THE MARRAKESH ONE-TWO by Richard Grenier


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The fanciful, unkempt, occasionally amusing mid-1970s doings of narrator Butt Nelson in North Africa and the Mideast--as he tries to hold a movie-project together while dabbling in CIA assignments on the side. Butt, a 40-ish screenwriter specializing in Biblicals, starts out in Marrakesh, where an Arab-financed team of Americans (mostly Jewish) is attempting to film The Mohammed Story. There are problems, however: the Prophet himself can't be shown, of course; the propaganda priorities are higher than the artistic or show-biz ones. And when the King of Morocco decides to include a spot of filmmaking as part of his grand annual garden-party, the movie-people nearly get killed during an attempted coup--a coup which Burt (as a part-time CIA man) should have heard about in advance from his dubious government contact. Meanwhile, Burt is having an on-and-off, loveless affair with Mouna, the assistant/mistress to slimy producer Omar. (She's a Palestinian-radical-chic fanatic who's also a ""fun-loving girl who could do tricks with her vagina."") He gets kidnapped and held for ransom by the National Liberation Council--but escapes in time to rejoin the movie outfit in Libya, where they're seeking new financial backing and a friendlier political climate. Qaddafi is a temperamental host, however, so the crew moves on to Cairo, the Gulf, and Iran--looking for a place to finish the film: ""All we needed were camels, sand dunes, oil for independence, not too much religious bigotry, politics not too left-wing, a bit of infrastructure. . . ."" They meet a kinky American mistress of the Shah, another young Western woman in flight from her oil-sheikh husband, a moderate ayatollah. And it all ends with Burt's Iraq-headed plane being hijacked by Kurds. . . while CIA plans are being hatched to use some sexual blackmail against the uncooperative Shah. A rambling picaresque? Yes indeed--and since it's frequently hackneyed and a good 100 pages too long, the going here is often sluggish. But the movie-making comedy--by far the best material--is sourly funny, especially for those who recall the actual Mohammed film of a few years back; Burt's periodic musings on Arab culture and character are sporadically engaging, vividly offensive. (""They're all faggots. I'm not going to argue about it. Fuck you. Scratch an Arab and you find a part-time faggot. Scratch an Arabist and you find a full-time faggot."") And, though the politics are dated and the overall tone is self-indulgent, Grenier (Yes and Back Again, 1967) covers a lot of satiric ground here, some of it with genuine zest.

Pub Date: March 7th, 1983
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin