Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Of course there's a biopic of France's infamous Le Pétomane! Why wouldn't there be?

And he looks so suave, too: British thespian Lenord Rossiter played many types of roles in his career. Including this one!

This was the book!
The Book of Lists (1977) was the first dirty book I ever read, and was it a doozy!  I found this best-selling reference volume and its equally-smutty 1980 sequel in the library of the junior high school I attended in the late 1980s, and I can remember spending many lunch periods poring over its delightfully sleazy contents. For the uninitiated, The Book of Lists is exactly what its title claims it to be: a collection of supposedly-factual trivia organized into fun little lists with titles like "People Who Died on the Toilet" and "Twenty Great Events That Happened in the Bathtub." I think the book was supposed to give people some fodder for conversations at dull cocktail parties, but because it was compiled by a family of well-known authors -- historian David Wallechinsky, his father Irving Wallace, and his sister Amy Wallace -- and took up about the same shelf space as a dictionary or thesaurus, it had an air of respectability and wound up in libraries across the country. Apparently, a few librarians balked at the racier entries, which included a list of sexual positions and their various advantages and disadvantages. (How I remember that one! I still recall that Ovid advocated having lovers lie on their sides facing one another.) Later in life, I learned that some of what I had "learned" from The Book of Lists was pure bunk. John Dillinger, for instance, did not have an abnormally large penis which was detached from his body after his death and placed in a museum. I think the old yarn about Catherine the Great getting it on with horses was in one of those Book of Lists, too. I couldn't believe I had stumbled onto such a valuable artifact at school. What a world, what a world! Not too long after this, I found a paperback of Semi-Tough (1972) by Dan Jenkins in the basement of our suburban home, and suddenly The Book of Lists didn't seem like such hot stuff anymore. But for a while there, this silly little nothing of a book became the center of my entire erotic life.

The Artiste
Don't get the impression, however, that The Book of Lists was all about sex. There was plenty of violence and gross-out stuff in it, too, which I appreciated. In the latter category was the story of Joseph "Le Pétomane" Pujol (1857-1945), the French music-hall performer who delighted Parisian audiences with his skilled and versatile displays of flatulence. It was only a year or so later that I finally saw Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles (1974), in which the director himself plays a character named "William J. Le Pétomane." When I heard that, I was weirdly embarrassed. It was like Mel Brooks knew about my secret shame, taking The Book of Lists into a secluded corner of the junior high library to drool over its most salacious details. Anyway, I have some distance on these events now, and my interest in Le Pétomane and The Book of Lists is now rooted in fond nostalgia. The video above is a light-hearted but substantive BBC production about Joseph Pujol's life, starring Leonard Rossiter (of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Barry Lyndon) as the title character. Fascinatingly, it was directed by Ian MacNaughton, who is well known for his work with Monty Python in the 1960s and 1970s. It was MacNaugton at the helm of the Pythons' BBC television series and their first feature, And Now for Something Completely Different (1971). Python fans may notice that the score for Le Pétomane comes from De Wolfe, the same British production music company whose melodies graced Monty Python's Flying Circus and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

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