Thursday, 13 September 2012

Stanley Long RIP 1933-2012

Veteran British sex filmmaker Stanley Long died earlier this week aged 78. I can’t make any claim to have known him, save for several email exchanges a few years ago in which he voiced dissatisfaction over the current DVD releases of his films The Wife Swappers and Groupie Girl, and tried to persuade me to buy the then forthcoming DVD boxset of his ‘Adventures of a…’ series instead… not that I needed much persuading there. I did though have a hand in reuniting him with a copy of his 1975 rarity ‘It Could Happen to You’ and his early 8mm glamour film ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and I may have once pissed him off by writing up a certain fact concerning his unmade 1979 horror film ‘Plasmid’.

The British sex film genre could boast to having many distinct characters (Derek Ford, Antony Balch, Harrison Marks) each with their own unique way of looking at the world, but Long had a brilliant, finger on the pulse intuition over what the British public wanted to see. To the degree that his career not only spans the entire history of the genre but also acts as a microcosm of its various trends and changing attitudes. Long was there right from the start, shooting 8mm glamour films in the late 1950s and his subsequent feature film career encompasses the carefree nudist film boom of the early 60s to the cautionary ‘tut, tut and leer’ approach of his mega hit The Wife Swappers at the decade’s end, before the more relaxed attitude of the early 70s allowed Long the chance to make more overtly comic sex films like Sex and the Other Woman, culminating in his massively popular ‘Adventures’ films, beginning with Adventures of a Taxi Driver in 1975, followed by Adventures of a Private Eye in 1977, and Adventures of a Plumber’s Mate in 1978. Success after success within the genre proved that Long was far more in touch with the tastes of the average man on the street than any so-called film ‘experts’ or critics. To this day cinema snobs still recoil in disgust over the fact that Long’s Adventures of a Taxi Driver out grossed Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver during its original run, but clearly as far as 1975 was concerned the average British cinemagoer was more interested in seeing Barry Evans lose his trousers then they were in seeing Robert De Niro losing his marbles.

While many British sex films fell into obscurity during the 1980s and 1990s the Adventures films -along with the Confessions series- continued to be kept in circulation via video releases and late night TV airings- ensuring these films played a vital part in forming the public’s mental image of what 1970s British sex comedies were all about. Outside of sex films Long also acted as cinematographer on The Blood Beast Terror (1967)- shooting its ridiculous moth woman monster, and became a footnote to the careers of Roman Polanski and Michael Reeves by acting as cameraman on Repulsion (1965) and The Sorcerers (1967), going way beyond the call of duty for the latter by agreeing to being strapped to the top of a police car in order to film the climactic car chase.

Personally my own introduction to Long’s films –and the two that made the biggest impression on me- were The Wife Swappers (1969) and Eskimo Nell (1974), surely the genre’s most unintentionally and intentionally funniest moments. How can anyone ever forget The Wife Swappers?, after all there isn’t a single scene in that film that isn’t memorable for some reason or another, whether it is the sight of Leonard and his wife who has fallen victim to a post-dubbing job, the hopeless actor being passed off as an ‘eminent London psychiatrist’ who is only convincing as a psychiatrist in the sense that it is hard to believe he was a proper actor, or such hysterical dialogue as “you’ve taken the act of love and dirtied it”.

With Eskimo Nell, Long got to have his cake and eat it by producing a satire on the very film industry he himself lorded over, sending up everyone from crooked film distributors to the Whitehouse/Longford/Festival of Light mob. Catching up with that film in the 1990s, further piqued my curiosity over the film world that Eskimo Nell lampooned and encouraged me to delve deeper into Britain’s saucy past.


I suspect Long rarity, if ever, saw any decent critical notices for his films while he was making them “a ninth rate skin flick with the ugliest, spottiest, dirtiest assembly of misshapen non-actors since Tod Browning’s Freaks” was Films and Filming’s take on Groupie Girl, “listless documentary about prostitution through the ages, with lots of hammy recreations from different periods. All the women have exceptionally large breasts” moaned Time Out on the subject of 1973’s On the Game. So it was rather gratifying to see a recent flurry of critical interest in Long’s films, with his ‘London in the Raw’ and ‘Primitive London’ both being screened at the BFI Southbank and released on DVD and Blu-Ray, inspiring highbrow reappraisals in the likes of The Guardian. After years of deriding the genre Long worked in ‘the intelligentsia’ had finally come grovelling. Long himself began making regular appearances at film screenings and conventions, as well as popping up on such disparate television programmes as Balderdash and Piffle, British Film Forever and the antiques show Trust Me I’m a Dealer. Even forgotten obscurities like West End Jungle (1961) managed to get dusted off, released on DVD, screened on BBC4 and inspire a Marc Almond music video (2010’s ‘Varity’). Sad as Long’s passing is, and that such a vital link to our cinematic past is now gone, there is the reassuring knowledge that he lived long enough to see his films being appreciated again, and got to tell all (or at least as much as libel laws would allow) in his 2008 biography ‘X Rated - Adventures of an Exploitation Filmmaker’.

Check out the book and the DVD releases. The former is full of great stories about his life and times, and the films themselves are rich in memorable moments. I know sights like the badly made up Marilyn Monroe lookalike in West End Jungle, a bunch of actors pretending to be beatniks eating what is meant to be cat food but was actually tins of tuna in London in the Raw, Jane Cardew’s breasts in Sex and the Other Woman, and the maniacal Punch and Judy man in Screamtime, will forever be burnt into my grey matter. Stanley Long was responsible for all of that, and I’m very grateful for it.


Long strapped to the top of a car during the making of The Sorcerers

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