Tuesday, 24 August 2010

A Fistful of 8mm Glamour Films

Birthed in the late 1950s the 8mm British glamour film was the logical extension of the popular nudie magazines of the time. Its no real surprise then that the films themselves mostly emanated from the same source, with many of the key pioneers of the nudie magazine, Harrison Marks, Russell Gay, Stanley Long and Ken Williams laying down their photographic cameras and becoming rookie filmmakers to turn out countless examples of these short b/w films of their models undressing. Several DVDs worth of new (to me anyway!) examples of the genre came my way recently, and while they span the 1960s and 1970s and were the work of different filmmakers they warrant I feel a collective write-up, offering as they do a loose history of 8mm titillation and a peek into the changing face of what was socially acceptable in adult material during these eras.

The earliest examples of 8mm films by Marks, Gay, Long and Williams are if truth be known little more than filmed documents of one of their magazines' photo-shoots with models undressing and posing in the nude and whose main historic interest now lies in their capturing famous models of the era -like Pamela Green and June Palmer- on film. Because these films kept firmly within the acceptable standards set by these filmmaker’s own magazines, which emphasized boobs and bums but avoided full frontal nudity, these 8mm short films soon became common sights in newsagents in the West End and even more unlikely places “the market was vast because all the photographic shops stocked these things” remarked Harrison Marks in 1997 “Dixons were my main customers”. Of course real pornography did exist in Britain at the time, Ivor Cooke turned out numerous raw, taboo themed stag films throughout the 1960s, and some sources even have it that Harrison Marks himself was directing hardcore on the sly during the early sixties. Such productions however were totally illegal and therefore filmed and shown in the most cloak and dagger circumstances possible and certainly never allowed to intrude on mainstream sensibilities in the way that the 8mm glamour film would….. nor would they ever be sold in Dixons!!.

As the craze for these short black and white films of women undressing began to take off, many companies like Top Hat, Herald, Ultima and Windmill Films sprung up to cater to this new niche for the nude. Titles like PENTHOUSE STRIP (Unique Films), BED BOOK AND CANDLE (KLF ) and NIGHT CLUB QUEEN are fairly listless examples of the early glamour film, and in spite of the location specific title of the latter were all filmed on basic sets.

With comedy and sex being so deeply intertwined in British culture via Max Miller, George Formby and Donald McGill, its no surprise that when the 8mm glamour film finally started to develop its own personality it generally chose to serve up titillation whilst tickling the funny bone. PEEPING TOM (circa early 60s) nicks its title from Michael Powell and proves that years before Robin Askwith took up the mop and bucket a window cleaner was the No.1 occupation for getting an eyeful of a stripping housewife. Not to mention an invitation to comedic trouble as befalls the peeping window cleaner here, who gets caught by her husband and then falls through his ladder whilst trying to make a quick get-away. HONEYMOON NIGHT (Playtime films, late 60s) features glamour model Samantha Bond as part of a just married couple spending their honeymoon in a hotel and much of the running time taken up by Bond undressing in the bathroom while her husband waits in their bedroom. In a scenario used in countless sit-coms and stage farces Bond then forgets which room number she is in, goes into the wrong room and gets in bed with a weirdo who chases her about the hotel before being punched out by her hubby. Bond, a stunning redhead who would go onto to appear in Lindsay Shonteff’s Permissive, now runs her own model agency and has the dubious honour of being the woman who discovered Jordan- we all have our crosses to bear.

Other 8mm films eschew any basis in reality and come across as equally dirty mac daydreams sprung to life and unintentional surrealist filmmaking. NUDE COCKTAIL features a naked barmaid serving drinks to a clothed female customer who upon discovering she has left her purse at home pays for her drinks with her clothes. Bunny Blue Belles films whose logo was a rudely suggestive drawing of a rabbit (it actually looks like an ejaculating cock) contributed USE A HOT IRON to the surrealist 8mm glamour film genre in which a woman loses her clothes while attempting to do the ironing, then in a scene that should come with its own “don’t try this at home” warning, runs an iron over her breasts to test how hot the iron is!!

The female lead in Use a Hot Iron clearly had a bit of a career in these things and also pops up in several other Bunny Blue Belles productions like “Dreamy Plaything”. If truth be known though only a handful of actress/models from these films ever progressed to much more beyond further sexploitation gigs. One who did was Sue Bond, now best known for her three year stint on the Benny Hill Show and her subsequent sitcom and panto roles. Sue had a background in the late 1960s glamour scene, modeling nude for magazines like “Terrific” and acting in several Harrison Marks 8mm films. “It came as quite a shock the first time I realized a director had selected me for my profile than my portrayal” she complained to Titbits magazine in 1975 “after all its not exactly what your dreams are made of”, today Sue is reportedly even more guarded about this side of her career, even going so far as to deny her participation in such material. Just as well then that we have AUDITION NIGHT (Expo Films) which conveniently serves as a visualization of Sue’s humble nudie beginnings, and sees Sue-who is billed on the 8mm box under the name ‘Heidi Kessler’- auditioning for a disinterested magazine publisher. As well as a showcase for Ms. Bond’s assets, Audition Night also sees the filmmakers both simultaneously play up and parody the public’s image of smut peddlers. The blokish magazine publisher Sue shakes her boobs at is made up like a caricature of a soho sleazebucket, chain smoking his way through several cigarettes, hiding behind dark glasses and barely acknowledging Sue in favour of reading a copy of ‘Men Only’ much to the annoyance of S.B. Its only in the film’s closing moments do we discover the reason for his apathy towards her. As Sue suddenly notices a curtain twitching in his office he quickly springs into action attempting to shoo her out of the room before the curtain comes down revealing several photographers who have been snapping away during her nude audition.

While Sue may well have progressed beyond 8mm films and been given an entry into sitcom and panto land, such later career achievements pale in comparison to the mainstream successes of Margaret Nolan, who after a brief two year glamour modeling stint as “Vicky Kennedy” would enjoy roles in big budget films featuring The Beatles and James Bond, be immortalized as Dawn Brakes in Carry on Girls and unlike Sue Bond could also lay claim to have been taken seriously as an actress with roles in Last of the Summer Wine and Crown Court that were far removed from her glamour and even Carry On image. Two of Margaret’s early 8mm glamour film calling cards to the industry -Dawn Brakes’ early breaks if you will- were SEXATIONAL and the aptly named PRESENTING THE FABULOUS VICKY KENNEDY (Star Films). The latter is immediately of collector interest as it is in colour, whereas most of the filmed footage of Margaret’s glamour period is in black and white. A pity then that its so indifferently filmed and poorly lit, and on the basis of the film it would seem that Star Films were one of the more low-rent of the 8mm glamour outfits. The film itself which follows Margaret in and out of a shower and ends with her posing nude on a bed, even includes full frontal shots, albeit briefly and probably the result of filmmaking incompetence rather than any serious desire to challenge the status quo on the use of full nudity in 8mm films.

Sexational, likely to have been filmed by Russell Gay, is in black and white and similarly limited in terms of onscreen action, yet is infinitely superior, and goes to show the difference an established glamour photographer behind the camera can make. Gay uses a variety of imaginative costume and set changes, as well as a generous amount of long shots, pans and close-ups to draw out Margaret’s looks, personality and allure on camera. The result is an 8mm glamour film whose natural sexiness has held up well through the ages and the successful marriage of a model with sex appeal by the bucket load and a photographer who knows how to utilize it. Like many of the girls captured in these films Margaret was also a smoker and signs off the film by producing a cigarette, being given a light off screen (likely by Gay himself) and blowing smoke seductively at the camera. A memorable reminder of a time when fagging it onscreen was seen as a sexy and glamorous thing to do, and lending an obviously post-coital feel to the films closing moments.

Future horror filmmaker Pete Walker also began his career in the world of 8mm glamour films, shooting an estimated 400 to 500 glamour shorts in the mid to late sixties and boasting that none of these films took more than half an hour to make. Watch some of these films today and you’ll be amazed it took Pete as long as half an hour. Still as his 8mm glamour career continued there are slow signs of -if not exactly a cinematic great in the making- then some interest in filmmaking beyond shooting simple stripteases. This transition is reflected in TOP MODELS OF THE YEAR, a self-produced compilation of Walker’s 8mm films which also displays Walker’s tenancy for billing his models with “Miss” before their names as if they were being introduced at a high society ball rather than about to take their clothes off for an 8mm film. Clips from “Miss Britt Hampshire” and “Miss Yvonne Bennett and Miss Maria Thomas” suggests routine glamour films, on the other hand “Miss Donna Marlowe” uses some primitive stop motion effects to undress Miss Marlowe (Walker’s real life girlfriend at the time). Every time she plucks a flower, part of her clothing magically disappears, still embarrassed as she is by this the girl just can’t stop plucking. Even funnier are clips from Walker’s “Aeronautical Nude”, starring Miss Ann Walker as a pilot who somehow manages to perform a striptease while supposedly flying and landing a light aircraft. The film ends with Ann awkwardly emerging from the plane backwards (obviously in order to avoid any full frontal shots) and with a royally puzzled expression that suggests someone waiting for her director to yell cut and get her down.

For Walker the 8mm films seem to have been at best a means of making money and a way of learning the basics of filmmaking in order to progress to better things. He is famously quoted as later saying “I didn’t want to be known as a tit man…. I didn’t want to be Harrison Marks”. Marks on the other hand was clearly in the sex industry for the duration and would fully inject his own personality and drunken memories of his music hall forefathers into his productions. Marks’ ROSE’S BUSTIN' OUT ALL OVER (circa 1964), contains the sort of double-entendre in its title that Max Miller would have been proud to deliver. Rather than featuring anyone called Rose the film actually stars model Maxine King, who while attractive is hardly busting out all over. Only as the film progresses does the title make any sense as Maxine goes for a nude walkabout in a garden to admire the roses in bloom, hence Roses busting out all over!! Marks’ sense of humour is even more in evidence in STRICTLY FOR BACHELORS (1968). Coming across as a piss take on TV advertising and cookery shows aimed at women, Strictly for Bachelors purports to show women how to bake a Christmas cake, and casts topless model Cindy Neal as a sexed up Fanny Cradock wannabe following onscreen advice and making a royal hash of it. A caption asking her to “take two cherries” has her pointing cluelessly to her nipples while another asking her to add a dash of napoleon brandy to the mix results in her drinking brandy while dressed as Napoleon. Neal is actually a real find, not only able to hold a candle to any of Marks’ greatest models in the looks department but also proving herself to be game for a laugh and a good comedienne here. There is a real sense that Neal and Marks had lots of fun making this, with Neal throwing eggs and flower around her mock kitchen set (it was actually filmed at Marks’ flat in St John’s Wood) and Marks throwing in some very rude visual gags like Neal kneading dough with her bum and the cherry topped cake eventually expanding to resemble a giant tit before exploding covering Neal with a sticky white substance. You get the impression that Marks may have worried he’d gone a little too overboard with the comedy here, since after the exploding cake gag the film ends on a more conventional, calmer note with Neal filmed posing nude amidst such bachelor pad essentials as a TV set and a Frank Sinatra LP, the film was after all Strictly for Bachelors.

As the sixties gave way to the 1970s the 8mm glamour film began turning towards soft core rather than mere nude posing. Harrison Marks first tested these waters with 8mm films like Tutti Fruit and Hot Teddy which feature off the wall stand-ins for sex acts with the former depicting Sue Roberts suggestively eating a banana while the latter sees Sue Bond madly humping a giant teddy bear. Marks finally made the transition to soft core shorts featuring real people with titles like PENNY AND PAUL a no-frills recording of a sex session between the busty Penny and a longhaired stud who’d go on to bonk his way through several more of Marks’ soft and hardcore shorts during the 1970s.

As with his early 8mm glamour films Marks’ soft core shorts quickly became more elongated affairs often running around 12-15 minutes and with elaborate plots that were an outlet for Marks’ comedy inclinations. By the time of Marks’ GOODNIGHT NURSE, which was filmed in 1972 and released in January 1973, Marks was shooting both b/w soft core versions of his films for the UK market and colour hardcore versions for Tabu’s Charlie Brown to distribute in Germany. The colour hardcore version of Goodnight Nurse which is called “The Happy Nurses” was written up by me back in June, and the soft version keeps pretty close to it in terms of plot, only with the action kept soft core and a few cast changes. Having entrusted the role of the doctor to a ubiquitous hardcore actor in The Happy Nurses, Marks himself steps into the role for Goodnight Nurse. Also present and correct is Howard Nelson, who reprises his role as a blacked-up fez wearing patient from The Happy Nurses. As this was a non-sex role Howard is soon wheeled away allowing Doctor Marks to have a quick fumble with one of the nurses. At the same time a patient who resembles a young hippie version of Marks, is checked in and soon becomes a target for the randy nurses. As in the Happy Nurses the patient is eventually revealed to be the new ward porter, news that the nurses react to by emptying a fruit bowl over him.

According to a 1972 interview with Marks, Goodnight Nurse was inspired by his own hospitalization that year which predictably caused his mind to drift onto the subject of naughty nurses (tellingly he also wrote the script for Come Play With Me around this time as well). “The first week or two I didn’t pay much attention, I was too groggy to think about sex” he claimed “but when I felt a bit better, the old urge came back. I started to think about a bit of crumpet again”. Unfortunately for Marks the reality of the situation was rather less erotic than the film it inspired with the day nurses Marks was lusting after always replaced at 8’O Clock by “a pair of right dragons”. While one of the nurses did it seems go after Marks she wasn’t exactly Mary Millington, rather she was, in Marks’ own words “built like a brick built shithouse” and kept Marks up till 3am in the morning talking about sex until he eventually shooed her away by complaining “I am a bit tired”. One suspect she must have been really rough on the eye for him to turn down an offer of sex, and in a way its a testament to Marks’ overactive imagination that such an un-erotic sounding encounter could be turned into the randy farce that is Goodnight Nurse.

This in mind its tempting to speculate whether the chronologically final Marks’ films on the discs, BLOWJOB and NIGHT DREAMS have a similar basis in real life incidents that Marks sexed up in his imagination and then put on film. BLOWJOB features a punter contacting a prostitute from the back pages of a sex magazine and both of them going down on each other in scenes shot on Marks’ couch at his flat. In the comedic punch line the punter then rewards the woman with two one pound notes and she in turn offers him some green shield stamps!!! NIGHT DREAMS is Marks’ mock horror film which opens once again on his couch, and with a woman flicking through a book on horror films, with particular emphasis on pictures of Lugosi’s Dracula and Karloff’s Frankenstein. After this not so light reading she retires to bed only to suffer a nightmare, symbolized in the film by Karloff’s face superimposed over her tossing and turning in the nude. At the same time a mysterious stranger, initially seen only by shots of his gloved hands and feet, creeps around her apartment. Its all shot in a manner to suggest we’re building up to a full on horror outing, with lots of stereotypical horror imagery like a clock striking midnight, before the film reveals itself to have been a bit of a tease. Since when the woman wakes up she is greeted not by the sight of Dracula or Frankenstein but Harrison Marks himself, stripping off and jumping into bed with her, no doubt in order to offer her some “comfort” after her bad dream. A scene that also allows Marks to display a whole new side to his talents- his backside !!!

With titles like Blowjob the norm and even Marks himself flashing his Harris onscreen, the old style nude posing 8mm glamour film was clearly a thing of the past by this point. Some, such as original glamour girl Pamela Green may have felt that much of the artistry went out of the window in the 8mm glamour worlds’ clambering for a more upfront approach to sex. But with nudity by then common place in the tabloids and mainstream films as well as John Lindsay making blue movies more publicly visible thanks to his regular appearances in the tabloids and in court the 1970s were clearly marching to a more saucier beat. Changes that left the surviving 8mm filmmakers like Marks, Russell Gay and Ken Williams now free to depict the sort of explicit scenarios that a generation raised on the likes of Nude Cocktail and Use a Hot Iron had had to make do with merely visualizing in their minds as coy images of nude women serving cocktails or ironing in the all together flickered onscreen.