Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Fishing for Compliments

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
(Bantam Press)
Pp. 251

This book was published shortly before Carrie Fisher died, which gives much of it added poignancy. It is mainly about her experience filming Star Wars; her youth and her inability to deal with unanticipated fame; her affair with Harrison Ford; her reaction to the conventions; and her irritation at being expected to still look the same now as she did then. The book is not particularly well-written, but it is honest and candid – the inclusion of her diaries and poetry written during the filming of Star Wars is a brave move – and ultimately very readable.

No one was prepared for the reception that Star Wars would receive. Her life was changed forever by the film refused to remain on screen. She was defined by one character with whom she has a love/hate relationship. “I had never been Princess Leia before and now I would be her forever. I would never not be Princess Leia. I had no idea how profoundly true that was and how long forever was.”

She writes with attempted nonchalance and sangfroid and is candid about her own drug addiction. Her style is deliberately self-effacing and jocular in tone, and although she presents her thoughts as raw and elemental, she has clearly polished the words into something she imagines is witty. There are a few insights into the behind-the-scenes goings-on during filming (such as the fact that due to her grimacing each time she fired the laser gun, she had to take shooting lessons from the man who prepared Robert De Niro for his role in Taxi Driver), but film geeks will probably know all of these already.

Her renowned advocacy for gender equality is evident and she had crippling anxiety about her looks, relating that she got the part in Star Wars on the proviso that she would lose ten pounds. But she also confesses she enjoyed the one-sided nature of the film, and to loving the male attention that came from being “the only girl in an all-boy fantasy.”

The main thing to emerge from this book, however, is her affair with Harrison Ford. She mockingly refers to their relationship as ‘Carrison’ and, although it comprises over half of the book, she pretends to dismiss it; forty years afterwards, she still tries to downplay it, which conversely gives it excessive importance. Obviously, this is one-sided account, but Harrison Ford doesn’t present very favourably. He seems like a predator from the first time he takes her home drunk from a cast and crew party. She was young and naïve, and he was careless of her sensitivities and her desperate neediness. She fixated on him like a smitten teenager.

He doesn’t talk to her, make her happy or feel good about herself, and he exacerbates her insecurities and anxiety. It seems that he is cold towards her, but perhaps that is just his nature? She records in her diary, “I act like someone in a bomb shelter trying to raise everyone’s spirits.” While it is brave to include the diaries and gauche poems, they are excruciatingly painful to read. Every teenage girl has written self-indulgent nonsense like this, but not always about Harrison Ford. One could argue that she knew the situation – he was married – but she tries to manipulate the reader into feeling sympathy for her.

She concludes with her feelings towards the fans at Star Wars conventions, and it is clear that she is not comfortable with the entire charade. It’s fair to say that Carrie Fisher’s relationship with Princess Leia and Star Wars in general, is both complex and unresolved, which is distressing as it will now forever remain that way.

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