arthur . . . he set himself on fire.” “Really?” says Carlish. “That’s called immolation. Self-immolation.” Doherty looks at him: “Nah, he set himself on fire.” A minute later Doherty opens his shirt to show Carlish the “Baby Shambles” tattoo above his left nipple. Doughy, unmuscular, his hairless pectoral looms pink and white in the lens; you can hear Carlish panting.
But no sooner is the breast offered than it is withdrawn. Carlish finds himself abruptly exiled, access denied, reduced to chasing Doherty around outside his many court appearances like a low paparazzo. “Pete! Pete!” he whines from behind his camera. “Yeah bollocks mate fuck off,” says a hanger-on. Disaster engulfs the filmmaker. “A long hot summer of love in my heart was coming to an end,” narrates Carlish bitterly, “to be replaced by a nuclear winter.” Brokenhearted and vengeful, he sells footage of Pete smoking heroin to a London tabloid. Pete tracks him down and assaults him, with surprising effectiveness. (“He’s got a much more powerful punch than you’d imagine . . . ”) Carlish, alone in his bedroom, turns the camera on himself like a suicide’s pistol: he is weeping, his black eye glistens obscenely, and he recites from William Blake’s preface to “Milton”: “I will not cease from Mental Fight/Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand . . . ” Find, watch, marvel.
Over here, last week marked the third-season premiere of The Girls Next Door (E! Channel, Sundays, 10 pm), which tracks the non-lives of Hugh Hefner’s three girlfriends: Kendra, Bridget, and Holly. What a weird tease of a show this is. Episode #1 was all about Christmas at the Playboy Mansion — the stacked presents, the fake snow, the candy canes planted in the groomed hedge — and in a full half-hour of tinselly festive talk (“Christmas is so special to me!”) the only intrusion of lewdness was an enormous frosty penis appended by the mischievous bunnies to their Hef snowman. This is all very Playboy, of course, this fetishized coziness: breasts bared over a sheepskin rug, buttocks aglow in the log cabin. Meanwhile Hef himself slopes about in his smoking jacket and monogrammed slippers, looking slightly out of it. “Hef is a kid at heart. He loves Christmas,” says Holly. “I love his laugh,” says Kendra. “His laugh is what I love.” The Hef laugh turns out to be a sort of detached cackle randomly sounded as the bunnies flutter around him. The old lecher is handed a lollipop to suck on — “Hef loves candy!” — and he holds it jealously close to his lipless mouth, his tongue flickering out in tiny, suspicious lizard licks.