Sunday, 18 March 2012

Review: Love for Sale (1960s)

Down a murky street, stiletto clad feet patrol the pavements of London in “Love for Sale”, an 8mm film made at some point in the 1960s by the rather unfortunately named S.S. Film Productions. Love for Sale is as if somebody had seen Arnold Louis Miller’s West End Jungle, thought the absolute world of it, and been inspired to go out and make their own variation on the same theme.

The two films share an identical landscape; a world of grey, dirty buildings, rain battered streets, suggestively worded adverts pinned to public notice boards, Soho stairways leading men up to a sexual adventure or some kind of folly. Love for Sale opens with a woman being dropped off in a car; a shot of her tucking cash down the front of her dress leaves you in no doubt as to what her occupation is. But it seems a prostitute’s work is never done, as no sooner has she reached for a cigarette then her next client emerges from an alley to offer her a light and a proposition. An obsession for close-ups visually dominates Love for Sale, with their trip back to her flat depicted by a close-up of their feet walking down a street, followed by a close up of their feet entering a doorway, and ending with a close up of his feet- by now at her flat- as he sits down on a chair. Once at the flat Love for Sale becomes a visualisation of a line from the film Cover Girl Killer “undressing for tired businessmen… bit of a dead end job”.

The term 8mm glamour film, feels ridiculously inappropriate here, given the decidedly un-glamorous worldview constructed by this film. Unconsciously- or perhaps not- Love for Sale breaks many rules of the game. The prostitution theme being deeply at odds with the still at this point asexual scenarios that figured in Russell Gay and Harrison Marks’ 8mm films of the time. Love for Sale’s female lead is also as far removed as you can get from the ‘look but don’t touch’ fantasy figures that inhabited other 8mm glamour films, more than a little jaded looking she is mostly seen frowning that is when she isn’t lighting up another cigarette. While not unattractive, she is a few steps down from a Harrison Marks model in terms of looks, casting that greatly works in this film’s favour, since the use of a better known or better looking model would have instantly killed the realism here. Love for Sale really goes where other glamour films feared to tread when it begins focusing on her preparing herself for her client in the next room, adjusting her wig, applying lipstick, visuals that seem to constantly point out what a chore she really finds making herself look sexy and glamorous to be. As for the male lead, who knows what he looks like, given that the film always keeps his face off- screen. An anonymity that allows the filmmakers to indulge in further close-ups, which in turn force you to instead build up a mental image of him. Shots highlighting well-polished shoes and a smart trousers and suit compo suggesting a well moneyed city businessman, yet with a demeanour of someone who is a bag of nerves, evidenced by close-ups of him crossing his legs, close-ups of him impatiently drumming his fingers on the chair, close-ups of him uncrossing his legs, close-ups of him reaching into a pack of Rothmans for a cigarette. The fact that the majority of her striptease is intercut with such close-ups of him only emphasizes the voyeuristic drive that is at the heart of the glamour film genre.

As the collector who supplied me with a copy of this film accurately pointed out the tone of Love for Sale is so relentlessly grimy and downbeat it is hard to believe anyone ever got aroused by this thing. Yet Love for Sale clearly does have its eye on titillation, a kind of titillation that is extremely specific to its own time and place, the film’s delight at the sight of suspender belts, the peeling off of nylon stockings and big tits squeezed into a black bra being very much a product of that ‘Spick and Span’ mentality

The little known S.S. Films were also responsible for ‘Stage Struck’ in which another busty brunette (Margaret Middleton) is lured to a film studio where she is spied upon getting undressed by a creepy looking, bearded man. On the basis of these two films, S.S. Films were truly having their cake and eating it back then, producing films that are rich in authentically sleazy atmosphere whilst at the same time keep within the boundaries of what was socially acceptable for that era by never actually showing anything more than women undressing. The semi-professional execution of both these films and the utilization of a film studio in Stage Struck hint that we are dealing here with the output of people with a background in real films or glamour photography, rather than rank amateurs fumbling their way into the sex industry.

For an appropriate audio accompaniment, a screening of Love for Sale surely begs to be accompanied by the Cole Porter song of the same name, which in all likelihood inspired the film’s title in the first place. Zebedy Colt’s spirited, late 1960s rendition of the song from his ‘I’ll Sing for You’ album, works especially well with the film.

Love for Sale (or rather ‘Love for Sale: Part One’ as its billed on its title card) ends with a wonderful visual stand-in for the hanky panky its prostitute and her client are about to indulge in, as they discard their cigarettes into the same ashtray, lit ends placed together, causing them to smoulder away into the night. Does Love for Sale Part Two go on to show what those cigarettes are meant to symbolise? an educated guess would suggest it is unlikely. Since as the client in Love for Sale must know only too well, you’d have to open your wallet a bit wider and venture down even further murky alleys to find that kind of thing in 1960s London.