Monday, 17 May 2010

Review: Sordid Soho (196?, Director unknown)

 Sordid Soho is a 1960s 8mm glamour film with a West End Jungle vibe to it, that can certainly lay claim to living up to its title, coming across as it does like some sort of travelogue, or maybe even a training film, for the dirty mac brigade. Consisting mostly of shots of 1960s strip clubs in soho and several striptease routines, these appear to be seen from the point of view of a typical 60s Soho punter, whose face the film always keeps off screen, and who is only represented in the film by a shot of a finger pressing a stripper’s doorbell, and as a pair of feet as he makes his way up to her flat.

As it was aimed at the comparatively unregulated 8mm market Sordid Soho eschews the kind of bending over backwards to please the censor sermonizing that feature films like Primitive London and London in the Raw had to adhere to, and instead fills its 11 minute running time with what its faceless punter, and its audience, paid to see, namely the routines of several “naked lovelies” as the cartoonish 8mm box dubs them. Despite all the strip club marquees on display, the filmmakers clearly couldn’t get access to film in the clubs themselves, so all the strip routines take place in shabby upstairs flats, leaving the film to document, or at least recreate, the post-Wolfenden report set-up of girls using advertisements to lure punters up to their flats to watch them strip off, with the implication that “something more” might be on offer. A scenario that was portrayed in a tut-tut and leer fashion in West End Jungle, but which also crops up allot in low-brow horror films of the period like Corruption and The Mutations, where inevitably the girls come to a sticky end, or in the case of the latter film face to face with a deformed Tom Baker. Nothing so dramatic takes place here of course, despite shots of the punter creeping up the stairs looking like they’ve strayed from a horror film, and just in case we get the wrong impression the back of the 8mm box is at hand to reassure us that “we would point out that the girls in this film are models”, heaven forbid we should think they were real life strippers, or shock, horror, ladies of the night.

Sordid Soho is a creditless film, and one that leaves few clues for 21st century archeologists as to its makers’ identity, causing you to speculate whether the film was the work of an enthusiastic amateur, something shot by a person who had a real job in film and TV but had the time to slum it in Soho, or merely the output of one of the many n’er do well jack the lad characters who sprung up in the wake of Harrison Marks and Stanley Long’s success in the 8mm glamour film business. Certainly the film would like you to believe it was the work of a pervy punter who insisted on dragging a camera with him on his Soho prowls for strippers, although the fact that its shot with a degree of professionalism, and its makers clearly cranked out a few more films of this type (listed on the back of the 8mm box are “Her Day Off” and “Helga from Copenhagen”) suggests the truth is likely to be nearer the n’er do well, jack the lad characters option. Curiously the box also advises punters to “ask to see the other films in this series”, possibly indicating that this was designed to be sold in a chain of shops, or maybe just the one shop, rather than the mail order route.

The strip acts themselves are very of the period, with the b/w photography, emphasis on lingerie, bare breasts and bums and the avoidance of full frontal nudity in keeping with the mentality of the Harrison Marks and Arnold Louis Miller girlie magazines of the day. These scenes may have originally been Sordid Soho’s raison d’etre but today play second fiddle to the more historically interesting street footage, with the film obsessively documenting all the naughty sights and places 60’s Soho had to offer. The mixture of snapshots of shady businesses, a faceless protagonist and strip routines even pre-dates, and anticipates the Soho sequence in the beloved Brit sleaze favourite Take An Easy Ride by more than a decade.

Of course whether or not some of the films’ participants would be happy to be remembered on film as the epitome of Sordid Soho remains questionable, especially in the case of the girl who the filmmakers managed to persuade to remove everything bar her shades, which she keeps on throughout her routine. Still what better, or more hilarious, validation do you need of a film’s authentic sleaziness than the fact that even the people who appeared in it insisted on keeping their dark glasses on !!!

No comments: