Saturday, 28 December 2013

Happy New Year














“Free at last…. Good luck and god bless you”


 

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Review: The Golden Lady (1979, Jose Larraz)



When is a Jose Larraz film not a Jose Larraz film? When it is The Golden Lady a 1979 offering from the Barcelona born director that resembles just about everything other than one of his own films. At the higher end of its multiple aspirations The Golden Lady muscles in on territory occupied by Charlie’s Angels, The Avengers and the James Bond franchise, deliberately inviting comparisons between the latter two in the ‘special guest star’ casting of Patrick Newell and Desmond Llewelyn, both playing as close to their Bond and Avengers characters as copyright laws would allow. The Golden Lady also has its wicked eye on the decadent, disco loving world of The Stud, inadvertently its Bond influences often make it come across as a humourless Lindsay Shonteff film too, and its storyline about a group of pistol packing, attractive women steps on the feet of Donovan Winter’s The Deadly Females.


Slick in execution, metropolitan in its landscape, and doing its best to pass itself off as a big budget Hollywood affair, The Golden Lady belongs to a different universe entirely to the earlier, atmospheric and predominately rural set series of British horror films that Larraz is better remembered for. It is a Larraz film only in the sense that Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs was a Mario Bava film, or that Poltergeist was a Tobe Hooper film, yes that is their names adorning the directed by credit, but abandon all hope ye who seek auteur tendencies here. The conclusion that you can’t help reaching is that Larraz was merely a director for hire on this project. By all accounts it wasn’t a happy experience for its director, who’d go on to cite it as one of the worse films he was ever involved in, with the majority of his ire being reserved for the film’s script. While I’m not sure this is Larraz’s absolute nadir –faded but painful memories of his 1980s horror efforts The Edge of the Axe and Rest in Pieces suggest they were more hard going- The Golden Lady is definitely the most faceless of his films. It has the feel, less of the work of a horror auteur, than of a director who occasionally dabbles in the strictly commercial side of cinema in-between a day job of shooting ITC series episodes. In that sense it is the kind of film that would sit more comfortably among the filmographies of Val Guest, Robert Young or Gerry O’Hara, than Larraz.


The Golden Lady of the title, and the film’s female James Bond character is Julia Hemmingway (Christina World) a mercenary by trade, but who leads the kind of jet-set lifestyle more associated with a wealthy socialite. Larraz’s leading lady Miss ‘World’ is none other than Take An Easy Ride’s Ina Skriver, hiding out under a new acting pseudonym invented especially for the purposes of this film. Skriver’s Danish accent and acting ability haven’t improved a great deal in the three years since Take An Easy Ride, but at least she now gets to play a character who owns her own car, helicopter and private jet, rather than having to hitchhike her way into the back of other people’s.


Enter Charlie Whitlock (Newell) a quintessentially English, smoking jacket and monocle wearing businessman who instigates the plot of The Golden Lady by hiring Hemmingway to dig the dirt on three business rivals of his. All of whom represent Whitlock’s main competition in a looming bidding war over the rights to a petroleum contract in the Middle East. Despite the film’s title Hemmingway doesn’t go it alone, and seeks out three other golden ladies to help her out with this assignment, each hired on the basis that their good looks will render Whitlock’s rivals putty in their hands.


My good friend Suzy Mandel was at one point mooted to appear in this film, The Golden Lady even shows up in some versions of her CV, but in fact Suzy had emigrated to the States before filming had begun. The makers of The Golden Lady may have narrowly missed out on having a bona fide Playbird in their cast, but they luckily still managed to round up a trio of striking starlets to play Hemmingway’s assistants, including a pre-‘V’ June Chadwick, the high priestess of all late 1970s British trash culture that is Suzanne Danielle, and Czech model and Confessions of a Window Cleaner bit player Anika Pavel. In the Charlie’s Angels tradition each of the golden ladies has her own distinguishing characteristics and fashionable hairstyle. Chadwick’s character Lucy (aka the short haired one) is the boffin of the group, whose Hi-Tech commuter, nicknamed ‘Corky’, provides onscreen data on the other two golden ladies, spelling out their strengths and weaknesses in a time-saving way of character development. Carol (Pavel) is a redheaded NYC fashion model who when not posing for photo shoots is getting her hands dirty in the world of espionage. Carol’s plus points according to Corky are “no particular political-religious allegiances”, but her failings include “vanity…. nymphomania”. Saying that it is rather unfair of Corky to single Carol out for criticism in that department, especially as vanity and nymphomania are a common failing among both female and male characters in this film. Last but certainly not least is Suzanne Danielle as the statuesque and fearless Dahlia. How tough is Dahlia? the first sight of her in the film sees Dahlia modelling army camouflage and nonchalantly strutting her stuff around a war zone as an unspecified war rages around her, a sequence that culminates with Dahlia in silhouette, gun in hand and the smouldering remnants of a downed plane in the background. Intros to action heroines don’t come much better than that.


Early on in the film Hemmingway stresses to Whitlock that “I’m involved in commercial espionage not murder” but no sooner have Whitlock’s rivals surfaced in London than car chases, kidnap attempts and dead bodies start to pile up around the golden ladies, as greedy unscrupulous businessmen get pitted against each other in a grab for the oil. Whitlock’s rivals in question include Dietmar Schuster, an AC/DC German businessman who is in town with his younger lover Wayne Bentley, a ballet dancer whose prima donna behaviour and bi-sexuality make him a target for seduction by the golden ladies. Then there is Yorgo Praxis (Edward De Souza) a Greek, self-made billionaire and shipping magnate, who in no way, shape or form is meant to remind you of the Greek, self-made billionaire and shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis (taking characters who mirror real-life figures and dropping them into salacious, fictional plots appears to be one of many tricks the makers of The Golden Lady picked up from Jackie Collins.) Technically there is a fifth, unofficial golden lady in the form of Anita (Ava Cadell) an inexpensive prostitute that Hemmingway has hired to distract Praxis whilst the other golden ladies infiltrate and bug his London residence. What a distraction Anita does turn out to be, riding Praxis like a bucking bronco and faking violent orgasms as if her life depended on it, in a scene that gave Ava Cadell the chance to show off her newly enlarged breasts and guarantee The Golden Lady coverage in the T&A stills loving pages of Continental Film Review. Anita is later the subject of a hilarious put down when Praxis tells Hemmingway that Anita is “a good child really, but …..limited”.




Hemmingway puts herself forward for the business of seducing the final man who stands in the way of Whitlock’s bid for the oil. Not surprisingly, as Max Rowlands-a man who seems to have learnt everything he knows about male grooming and fashion from Paul Raymond- also happens to be Hemmingway’s former lover. As the instigator of his labyrinthine plot, Whitlock continues to pop in and out of the narrative, ensuring that the Golden Lady’s makers got their money’s worth out of Patrick Newell. Desmond Llewelyn’s appearance however is of the ‘take the money and run’ school of cameo appearances. Cast as Lucy’s mentor, Llewelyn sticks around long enough to dish out a few Bondian gadgets before he is out the door and in search of a paycheque. “Haven’t I met him somewhere before” enquirers Hemmingway. “I believe he is quite well known in his trade” replies Lucy, in a scene that offers a corny wink to its audience and a brief ray of comedy in a film that often could be accused of taking itself way too seriously.


Paradoxically the closer attention you pay to the plot of The Golden Lady the less sense it starts to make. Schuster is really a KGB agent living under a false identity, Hemmingway’s entire mission is a smokescreen for an assassination attempt on a visiting oil sheik, and Rowlands is secretly in with the CIA and also wants to get back in Hemmingway’s knickers. The Golden Lady never entirely convinces you that its makers were the encyclopaedic knowledge on international espionage that the film would love you to believe. Suspicions linger that we’re witnessing filmmakers trying to bluff their way through this area of expertise with the help of a tangled web of a plot and lots of then topical chit-chat concerning oil barons, the energy crisis, ‘big shots from Israeli’, Swiss bank accounts, et al.


The big diversionary tactic here though is the characters’ wealth and the billionaire lifestyles of the beautiful people. Fur coats, diamonds, champagne and disco music are all worshipped as the new gods here. Ina Shriver alone must have gone through an entire designer wardrobe during the film, her character rarely sporting the same outfit for more than one scene, you’d be amazed at how much of the film consists of characters going back and forth between the lobbies of high-class London hotels and the back seats of limousines, and a Panther Deville –the vehicle to be seen in if you were a female mercenary or porn baron back then- commands enough screen time that it is deserving of its own co-starring credit.

As with the same year’s The Bitch, there is also a helicopter ride opening scene and aerial views of New York City that serve no real purpose other than to flaunt the fact that the money was there to afford such luxuries. As to where the money was coming from… a loan of Lucy’s computer isn’t needed to detect that Philips, the Dutch multinational engineering and electronics conglomerate, are likely to have had money in this film. Their logo turns up in the end credits and as discreet product placement within the film (Corky the computer bearing the mark of Philips itself). A little more ill at ease with The Golden Lady’s all important veneer of top-drawer sophistication is onscreen evidence that its makers took a backhander from the Wall’s Ice Cream Company. Namely a scene towards the end in which the golden ladies commandeer a Wall’s Ice Cream Van and use it as cover to enter an airport, cunningly masquerading as Wall’s Ice Cream representatives.

 


On the rare instances that The Golden Lady contemplates working class Britain it does so in a consistently negative light. A visit to a council block of flats quickly has Hemmingway drawing her gun in anticipation of trouble, and leads her onto a squalid flat and a blood splattered corpse in its bathroom. Elsewhere a sub-plot sends Dahlia and Lucy to an amateur boxing club where they are immediately bothered by uncouth, punch drunk and sexist blokes. A pinch of Dahlia’s bottom from one of them being all it takes to start a brawl. After the dust has settled Lucy and Dahlia are granted an audience with the man they are after, a low-class boxer who matter of factly admits to moonlighting as a hit-man but whose lack of a decent education renders him useless to the golden ladies since he is unable to decide if his all-important mysterious employer spoke with a Greek, Italian or Yugoslavian accent. The underlining message here appears to be that the Britain that lies at the wrong end of the tracks is no place for a golden lady.


Miss Hemmingway is on safer ground in the back of the Panther Deville or at the discothèque she whisks Rowlands off to. A disco isn’t perhaps the most logical of locale to discuss top secret matters and affairs of the heart, and it is not long before their intimate conversation is interrupted by a performance from Blonde on Blonde, alias singing Page 3 girls Jilly Johnson and ‘naughty’ Nina Carter. Costumed in matching Marlene Dietrich/The Blue Angel outfits, the duo take to the dance floor to perform their song ‘Woman is Free’ no doubt winning a few new fans by wiggling their sparkling hot pants as they exit. How does one top the spectacle of singing glamour models in Dietrich apparel and hot pants? An unseen MC provides the answer by introducing “the fabulous Hot Gossip”. Rowlands and Hemmingway might have been able to control themselves during Blonde on Blonde’s routine but the onstage antics of Arlene Phillips’ fetish outfit loving dance troupe forces then to head for the exit in order to find the nearest 5-star hotel room to fuck each other’s brains out in. Hot Gossip’s appearance proving that there is nothing quite like an adult woman dressed as a schoolgirl or a man wearing only leather Y-fronts being lead around by a dog collar to get an estranged couple in the mood, or to momentary distract a cinema audience from a film with a head scratchingly convoluted plot.


Blonde on Blonde Ambition
  


As The Golden Lady drifts away from its Bond/The Avengers model and towards being a “Spawn of The Stud” movie, thanks to the scenes showcasing London’s disco nightlife and Hot Gossip, one thing that occurs to you is how few imitations of The Stud there actually were. Huge success, nay phenomenon that The Stud was, the Collins sisters pretty much had the sexploitation niche that they’d carved out for themselves with that film all to themselves. Either as a duo, in the case of the Stud sequel The Bitch, or solo in the case of the Joan-less, Jackie penned The World is Full of Married Men, or the Jackie-less, Joan vehicle Nutcracker. My pet theory as to the lack of Stud imitations is that the chief ingredients to that film’s success –a name star reinventing herself as a sex symbol in middle age, a glamorous portrayal of well-moneyed hedonism, and known pop hits scattered about the film like confetti- was all just a too prohibitively expensive formula for the British sexploitation industry to attempt to copy. The Golden Lady then stands as one of the few films to take on the Collins sisters at their own game. Whereas The Stud had Joan Collins as its older woman figure, The Golden Lady tries to match it with the similarly mature Ina Skriver, The Stud took Legs & Co (and their friend Floyd) out of the Top of the Pops studio and onto the big screen, so The Golden Lady does likewise by letting the ruder Hot Gossip loose on a cinema audience. The Stud gave nude walk on roles to sexploitation actresses Pat Astley and Susie Silvey, to which The Golden Lady answers by playing the Ava Cadell card. The Stud centred on characters leading lifestyles others only dream about, The Golden Lady centres on characters leading lifestyles others only dream about…and who get to shoot people as well.


Where The Golden Lady begins to lag behind is in the soundtrack department. The Collins films were spoilt rotten when it came to disco and pop hits, The World is Full of Married Men soundtrack album –which yours truly picked up a few years ago at a local branch of Oxfam- is a no expenses spared, double album affair complete with gatefold sleeve and 28 tracks that are a who’s who of the period’s radio friendly pop scene (Sylvester, Heatwave, Billy Ocean, Bonnie Tyler, Sarah Brightman, Tavares, Taste of Honey.) The best the makers of The Golden Lady could come up with is Charles Aznavour and The Three Degrees to sing over the closing and opening credits, and in the obligatory soundtrack LP only Aznavour, The Three Degrees and Blonde on Blonde warrant a mention on the 10 track soundtrack’s cover.


More crucially while Oliver Tobias’ performance as a man running from his working class background and attempting to better himself by swimming in a sea of predatory older women, creeps, hangers on, snobs, brainless revellers and top 40 hits, gave The Stud its unexpected heart and soul, there is no comparative character here- male or female. The Golden Lady is amusingly true to its gender reversal James Bond concept in this respect by making its male character all a tad one-dimensional, only good for one thing and with a tendency to become irritatingly pathetic and love struck soon after. “Look we made love that’s all, but I can’t change my way of life now” Hemmingway tells a crestfallen Rowlands, words that could have come from the mouth of Mr. Bond himself. Rowlands isn’t that easily put off though, and right till the final scene in the film is still trying to win her heart by blowing kisses down the end of the phone to her. At which point Charles Aznavour joins in the Julia Hemmingway love-in by romantically singing her praises over the end credits (“here I am alone, she had wayyyyyssssss, so right for meeeeeeeeee”). ‘Can a Paul Raymond clone ever forget The Golden Lady and find True Happiness’, is the question you’re left pondering over after the end credits, sadly sequels that may have answered that question were not forthcoming.





Unfortunate echoes of Donovan Winter’s The Deadly Females threaten to derail The Golden Lady, the frequent name dropping of real world issues in both films is the classic sign of an uppity exploitation film that wants to con people into thinking that it has hidden social-relevance. Too many cooks also are in danger of spoiling the broth here, with four heroines and various love interests, confidants and enemies pushing the number of main characters into double-figures. Performers who can cut it in action movie terms like Suzanne Danielle, and talented actors like Edward De Souza deserve more screen time but have to share it with an equal amount of deadwood characters and actors. The film also has an annoying habit of investing in minor characters like the bi-sexual ballet dancing toy boy or Ava Cadell’s prostitute character, only for them to be abruptly written out of the film by having them turn up as corpses with bullets in their heads.


Unlike the Donovan Winter film though, The Golden Lady does remember that films about groups of lethal, ass kicking ladies are meant to have a pulse. For a rookie when it came to action cinema and a director who never touched on the genre again, Larraz turns out to be surprisingly gifted at bringing the action set pieces to life. Saving the best till last, The Golden Lady’s climax in which Dahlia forces a helicopter pilot to give chase to an assassin who is fleeing by motorcycle is a genuinely exciting piece of stunt work and filmmaking. One with a sense of for real danger about it as that pursuing helicopter dive bombs the ground in perilously close proximity to nearby trees and the man on the bike, giving the impression that the production was only seconds, if not inches, away from having a Vic Morrow moment. An extra frisson being generated here by the fact that it really does look like Suzanne Danielle was in that helicopter for the duration of the scene.


The Golden Lady is 90 minutes of 24-carat, escapist nonsense, designed with a late 1970’s middle-of-the-road audience in mind, and appropriately pitched halfway between mainstream and exploitation genres. It might simultaneously be both a career low-point for Larraz, and the best film Suzanne Danielle ever appeared in. After watching it you may well feel the need to reacquaint yourself with Vampyres or Symptoms in order to restore your faith in him, but on the other hand it almost convinces you that she should be forgiven for Carry on Emmannuelle and The Boys in Blue.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Monique Deveraux : By Mail Order Only

Dave has unearthed these photos of Monique from his archives, which he thinks he bought through mail order back then. Many thanks to Dave for taking the time to scan these Deveraux rarities and for allowing me to share them.






Sunday, 13 October 2013

Review: Aphrodisia (1970, George Harrison Marks)

The early 1970s saw George Harrison Marks down but not quite out. The previous decade had ended on a succession of bum notes for the glamour photographer and filmmaker, bankruptcy loomed, he’d temporarily separated from his partner Toni Burnett and soon after would lose control of his last feature film The Nine Ages of Nakedness. Undefeated, Marks turned his attention solely to the 8mm home viewing market, shooting short sex films that were released by his own Maximus company. A move announced with the fanfare of a series of ads placed in the back pages of Continental Film Review magazine. “Harrison Marks- world famous nude photographer and director of The 9 Ages of Nakedness- now playing at the Cameo Moulin, GT Windmill St, London, W1, is producing a series of 8mm films especially for the new Maximus film club” proclaimed one of them, proving that the bankruptcy had failed to deflate Marks’ high opinion of himself. 

The step-down from helming a feature film like 9 Ages to making 8mm shorts could be viewed by some as the actions of a filmmaker who was slumming it, indeed in the past his entire 8mm film work from this period has been quickly dismissed as thoughtlessly turned out, unimaginative pornography. All a rather rash and unfair judgement, as the rediscovery of his early 1970s Maximus output in recent years shows that while his personal life and finances might have taken a turn for the worse, this was a creativity fruitful time for Marks. Key titles like ‘First You See It’, ‘Unaccustomed As I Am’, ‘The Girl Upstairs’ and ‘Dolly Mixture’ appeased both their maker and his audience, offering enough nudity and sex to satisfy the man in the mac, whilst providing Marks with an outlet for his personality and sense of humour. His 1970s 8mm films also bring new aspects of the man himself to the table, painting Marks as a far more adventurous and sexually open minded filmmaker than the dusty, music hall relic version of him that you meet in Come Play With Me might suggest.

In his short film ‘Touch Tongue’ a doomed relationship between a lonely lesbian and the female prostitute she picks up in a park results in the expected display of lesbian lovemaking served up as a turn on for a male audience, but ends with a poignant denouement that demonstrates genuine compassion for alienated gay female characters, comparing favourably to the often hostility shown towards them in British sex flicks like Virgin Witch and Clinic Xclusive. ‘Colour My World’ saw Marks tackle another social taboo- that of interracial sex- a subject usually given the silent treatment by British sex cinema. Essentially a sex-ed up remake of his very first 8mm glamour film ‘Art for Art’s Sake’, Colour My World depicts an affair between a female artist and her black male model, ripping up the rule book of the Marks’ oeuvre by making the man’s body the focus of attention. Marks offers no reservations about turning his famous camera on the torso of a man –posed in the manner of Rodin’s The Thinker- in the same way he had a hundred or so female nude bodies beforehand. Whereas Marks’ films usually lovingly linger over female breasts and buttocks, in Colour My World all roads lead to black cock. Even further out of Marks’ own box sexually was the hardcore loop ‘Wotzi-Wotzi’ which at first glance seems like just another lesbian short, only for the timid, shy ‘girl’ being given the come-on by her girlfriend to be revealed as a man in drag, whom Marks had attired in a dress he’d borrowed from Toni Burnett’s wardrobe.

One of the earliest titles out of the Maximus starting blocks, Aphrodisia is undoubtedly one of Marks most ambitious 8mm productions, one that left him with more footage in the can than usual, resulting in him having to split the film in two and put it out over two separate 8mm releases. Aphrodisia is Marks’ spin on the James Bond franchise, with a tone that initially suggests a send-up but also incorporates a great deal of played straight outbursts of sex and sadism that go further than the Saltzman-Broccoli films could or would do within the confines of their ‘A’ Certificates.

Marks’ version of Bond centres around the exploits of four wackily-monikered characters: the Bond xerox ‘Captain X’ (Emmett Hennessey) a suave British secret agent tirelessly working to foil the world domination schemes of evil megalomaniac The Baron Von Vanderhorn (James Hamilton). Providing female eye candy are Captain X’s love interest Cherry Doubleday, and Vanderhorn’s lover and second-in-command Marta Apollo (Nicole Yearne). Confusingly a large portion of the narrative has already been played out before Aphrodisia Part 1 has begun, leaving a series of silent movie type intertitles to offer exclamations of ‘episode 1729: final instalment’, ‘the story or far’, ‘meanwhile…’, ‘as everyone knows...’ and allow us to play narrative catch-up. Intertitles inform us that Vanderhorn’s plans to overpopulate the world, bring his political party to power, and trigger world war three have all been thwarted by Captain X. Now seen sulking around a cornflake factory, Vanderhorn’s next plan –explained in further intertitles- is to flood Britain with aphrodisiacs, smuggled into the country through the cornflake factory…and only Captain X can save us. Enemies though they are, both Captain X and Vanderhorn epitomise young, 1960s London cool, Captain X with his neat ‘tache and roll neck jumper, Vanderhorn with his huge, pimptastic, fur coat. Unsurprisingly both are depicted as quite the ladies’ men. In fact only moments into the film we find Captain X romping by the fireplace with Cherry Doubleday, kicking off the Aphrodisia plot properly by using an ink stamp to mark Cherry’s inner thigh with an insignia that holds the secret to the location where Captain X has hidden a fertility capsule that Vanderhorn needs in order to execute his dastardly plan…. Got that?


Captain X: Licensed to Love and Kill
   

Somehow Vanderhorn learns that Captain X has left his mark on a woman but not the lucky lady’s identity, leaving him the strenuous task of going around London seducing dolly birds in the hope of finding that darn insignia on one of his conquests. A very of the period, hypnotising wheel visual effect breaks up our glimpses into Vanderhorn’s sex spree, a quest that brings The Horn satisfaction, but not satisfactory results. Enter Marta Apollo, who Vanderhorn dispatches to seduce and destroy Captain X. Masquerading as a ‘sex research worker conducting an opinion poll’ a PVC cat suit clad Marta lures Captain X back to her place, where she is soon stripping down to her stockings and suspenders, and proving herself to be a hands on kind of sex researcher.

 In the background to all of this is ‘The Stranger’ a dishevelled, elderly vagrant seen wandering around the less picturesque areas of London. Seemingly irrelevant to the story, that assumption is challenged by the Aphrodisia intertitles which hypes The Stranger as “the key to the intrigue”. A second, closer look at The Stranger increases curiosity in this character revealing The Stranger to be a person hidden under impressive but obvious make-up meant to make them appear older than they really are. An appearance that, along with Marks’ choice of name for this character immediately puts you in mind of ‘The Stranger Left No Card’ Wendy Toye’s short film from 1952. Implicating Marks as being one of many to have been impressed by Toye’s short (later remade by Toye herself as an episode of Tales of the Unexpected) in which an eccentrically dressed, heavily made up magician (Alan Badel) brings merriment and mirth to a small village before discreetly slipping out of his make-up and outlandish disguise in order to commit a murder then return to anonymity since “never in a million years would they guess that the little man who left town that day was their bearded, village halfwit… never in a million years.”

Aphrodisia isn’t actually the first evidence of The Stranger Left No Card having had an unlikely influence on Marks. Rewind the Marks story to almost a decade earlier and the 8mm glamour film era gave us 1962’s “I, Spy” in which a bearded, fedora hat wearing tramp loiters about a factory before taking off his clothes and beard and revealing himself to be Paula Page, a Marks’ model whose oversized chest would earn her the nickname ‘Two Guns’ Page. Attributes that no doubt made her a trickier subject to pass off as an old man than Wendy Toye had with Alan Badel.



Anyone au fait with I, Spy will already be clued up to where Marks was going with his Stranger character in Aphrodisia, but the unresolved identity of his character along with the generous amounts of softcore sex seen elsewhere are the cinematic hooks meant to encourage the punters to shell out an extra seven quid for the follow-up: Aphrodisia Part 2. Our second dose of Aphrodisia opens with The Stranger infiltrating the cornflake factory, in the process arousing the attention of Marta Apollo who leaves Captain X in a state of coital-doze, and traps the Stranger in the factory’s cellar. A flick of a lever triggers an explosion that renders The Stranger unconscious, allowing Marta the opportunity to investigate the mysterious intruder further.

Unbuttoning The Stranger’s shirt brings about the shock discovery of a pair of female breasts being hidden under there. The image of the exposed Stranger- young, protruding breasts obviously belonging to a female- bearded, pock-marked face apparently belonging to an old man- is a moment of pure, sideshow voyeurism designed to fuck with the rubes’ heads, a female twist on Wotzi-Wotzi’s full frontal surprise from its transvestite male lead. Only when Marta peels away The Stranger’s face make-up and beard do things become clearer, and the big revelation that The Stranger has really been Cherry Doubleday in disguise all along.

Whereas Aphrodisia Part 1’s bag was straightforward, heterosexual humping, Aphrodisia Part 2 gets down and does its funky thing to a kinkier beat, with all the characters’ S&M inclinations coming to the fore. Now at the mercy of Marta, Cherry wakes up to find herself naked, bound to a pole with ropes and subject to Marta’s lesbian advances. Things go from bad to worse for Cherry when Marta spots that insignia on Cherry’s thigh, then takes to whipping Cherry with a cat o’nine tails in an attempt to extract the location of Captain X’s fertility capsule from her.

At the time he made Aphrodisia Marks had entered into a little-known association with veteran NYC fetish publisher Leonard Burtman and Burtman’s femdom magazine ‘Bizarre Life’. Burtman would go on to marry one of Marks’ models and Bizarre Life’s Anglocentric content had seen Burtman commission several British based photoshoots featuring the likes of Rena Brown and Esme ‘Groupie Girl’ Johns outfitted in kinky boots and leather dresses, shoots heavily influenced by that Emma Peel/The Avengers look that had wetted America’s appetite for the London leather scene in the first place. Marks provided the tenth issue of Bizarre Life with its cover image of Monique Deveraux (sporting the same red PVC catsuit that Nicole Yearne wears in Aphrodisia) and the magazine received the Marks seal of approval when it was used as a prop in his 8mm short ‘Macabre’ one of several shorts from the Maximus period -including The Garden of Love and Aphrodisia itself – that went out of its way to court the fetish crowd.




By all accounts S&M wasn’t to Marks’ own taste, but here he couldn’t be accused of not giving it his best shot. Marta’s lengthy flogging of Cherry is Aphrodisia Part 2’s centrepiece, with full nudity from both actresses and a memorably squalid, damp looking cellar location. One which is believably isolated and far away from the eyes and ears of any good Samaritan who might hear all this racket and come to poor Cherry Doubleday’s aid.

Marks also uses the scene to emphasize the contrasting physicality and personalities of his two female leads- the small breasted, masochistic blonde playing Cherry pitted against Nicole Yearne’s busty, sexually aggressive brunette- there is something and someone to suit all tastes in this scene. Nicole Yearne was one of those actresses who like Maria Frost, Heather Deeley and Jane Cardew- blew into British sexploitation briefly, cast a spell over an audience on account of a large amount of work done in a short amount of time, then disappeared from the scene- but not people’s imaginations. Her career tells a familiar story…a few 8mm films….nude photo shoots for Escort and Parade (with a surname change to the more pun-friendly ‘Yerner’)….the film industry came a calling with nothing special bit parts in Permissive and the Tigon loser The Magnificent 7 Deadly Sins. It’s the Marks film then that provides Yearne with her one true, attention grabbing role from her fleeting time in the spotlight. In Aphrodisia, Yearne embraces and runs with the femdom vamp image it lends her, in the process gleefully demolishing the ‘girl next door’ persona built up for her in the pages of Parade and Escort.

The second part of Aphrodisia sees Marta Apollo step up to not only being the film’s centre of erotic attention but also its chief villain, easily eclipsing Vanderhorn who for the all the intertitle billing of him as ‘the depraved Vanderhorn’ isn’t given the chance to show off his depravity till right the very end of the film. Marta on the other hand gets carte blanche to run amok, not only flogging Cherry but going on to attempt to stab Captain X with a knife. Their subsequent semi-nude wrestle about on the floor is heavily erotised by Marks, with Marta hell-bent on staying on top and pinning a shirtless Captain X to the floor, and the Captain fighting back by digging his fingers into her buttocks and grabbing her breasts to keep her at bay. In the world of Aphrodisia the line between attempted murder and rough sex seems a very blurred one indeed. Just as Marta and Captain X wrestle about onscreen, the scene also finds Marks’ wrestling with playing to the femdom mentality and his own wandering eye which is clearly drawn to Yearne’s bottom, huge close-ups of which visually dominate the scene.




  


The majority of the Maximus shorts that followed were perfectly compact affairs that delivered the goods and say all they want to in their brief running times. Aphrodisia though is a slightly different kettle of fish, perhaps because it is an earlier Maximus release and Marks was yet to ease into the silent, short sex film format. The excessive use of intertitles come across as a sign of filmmaker who was missing live dialogue, and in Aphrodisia Part 1 the constant references to characters’ backstories and previous confrontations often ridiculously complicates what –sans intertitles- would play as a series of vaguely related simulated sex scenes.

It’s as if Marks had bigger plans for Aphrodisia brewing in the back of his mind and viewed a return to feature filmmaking as being just around the corner, not having banked on this being the start of a long excursion into the pornographic wilderness (it would be six years before he’d get the opportunity to make another feature film). Without a doubt, a fleshed out version of Aphrodisia’s storyline could fill a feature film with ease. In fact anyone blindly approaching the two 8mm releases of Aphrodisia could be forgiven for thinking they’d gotten hold of a 8mm abridged version of what had originally been a feature film. One from which an editor had kept in all the sex and kinko scenes but dispensed of large chunks of the plot.

The idea of Aphrodisia as a home movie try out for what could have been a feature film is inadvertently given extra weight by the fact that Marks did actually shoot the film on his own premises. A large part of it was filmed at ‘The Hall’ an apartment complex in St. John’s Wood where Marks lived in one of the ground floor flats (as porn actor Short Jack Gold has pointed out, if you run this address through Google Earth you can still see the bus stop that Sue Bond waits outside of in ‘First You See It’.) Although Marks resided at the flat with Toni Burnett and their daughter, the views we see of it in Aphrodisia still stubbornly retain the appearance of a quintessential 1960s bachelor pad. Copies of Playboy are the coffee table reading of choice, erotic art adorns the walls and where you’d expect to see framed photos of family members, Marks has framed photos of a nude June Palmer, taken by himself. In a cheeky move these mementos of Marks’ career and libido are incorporated into the Aphrodisia plot as props that Marta Apollo has dressed up her apartment with in order to pass herself off to Captain X as a sex researcher. Marks was the biggest sex researcher of them all.



The other main location in the film is Faulkners Alley in Crosscow St, Farringdon where Marks had a studio and ran the mail order side of the Maximus business from. A noticeably unglamorous location compared to Marks’ chic St Johns Wood flat, this alleyway of stone walls, faded door entrances and soot filled windows had somehow escaped the wrecking ball of the 1960s redevelopment of London (as chronicled in Norman Cohen’s 1967 film The London Nobody Knows) to survive as a throwback to the impoverished side of London’s Victorian past. As Aphrodisia actor Emmett Hennessey has remarked it looks like something out of the Jack the Ripper era.

In the film its cast as the site of the disused Cornflake factory, but in reality this was the place Marks called a place of work at the time, and the uninviting alleyway that the sexiest discoveries of the Maximus era- Sue Bond, Clyda Rosen, Angela Duncan- would all have had to walk down on their date with sex film immortality. There really should be a blue plaque in Faulkners Alley to commemorate this.

Unbeknownst to the Aphrodisia cast, the many, many still photographs Marks had taken during filming would enjoy a life outside the film, turning up in a short lived magazine called ‘Impact 70’ which Marks put together for the Roydock Books company. Consisting of stills taken from Maximus productions like First You See It, The Amorous Masseur and Halfway Inn, Impact 70 wedded Marks’ photographs to newly penned erotic stories that bore little relation to the film’s original storylines. Aphrodisia stills turn up to illustrate the story ‘Man of Many Parts’ which recasts Captain X as the soon to be wed ‘George’ a man embarking of one last fling with his wife-to-be’s sister (formally Marta Apollo) as his wedding to Susan (formally Cherry Doubleday) approaches. Its only involving as evidence of Marks’ private life having spilled out onto the pages of Impact 70; Marks’ story likely mirroring his own fears and anxieties about marrying and settling down with Toni after many years as a single raver playing the field.

The ‘Man of Many Parts’ story opens with: “George didn’t know whether to be happy or sad. In one month’s time he would be married…soon his gay single life would be over. No more nights in the West End, no more stripshows followed by a pleasant sojourn in some dolly’s flat. He was now Susan’s. The hundred and twenty pounds engagement ring on her finger proved that”.

 

Autobiographical insights like that aside, Marks’ work in Impact 70 feels compromised to suit a straight-laced, Men’s magazine readership. Gone are the S&M and Bondian elements of Aphrodisia, ditto the supernatural overtones of First You See It. The tired erotic lit and ideas that haunt Impact 70…some bloke has an affair with his missus’ sister…some other bloke visits an elocution teacher and gets laid… Marks in 9 Ages of Nakedness’ romantic poet mode attempting to convey sexual ecstasy through words (“all that existed now was her love for this man who was taking her on a journey through love. They reached journey’s end together”) has the numbing effect of rendering Marks’ naked world a dull and ordinary place to be, something the films those Impact 70 stills come from could never be accused of doing.

 ‘Man of Many Parts’ struggles to hold your attention, but Aphrodisia leaves you wanting more. Drawing as it does on a diverse number of influences- James Bond, the London leather scene, The Stranger Left No Card, yet with Marks’ own directorial hand being visible throughout. For surely only he could conceive of character names like Marta Apollo or The Baron Von Vanderhorn, or a plot to use a cornflake factory to flood the country with aphrodisiacs. Aphrodisia frustrates only in the sense that an all singing, all dancing feature film version of it never existed outside of Marks’ head and the 22 minutes of it that we have are all that he could make a reality in the reduced circumstances that the beginning of the 1970s found him.

In retrospect Impact 70 serves as an eerie premonition of the way Marks’ character would end up tamed and broken down by the demands of porn producers for ever more conventional product. Check out his final porno shorts from 1979, ‘Big N’Busty’, ‘Busty Baller’, ‘Cockpit Cunts’ –all financed by the Color Climax company- and you’ll find a Marks resigned to having to leave his own personality at the door and only there to film people fucking. Busty Baller with its ‘man knocks on the door, woman opens it, they fuck, film ends’ premise, and the casting of the gargoyle faced Gordon Hickman, attempting to hide his beer gut with a T-Shirt pathetically emblazoned with ‘I’m the Champ’ really is a blokish Impact 70 story made flesh. Those films could have been made by anyone, but the early Maximus films –like Marks himself- will always be something a little special, and ‘the Madness of King George’ truly flows fast and free in Aphrodisia.






Thanks to Emmett Hennessey, Sgt Rock, Beutelwolf…and to Bygoneguy for providing us with both parts of this GHM rarity.

             

Friday, 23 August 2013

Review: Sex Farm aka Frustrated Wives (1973, Arnold Louis Miller)






“Come on doll, move your arse” is the ungallant first line of dialogue you hear in this film, spoken over an establishing shot of an abode that is the epitome of 1970s middle class suburbia. Terrain that the British sex film would make its own during that decade, along the way mythologizing British suburbia as a place of wife swapping parties, of husbands who are having it away with their secretaries, leaving them incapable of satisfying their wives back home, who instead turn to milkmen, window cleaners and door to door salesmen for their sexual needs during those lonely hours of 9 until 5. Such was the sex film potential of the ‘burbs that even that most metropolitan of sexploiteer, Arnold Louis Miller, was lured towards it and tempted away from the bright lights, big city London-centric sleaziness of his earlier films; Secrets of a Windmill Girl and West End Jungle.

As far as suburban British sex films go Sex Farm eschews the misery drenched believability of Anthony Sloman’s Not Tonight Darling and puts its foot down firmer on the comedy peddle than Derek Ford’s Suburban Wives and Commuter Husbands, even if in the end Sex Farm does swerve out of control and becomes as uneven as the genre ever got.

A peek inside the house seen in the opening shot reveals the expected marital dysfunction behind the comfortable exterior. Robert (Australian actor Tristan Rogers) is into ass fucking his wife Diane (Amber Kammer) and thinks of himself as God’s gift; strutting around their bedroom praising himself. “You know I’m great, quantity and quality, that’s me” he tells Diane, who is turned off by his sexual demands and narcissism, and finds comfort in munching her way through a chocolate box (not incidentally a sexual euphemism, chocoholism is Diane’s comedy trait in the film). Elsewhere Diane’s friend Cheryl (Hilary Labow) is having her own early morning quarrel with husband Tom, albeit for different reasons. Cheryl’s problem is the lack of attention she has been getting from Tom. Evidentially Tom is a ‘once a week if you’re lucky’ merchant, leading her to accuse him of being past it, as well as becoming suspicious that his sexual prowess is being drained away elsewhere “why you lousy bastard, you’re having a bit on the side aren’t you”. These early, argument filled scenes breathe life into a claim once made by Ray Davies of The Kinks that “I’ve got nothing against suburbia other than it destroys people”.





With Robert busy at work, and Tom mysteriously called away, Diane and Cheryl decide to team up for the weekend and visit a health farm in the hope of getting up to a few extra marital affairs of their own. Initially it looks as though the pair might have made a bad mistake and that their weekend is likely to be summed up by the film’s aka title ‘Frustrated Wives’ rather than its ‘Sex Farm’ one. Dr Schroeder (Gordon Whiting) rules the health farm with a Teutonic iron fist, confiscating food and booze from the women as they enter the farm, then locking it away in a glass cabinet full of similar contraband, which proves to be a mouth-watering sight to chocoholic Diane “look at all those confiscated choccies”. The No-Fun ethos of Schroeder appears to have spread to the predominantly elderly and female residents, one of whom Mrs. Pelham (Marjorie Summerville) has a touch of the Mary Whitehouse about her, taking one look at these two newcomers through her thick rimmed glasses and judging them “not our type at all”. Although in retrospect this introduction to Mrs. Pelham is a deliberately deceptive one, given the big shock involving this character that awaits later on in the film.

Fortunately there is some half-way decent male talent lurking about the place in the form of Frank and Charles, two married crumpet chasers who’ve been lured to the health farm for similar reasons as Diane and Cheryl, and spend the weekend trying to pull both women, as well as Schroeder’s ditzy secretary (Claire Gordon). In the 1950s and 60s Gordon had a prolific if minor league acting career, you might remember her as the student who gets Michael Gough’s mad scientist hot under the collar in Konga. In 1968 she married satirist William Donaldson, a relationship that the tabloid press would later have a field day documenting, with the red tops alleging that the couple regularly indulged in cannabis use, held sex orgies, socialised with famous DJs and that Donaldson sent pornographic photos of his wife to contact magazines. Maybe living a life that sounds like the plot of a British sex film leads one to appear in a few of them, as that is exactly what Claire Gordon did, making a full frontal film comeback in this as well as Suburban Wives and Commuter Husbands. Sex Farm certainly gives Gordon more to do than her two Derek Ford films, but at the same time validates Ford’s decision not to press her too much as an actress in his films. Gordon’s unnamed Sex Farm character is obviously modelled on Marilyn Monroe complete with Xeroxed little girl lost mannerisms and speech patterns, a shtick so routed in 1950s America that it feels extremely awkward transplanted to these very British, very 1970s surroundings. A couple of years later British sex comedy actress Suzy Mandel would channel Monroe to more spectacular effect in TV’s The Love Boat and the Amero Brothers’ Blonde Ambition, resurrecting Monroe’s Some Like It Hot character Sugar Kane for the latter. Sadly Gordon is just a little too knowing in her dumb blonde moments and her attempts at being sexy feel similarly forced. As a result you never really buy into her character as being a real person, ditto the actor playing Dr. Schroeder, who appears competent, but insists on pitching his performance at an amplified level that is way over the top even for a comedy. Schroeder takes in just about every ranting, dictatorial German cliché going, running about the health farm shouting ‘raus raus’ or proclaiming ‘o mein gott in himmel’ at rule breaking outrages. All that is missing from the character is a monocle to fall out at impropriate moments.

Slightly better value for money is the health farm’s French chief (Patrick Tull) who hates preparing dull health food meals as much as the residents hate eating them. In a scene that sees him and Diane unleash their pent up carnal and culinary desires, she strips off and he devours food off her naked body. A proto 9½ Weeks piece of food flavoured foreplay made funnier by Amber Kammer’s very real and unscripted looking reactions to having tomato sauce squirted over her boobs and trifle dropped on her, followed by her equal amusement at her co-star making both a meal of her and his French accent.


 


Man-eater Cheryl meanwhile has her lustful sights aimed in the direction of Jim (Barry Rhode), the farm’s sports instructor who hides his muscular body under the supremely unsexy armour of a vest and a pair of NHS glasses. There is more than a touch of Howard Nelson about this character, who is decidedly more comfortable leading out of shape old folk in exercise routines than he is being sought out by the opposite sex. Some of his dialogue could have come directly from the mouth of Mr. Vanderhorn himself “I’m a man of sports… I need to abstain from all sorts of things for the sake of my body”. Sentiments that don’t wash with Cheryl who responds by hiding the Vanderhorn clone’s glasses, his search for which ends with him on top of a now naked Cheryl. Subsequently rendered rampantly heterosexual, the sports instructor wastes no time in putting the moves on Diane, seducing her whilst she is using one of those bum shaking exercise machines (probably not the technical term for this device) so popular in sexploitation films of this time and immortalised by Tom Chantrell for this film’s very own poster.

Alan Paz’s script suggests aspirations to be both Jackie Collins and Talbot Rothwell, thus female bottom pinching and double-entendres sit alongside laugh out loud dialogue aimed at puncturing the egos of full of themselves 1970s men. Robert’s secretary -after being screwed by him on the office floor– tells him he’d be better off pursuing a career at the general post office as “if letters came as quickly as you do, postal delays would be a thing of the past”. Contradictory impulses fuel this film. Pushy displays of heterosexuality can result in men being put down, called a “bastard” or patted on the alpha male back, depending on Sex Farm’s ever changing mood. Personable as its heroines are, the film isn’t above turning against them either. The aforementioned female bottom pinching sees Mr Williams, a repulsive cigar chomping Northerner, constantly grapping Diane’s ass and crotch in gym class, advances missed by the short sighted instructor who gets the wrong end of the stick and ends up accusing Diane of acting neurotic in class. A routine repeated ad infinitum during the scene, which becomes uncomfortably malicious in the way it encourages you to get off on Diane’s distress and regards her as a cry baby and party pooper.

To further rock this uneasy boat Sex Farm includes a couple of subplots that are played as straight drama and so stick out like sore thumbs amidst the silly stuff. Lesley (Gillian Brown) a fragile housewife is using her stay at the health farm to come to terms with her sham marriage and suppressed sexual feelings for other women. “I wanted to get away from my husband, l loathe him, when he touches me and everything, it’s disgusting” she tells Diane and Cheryl who are prepared to lend her a sympatric ear... if nothing else. As if to validate Lesley’s hostility towards men, we also get to see Robert’s relationship with his secretary turn sour after he eavesdrops on her badmouthing him to a co-worker (although why Robert should get his nose put out by this when she has said worse to his face is anyone’s guess.) Robert’s response is to lure the secretary to his house, slap her about a bit and rape her, but it turns out she likes this sort of thing, and Robert forcing himself on her causes him to go up in her estimation… so that’s alright then. A few years earlier this type of behaviour would have resulted in characters’ careers and social standing being destroyed in films like ‘The Wife Swappers’ but perhaps sensing the consequence free, comic hedonism that lay ahead for the British sex film no one suffers for their actions here. If anything Cheryl and Diane’s trip to the health farm, Tom’s weekend affair with a female petrol pump attendant and Robert’s rape of his secretary are shown to refresh these characters and their relationships… détente is established between the two couples before the end credits and as they say in fairy tales “…they all lived happily ever after”.



Miller’s previous film ‘A Touch of the Other’ aka House of Hookers, had the feel of unfulfilled sexploitation, with potential skin flick elements largely kept on a leash, possibility due to having relatively mainstream performers Kenneth Cope and Shirley Anne Field playing the leads. Here though Miller has no qualms about delving into X-rated territory with both Amber Kammer and Hilary Labow going topless right from the outset. Their casting suggesting a grab for a big bust fetish audience, with both ladies being amply endowed in that department. Neither are any great shakes as actresses, Kammer in particular is mesmerizingly bad, single handily subverting the tone of several scenes by delivering double-entendre laced dialogue without the remotest hint that its meant to be comedic, and is so stilted in her first scene with Tristan Rogers that rather than an opening dramatic punch to the film it feels like you are watching a parody of a soap opera. Modern viewers however might be distracted from Kammer’s acting by her uncanny resemblance to Victoria Coren (try to watch the film in the same light now that I’ve planted that wicked thought in your mind). Its not just the expected cast members that are baring the flesh here, overweight actor Patrick Tull has plenty of it to show in his role as the French chief, leaving on only his chief’s hat for the scene where he fucks Diane on a table. In a greater surprise elderly actress Marjorie Summerville takes off her clothes and lives a bit in the film too, when her character Mrs. Pelham gets a topless rub down from a jack the lad masseur. Given the Whitehouse-esque traits exhibited by this character earlier in the film one wonders if ol’Miller wasn’t having a bit of fun at the expense of the British sex film’s No.1 nemesis before he hung up his sex film hat for good (Sex Farm was Miller’s last feature film before his Global-Queensway company turned to making documentary shorts). Miller might actually have overestimated the British censor’s tolerance to sex and nudity here as Sex Farm found itself initially being rejected outright by the BBFC and as a result received only a limited release in London. It wouldn’t be until 1976 that a cut version of the film was granted an X-certificate for general release, it was this version released on videotape in 1979, with the climatic orgy (scored to Cliff Twemlow’s DeWolfe composition ‘What you put into it’) and the rape scene showing signs of a tussle with James Ferman’s scissors.

Of late there has been a remarkable about turn when it comes to interest in Arnold Louis Miller’s films. Once a barely remembered footnote to the career of Michael Reeves and director of curiosity rousing but impossible to see nudies, these days Miller gets to have his films screened at the BFI Southbank and you can the buy the likes of Nudes of the World, West End Jungle, Primitive London and London in the Raw on DVD. The latter duo released by the BFI, an achievement that on its own pisses over Matthew Sweet’s typically negative 2005 prophecy that this strand of British cinema are “films that will never be released on DVD by the British film institute”. Far from being the ‘forgotten embarrassment’ that Sweet likes to damn the British sex film as being, Miller’s films are not only enjoying a new lease of life but can claim to have had an immediate influence over other artists and filmmakers. Clips from West End Jungle have found their way into a Marc Almond music video, and that Miller film looks to have provided the visual blueprint for the black and white, early 1960s segments of Michael Winterbottom’s recent Paul Raymond biopic. Old sexploitation films never sleep when it comes to finding new ways of parting the British public from their money either, and dedicated followers of fashion can now buy their own Primitive London CD soundtracks, T-shirts and mugs, a trendy London boutique even bears the name of that 1965 Miller epic. Lovely as it is to see a 90 year old retired filmmaker like Miller suddenly being appreciated on account of a career that offered him few crumps of praise while it was active, the critical establishment still seem a little more cautious about letting films of Miller’s ilk in from the cold than the general public do.

Lofty reappraisals of Primitive London and London in the Raw -at first glance evidence of the genre being finally embraced by the intelligentsia – often exhibit an unwillingness to accept the material for what it is, and adopt a delusional approach of over-interpreting and over-intellectualising these films, seemingly born solely out of a need to justify these films as being ‘worthy’ of both the writers themselves and for highbrow consumption. Don’t get me wrong I’m all for taking British exploitation cinema seriously, but when you have people making borderline ‘Room 237’ type claims, such as insisting scenes from Pete Walker’s Frightmare are ‘really’ about women’s fear of abortion and public menstruation, you can’t help feeling that they’re reading a bit too much into these films, and become suspicious of their reasons for doing so. Call me a swine for sniggering but I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen people make fools of themselves in print by pointing to a scene in Miller’s London in the Raw -in which beatniks take glamour photos for girlie magazines and eat cat food out of poverty- as a revelatory moment that shines a light of truth on the British counterculture’s hither too secretive reliance on the commercial world of pornography to stay afloat- when in reality all they’re watching is a bunch of youthful actors Miller hired to play beatniks for the afternoon and filmed them eating cans of tuna with cat food labels stuck on them.

Predictably a degree of cherry picking from the genre exists in these circles, with films that don’t lend themselves as easy to being rethought as profound, sociological statements getting the cold shoulder. To these people the words ‘George Harrison Marks’ and ‘David Sullivan’ produces the same reaction that the sight of a heroic Peter Cushing brandishing a crucifix gets from a Hammer Vampire…but hey if the intelligentsia isn’t ready for Come Play With Me, fuck ‘em….for some reason Confessions of a Window Cleaner has become the real favourite whipping boy for this crowd, resulting in a film enjoyed by millions of average cinema goers, that sold all over the world and represents a true British success story, being written off by the likes of Dominic Sandbrook as a cultural embarrassment and dubbed the nadir of British cinema.

Sex Farm then will prove a little harder piece of the Miller oeuvre for this crowd to digest than those earlier films of his. Everything the genre’s detractors find disreputable about these films, cheap production values, gratuitous nudity, comedy descended from equally frowned upon forms of working class entertainment…the music hall….the seaside postcard, are all alive and well and living at this Sex Farm. Phoney ‘fans’ of the genre, you know the type who seem to have a mental block on praising any examples of it outside of Cool it Carol and Eskimo Nell, and who use the latter as a stick to beat the rest of the genre about the head with, will find much to sneer at and ridicule here, for Sex Farm can’t hide what it humbly is, nor can it be dressed up to be what it isn’t. Take it or leave it, there is no middle ground with this one, if you truly understand the genre’s soul then Miller’s sex film swansong is yet another curtain raiser on a time where the sight of women baring their big bristols on the silver screen whilst delivering gloriously trashy dialogue like “while that mouse is away this pussy will play” was a box office crowd pleaser. For those dedicated to seeing this period concealed from the history books the mere existence of a film like Sex Farm will give them many a sleepless night.

   

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

RIP: Stanley Margolis 1934-2013



It is with great sorrow that I have to announce the passing of former Tigon films boss Stanley Margolis, an ex-husband of my friend Suzy Mandel.

Margolis was a tremendous property wiz who along with his friend, mentor and business partner Laurie Peter Marsh was the driving force behind Star Holdings Inc. Throughout the 1960s Star Holdings was involved in the business of buying up cinemas, finding a particular niche in then totally or partially renovating them into Casinos and Bingo Halls. Celebrities like Leonard Sachs and Coronation Street’s Pat Phoenix were often employed in publicity stunts to mark the re-opening of the premises.

One of Margolis’ earliest known involvement in film was working in an uncredited capacity on the 1965 film Repulsion, produced by Tony Tenser and Michael Klinger. Margolis later recalled to Suzy the onset conflicts that arose over the perfectionist nature of the film’s director Roman Polanski, resulting in several members of the production –Margolis included- unsuccessfully attempting to oust Polanski from the project and have Repulsion finished by a ghost director.

A year later Star Holdings would cross paths with Tony Tenser again after Tenser sought out Laurie Marsh’s advice and financial assistance in acquiring the Windmill Theatre in Soho. This in turn lead to Marsh and Margolis becoming financially involved in Tenser’s newly formed film production and distribution company Tigon. Initially silent partners, the years that followed saw Marsh and Margolis’ interest and involvement in the company grow, and Tigon’s film production output shift from its exploitation film roots to more mainstream titles like Hannie Caulder, Black Beauty and The Magnificent 7 Deadly Sins. A change in direction for the company also resulted in a change of name for its film production arm, which became known as L.M.G (The Laurie Marsh Group) for its final few productions- The Creeping Flesh, Not Now Darling, and For The Love of Ada.

In contrast to Marsh, whose business dealings, film industry involvement and private life rarely saw him out of the newspapers during this period, Margolis kept a much lower profile, making the full extent of his involvement in Tigon and L.M.G hard to document. As such Margolis is something of the forgotten man in the Tigon story.

1970 advert for a Star Holdings owned cinema
The Star Holdings company expanded further in the 1970s, after buying the Classic Cinema Chain and the Essoldo Chain in 1971. Reportedly acquiring the former for seven million pounds, according to press reports of the time. 1974 saw the company also branch out into the theatre market and- in conjunction with 1950s pop impresario Larry Parnes- Marsh formed ‘Laurence Theatres’ an offshoot of Star Holdings that set about converting cinemas into theatres.

 

After Tony Tenser departed from Tigon in 1972, Marsh and Margolis became its two most influential figures and the company ceased to be active in film production, concentrating solely on distributing other people’s movies. Tigon might have become a small fish in the larger pool that was Margolis and Marsh’s business empire but it remained a lucrative arm of the company, releasing many of the big hits of the British sex comedy era including Intimate Games, Come Play With Me and The Playbirds, all co-starring Suzy Mandel who’d become Margolis’ third wife in 1981.

Suzy first met Margolis in 1977, not however as a result of the Tigon released films, but after being introduced by their mutual friend, the prolific sexploitation film producer and director David Hamilton Grant. Margolis had an eye on expanding Star Holdings into the US property market and in 1976 had relocated to Los Angeles along with his two children from his second marriage, a son Alex and a daughter Rachel. At one point in time Star Holdings owned the Airport Park Hotel in Los Angeles, several condo conversations in the La Jolla neighbourhood of San Diego and apartment complexes in Houston, Texas.


the airport park hotel- early 1980s


During the 1980s Margolis maintained a diverse number of business interests, he bred and professionally raced greyhounds and in 1983 founded ‘FinMgt’ a firm that managed the business affairs of actors, writers, musicians and record producers. Margolis himself occasionally returned to dabble in the entertainment industry; in the early 1980s he produced a TV pilot “We’re Making It” starring Peter Lawford and Suzy in a small role. His final involvement with the film world and his only known onscreen credit was as executive producer of Tony Scott’s True Romance in 1993. He and Suzy divorced a year later but he remained a fondly remembered figure in her life who she affectionately referred to as ‘my ex-old man’.

“Although we were divorced for a long time” remembers Suzy “we did spend many years together and some very good times, he was a very big part of my life”.

Stanley Margolis passed away at UCLA Medical Center on Sunday the 14th 2013, he is survived by his fourth wife Angela, Suzy (his third wife), his second wife Lorraine, his daughter by Lorraine, Rachel McDermott, his son-in-law, David and his grandchildren Cynthia and Christopher.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Review: Kinky Vicar (early 1970s, Anglo Continental Films)



J’adore Anglo Continental Films, an enigmatic blue movie outfit from the early 1970s who I first became aware of when two of their productions ‘Lady Jane’ and ‘Private Pratice’ (as its misspelt on that film’s title card) came to light courtesy of 8mm porn collector Sgt. Rock, and turned out to be the highlights of his February 2012 acquisition of various 8mm glamour and sex films. Ever since then I’ve secretly hoped that further Anglo Continental films both existed and would resurface.

Now thanks to the ever diligent Sarge another Anglo Continental film has indeed emerged from Britain’s clandestine past. Fortunately ‘Kinky Vicar’ proves to be as extraordinary as the two Anglo Continental titles that came before it, and adds blasphemy and shock value to the Anglo Continental repertoire.

As with other Anglo Continental films the setting is a dimly lit, cheap looking hotel room, and the film represents British sexploitation filmmaking at its most primitive and impoverished, with a budget that only stretches to that one room, three cast members, two uniforms and a rather large banana. The funds and know how that regular filmmakers use to disguise the realities of filmmaking from their audience were visibly beyond the means of Anglo Continental. Any mistakes made by the actors while the camera was rolling get kept in, as do shots of actors being distracted by off-screen directions. Extremely basic editing results in a momentary white flash occurring onscreen whenever an edit in the film has taken place, akin to a flashbulb being let off in your face every few moments. An effect no doubt even more torturous for those who experienced this film in its original viewing context: i.e. in the darkness of a stag party or a solitary home viewing. Such is the price that films like this demanded from our sex film watching forefathers in return for seeing real sex projected onto a screen. An encounter with an Anglo Continental film is equally likely to leave you with a migraine as it is an erection.

In ‘Kinky Vicar’ a nurse tends to the needs of a gravely ill, bed ridden young woman, slipping her a few pills that knock her out. The Nurse leaves the room- accompanied by an edit and the obligatory white flash- then re-enters along with a Vicar who has come bearing fruit for the ill young lady. Once the nurse leaves the room -cue a further white flash- the Vicar’s good intensions start to melt away. Slapping the woman around the face a few times to establish she is completely comatose, he seizes the opportunity to fondle her breasts and pull back the bed sheets in order to get an eyeful of her privates (extremely hairy, it should be said).

At this point the fruit he has brought comes into deviant play, with the vicar using a banana to masturbate her. This is followed by him jerking off over her, only for him to get distracted mid-jerk when the nurse makes an unexpected reappearance. Cock still exposed, he prays for forgiveness, evidentially someone must have been listening, as the nurse turns out to be every bit the pervert he is, and wastes no time in getting down to the business of sucking his cock. Soon their uniforms are flying off in a sexual frenzy, his dog collar being the last thing to come off.



With the vicar’s desire shifting from a non-responsive woman to a very responsive one, the woman in bed becomes something of a hindrance, nay obstacle in the way of their fun. A problem rectified by the pair of them lifting the woman off the bed, the nurse grapping her arms, the vicar her legs, then dumping her on the floor like a sack of potatoes, a moment you’ll later hate yourself for finding funny at the time. ‘Kinky Vicar’ can’t quite make up its mind if it wants to disturb or turn you on, a dilemma played out right there in the film itself, with camerawork agonising over whether its attention should be focused on the couple fucking on the bed or the lifeless body of the woman on the floor, the banana still inserted in her. Kinky Vicar recalls Robert Hartford-Davis’ The Fiend, and the disquieting nature of that film’s casting of glamour girls as corpses, and repeated nudity from characters meant to be dead. A pornographic variation of the kink hidden away in the Hartford-Davis film, Anglo Continental obsessively lingers over the image of the nude, lifeless woman on the floor.

She is played by a woman familiar from other blue movies of the period (Sgt. Rock has a few of ‘em) and for being interviewed about her porn career in Stanley Long’s 1971 documentary ‘Naughty’. The Long film presents her as a porn malcontent, aimlessly drifting through life, a person who has seen a lot in her three years in blue movies and gotten burnt out along the way. “I’m not very happy, but I’m not sad” she tells Naughty interviewer Suzanne Mercer “I’m a bit indifferent really”. Here she is worryingly convincing in the role, eyes closed, trying not to breathe, wearing a mock-dead facial expression that she maintains throughout, unfazed by having a camera whirling over her or a banana stuck up her. Indifferent, indeed.

 

The creepy, necro undercurrent to the film fails to dampen the mood of the two cast members who are allowed to move, and look to be having the time of their lives on that bed. Passionately indulging in a whole variety of vaginal, anal and oral sex acts, their enthusiasm for performing hardcore vastly surpasses Anglo Continental’s enthusiasm for filming it, with the majority of the hardcore dispassionately lensed in long shot in order to keep the woman playing dead on the floor in the frame. An emphasis sure to alienate anyone searching for simple, vanilla porn and instead confronted by all this strayed in from a horror movie imagery.

The majority of British blue movies from the 1960s and 70s –Pussy Galore, Secret Weapon, Sex Orgy, Exhibition, Man Crazy, Pussy Club, et al- capture the imagination, less on account of the films themselves, which tend to be no frills, does what it says on the 8mm box, depictions of sex acts, but the circumstances into which the films came into being.

That virtually nothing is known about the people behind these films makes their casts and crew a blank canvas onto which you can project ideas of them being the criminal element…or beatniks…hippies…people who have latched on to pornography as a revolutionary tool to upset the establishment… or maybe just horny guys attempting to commercialise their virility by capturing it on film. These films provoke many questions, but provide no answers.

With so little documented about the genre, it can be a fertile playground for the imagination, a concept American erotic lit writer Chrissie Bentley recently expanded into book form with ‘Tonight at 8’ aka Soho by Spotlight, a semi-factual, semi-speculative account of a Soho waitress’ involvement in two, very real blue movies from 60s Soho ‘Tonight at 8’ and ‘Satan’s Children’. In which traits exhibited by the performers in those films- such as the immature and noticeably homoerotic vibe between the modish male leads of Tonight at 8- informs their characters in the book.

Anglo Continental’s films wield the same powerful mystique over the inquisitive, with the puzzle of ‘who, what, why’ motivated films like Private Pratice and Kinky Vicar being part of their appeal, but they also draw you in on a cinematic level too. Never predicable, Anglo Continental always have a couple of surprises to pull out of their hat and keep their films at arm’s length from being just your average, 9 to 5, common or garden pornography. In Private Pratice it is the plight of its third-rate stud -a man given the nickname ‘Muscles’ here previously- which touches you in an expectedly human way. Balding, gap toothed, once possibly in good physical shape but beer bellied in the film and sporting a garish pair of Y-Fronts that don’t become him. By all rights Muscles should be hugely laughable, but there is a tragic, eunuch quality to him akin to a Milton Reid or Howard Nelson that keeps the cruel guffaws at bay. Muscles spends all of that film desperately in search of an erection, the painfully phoney money shot at the end –consisting of a woman dripping a white liquid, likely milk, over Muscles’ limp dick- provides Private Pratice with its downbeat coda, yet this forgotten noble savage of pornography leaves a far greater impression than any sexually competent young buck could have bought to that film.






While no Kinky Vicar cast member proves to be as memorable as Muscles, the film’s venturing into taboo areas- its unashamed eroticising of un-consensual sex and a woman playing dead- are the clear attention grabbers here. In a genre where brief running times and the visual demands of pornography often conspire to make the end result samey and repetitious, there is a genuine personality let loose in the Anglo Continental films. One that has a habit of rendering the actual hardcore –meant to be these films’ sole purpose- their least fascinating aspect. Paradoxically when sex is woeful in their films, as in Private Pratice, is when Anglo Continental really come alive as filmmakers, but when the sex is good the filmmaking turns apathetic. The idea of causing outrage appears to have given Anglo Continental a bigger charge than that of filming people having sex. It is as if they fully realised that what they were up to was illegal, imprisonable, and embraced their outlaw status rather than lived in fear of it. In the process creating a film that so badly wants to shock and offend straight-laced sensibilities, one in which figures of respectably- like its vicar character- get turned on their heads and portrayed as prolific perverts.

In that respect Kinky Vicar is a direct descendant of trouble making, organised religion-baiting early stag films that centred around misbehaving men and women of the church, such as 1925’s Mr Abbot Bitt at Convent and the famous French loop from the 1910s in which a monk goes down on a mother superior whilst simultaneously getting fucked in the ass by the monastery’s gardener. Kinky Vicar doesn’t pass up on the opportunity to explicitly bring to life all your worse fears about what vicars get up to when they’re not taking afternoon tea or playing cricket on the village green.



If there is a unifying factor that bonds all Anglo Continental productions together, it is a love affair with uniforms and the erotic fantasy figures they represent, a chauffeur and a French maid in Lady Jane, a French maid and a nurse in Private Pratice, another nurse in Kinky Vicar. Admittedly it could just be a way of compensating for the impersonal, one star hotel rooms that Anglo Continental had to call backdrops. Personally, I think it goes a little deeper than that. Anglo Continental look to be a particular sucker for a woman in a nurse’s uniform, a fetish that is heavily played up on the 8mm boxes and in the films themselves. Anglo Continental films tend to be at their most erotically inspired when showcasing a nurse bending over to reveal white or black knickers, or parading round in her stockings and suspender belt, a sight Muscles futilely jerks off to in Private Pratice.

Never underestimate the power that a nurse’s uniform has over an Englishman. A certain gentleman –who understandably wouldn’t want to be named here- once told me an encounter with Come Play With Me at the Moulin Cinema “changed my life forever” and begat a lifetime of secretly cross dressing as a blonde nurse. A kindred spirit of Anglo Continental’s auteur in residence for sure, you can practically hear the filmmaker’s heart start to beat a little faster whenever someone dressed as a nurse walks into frame.



“‘ere, Horace wanna buy an Anglo Continental film”
 


Going off Stanley Long’s Naughty- which doubles as a walking tour of early 70s Soho for those tragically born too late to experience it first-hand- it took determination and detective work to find films like Kinky Vicar back then, even in those red light district surroundings. At the outset of Long’s film, Horace –the embodiment of the middle aged, sexually desperate, dirty mac- cautiously does the Soho shuffle, peering into sex shop windows only to eyeball sun-bleached copies of old, tame 8mm glamour films like Pete Walker’s The Round-Up and Planned Seduction, but his nerves and the voice of his bossy, prudish wife echoing in his head prevents the sad little man from dipping his toe further into Soho naughtiness.

Its only later in the film that the gutsier Suzanne Mercer gets to penetrate the backroom of a Soho sex shop and come face to face with authentic pornography, finding herself in a room full of hardcore stills and magazines pinned to the walls, the real spiritual home of an 8mm fuck film like Kinky Vicar.

Had poor Horace been a tad braver he might have gotten hold of a film like Kinky Vicar, a film that would have surpassed his expectations for something explicit, slightly twisted and with the strong allure of the forbidden about it. No doubt he’d have been served it in a brown paper bag, a bag that he’d keep a firm grip on all the way home, then he’d project the film onto a screen many, many times, eventually learning to blank out the pain from all those white flashes. Gawd help him if his wife ever caught him watching the film though, especially if he also happened to be dressed as a nurse at the time.


 

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Review: Boys and Girls Together (1979, Ralph Lawrence Marsden)


For the most part British sex films can be divided up into three boxes, down to earth films that any working class cinemagoer could see themselves and their libido reflected in… Confessions of a Window Cleaner, Adventures of a Taxi Driver, and their sequels and imitations. Then into the 2nd box goes films that maintain one foot in everyday reality, but also carry the lingering sense that things aren’t quite right here, due to overplayed performances, flirtations with the surreal, and people generally not talking or behaving as they would do in the real world. A common bond shared by the likes of Girls Come First, I’m Not Feeling Myself Tonight and Emmanuelle in Soho. Then there is a rare third box of films that depict a world that never existed outside of their makers’ heads, films that can’t hide the personal eccentricity or sexual obsessions that they were born out of, films like Secrets of Sex, Come Play With Me, Sex Express and Zeta One.

There is however one film that stubbornly refuses to be pigeonholed into any of these imaginary boxes, a film whose ultra-low budget and Hampstead location shooting ties it to the mundane reality of the 1st box, but is much an individualistic piece of filmmaking as anything in the bizarro 3rd box of British sex. In fact Ralph Lawrence Marsden’s Boys and Girls Together so stands apart from everything else in its genre that by all rights it shouldn’t exist at all. Not only that but it comes complete with a title that’s mischievously deceptive, since the film is more diverse in its sexual tastes than the strictly heterosexual couplings implied by its title. For the first half of the film at least no one is getting together either, and the film instead serves as a meditation on loneliness and masturbation, the two least things a sex film audience would have expected to be confronted by.

Anyone seeking the film out on its 1980 release, hoping for a sexual thrill and the opportunity for a J.O. session would be faced with onscreen characters in the exact same predicament, a far cry from the usual escapist titillation that sex film fare usually offers.

Set in a rundown guest house straight out of Rising Damp, the boys and girls of the title are the guest house’s multicultural student tenants, West Indians Lily and Leroy, Jat from Singapore, American Don, Ilsa from Germany and the home-grown Jenny (given the current climate, and the film’s now unfortunate choice of title it perhaps needs clarifying that all the people in this film are ‘of age’ adults, let’s just be grateful no one thought to entitle the film “Guys and Gals Together”.)

Youth and good looks might be on the students side but there is little enviable about their lives. Rarely interacting with each other, they prefer to lock themselves away in their rooms with only self-induced misery for company. Everyday tedium, of the kind regular movies skirt around, is constantly dwelled upon in these early scenes, characters wash their clothes, do the ironing, cut their toenails, one of the women is filmed on a toilet reading a magazine, the unglamorous isn’t something Boys and Girls Together shies away from. Boredom begets sexual fantasies here, some look to their own pasts as a source of erotic inspiration, the gay Jat daydreams about a former boyfriend playing tennis, inspiring Jat’s hand to wander down his trousers for his own balls. Others turn to fantasy material, Don pursues a porn magazine containing stills from a film called –aptly enough- ‘Confessions of a Sex Maniac’, and a carrot and a poster of The Who’s Roger Daltrey are Lily’s stimulation of choice.




 


Misery and wanking go hand in hand in this film, a connection not made out of any conservative mind set on Marsden’s part –this is by no means a narrow minded film- but more out of concern that these characters are living only for past relationships or unobtainable ones, in doing so holding themselves back from satisfactory relationships with others that they are entirely capable of executing. The sexual charge the characters get from masturbation provides only a momentary release in their lives, after which a sense of un-fulfilment and shame creeps up on characters like Lily. The lesson that can be learned from this film is that a carrot is no substitute for Roger Daltrey.

Like his onscreen characters Director Marsden wasn’t from around these parts-hailing from Melbourne, Australia- and his is an outsider take on London that recalls Roman Polanski’s Repulsion and anticipates An American Werewolf in London. As in those films the London on display here isn’t without its local colour, fez wearing entertainers do their thing on street corners, and porno shops and sex cinemas catch Marsden’s eye as they later would do for American Werewolf’s John Landis. Ultimately though this is a very alien, unwelcoming environment, one that is seen to be short tempered and hostile to non-natives. The fresh off the plane Don attempts to pick up a prostitute in Soho, only to see her do a runner with his cash, losing him in a series of back alleys around Wardour Street. The seemingly easy task of Ilsa making a phone call to her boyfriend takes on a nightmarish quality when the phone call is interrupted by an impatient member of the public banging on the telephone box, demanding she wind down her phone call. His grimacing, threatening face at the telephone box window finally causing Ilsa to flee.

Menacing as that encounter is Boys and Girls Together manages to top that when Lily gets harassed by an aged, white haired weirdo at a shopping precinct. That Lily rebuffs his advances, fails to stop this mackintosh wearing individual from lumbering after her around the semi-deserted precinct. The shopping precinct pervert is given the rare honour of having dialogue in this film, not that that counts for anything. His grunts and mumbling, distorted voice being reminiscent of somebody attempting to speak with a severe cold or with their fingers held over their nose. His only decipherable piece of dialogue being the insult of “fucking cunt” as he chases after Lily. Momentarily diverting Boys and Girls Together into horror film territory, the chase continues right back to the guesthouse, at which point Don’s presence looks to scare the shopping precinct pervert away. Oddly, the shopping precinct pervert appears to be only inches behind Lily towards the end of the chase, but when Don catches sight of the scene just moments later the man has disappeared and Lily is running down the street by herself. It might be the result of bad editing, but the effect –unintentional or otherwise- is to plant a question mark over whether the shopping precinct pervert suddenly ducked down an alleyway, or was he just a figment of Lily’s imagination all along?



The Shopping Precinct Pervert



After the anguish and disastrous encounters of the first half of the film the characters finally start to get ‘together’ at this point, as the film begins paring them off. Don playing knight in shining armour to Lily, marks the beginning of a relationship that soon turns sexual after she spills coffee on his lap. Resulting in a tussle that finds Don attempting to preserve his dignity and shield his erection from her, verses Lily’s determination to wrestle those trousers from him and grab herself some dick.

Jenny experiences her sexual awakening by slipping on a bar of soap and impaling herself sexually on a toilet brush, symbolised by multiple takes of her orgasmic face and a loud ‘BOING-BOING-BOING’ noise on the soundtrack. An unorthodox way of losing her cherry that nevertheless doesn’t deter her from becoming sexually interested in Ilsa soon afterwards. The sparks beginning to fly there after the two women brush past each other on the way to the bathroom.

In a truly daring touch the film also pairs up Jat with the hitherto assumed heterosexual Leroy (seen at the beginning of the film reading a love letter from an ex-girlfriend) but revealed at this point to be bi-sexual. Accidentally walking in on Jat masturbating, Leroy reacts not with disgust or horror but with compassion for the visibly embarrassed Jat, and a wandering eye towards the gay hardcore magazine Jat was masturbating to. An interest that quickly leads to both men beating their meat over it.

Ethic groups rarely contemplated in any positive sense in 1970s British culture are given leading role status and unashamedly sexualised here. Jat, for all his muscles and long hair, goes against the ‘inscrutable villain’ or kung-fu fighter stereotypes associated with oriental men of the time by turning out to be an extremely gentle character, emphasised in scenes of him playing with a kitten. The relationship between him and Leroy, which takes in views of gay porn, Jat reading The Gay News and a visit to a gay bar (complete with drag act MC) offers a peek at the 1970s gay lifestyle at a time when it was crawling towards social acceptability while still being looked upon with a degree of suspicion and mockery by mainstream culture.

Boys and Girls Together is also refreshingly nonchalant about the interracial relationship between Don and Lily. Compare this to say, 1977’s Confessions from a Holiday Camp which felt it necessary to counterbalance its eroticisation of a black woman’s body and that series’ first mixed-combo action with sniggering racial humour to appease a perceived racist audience. A factor that now places Confessions from a Holiday Camp on the wrong side of history, while Boys and Girls Together emerges as an enlightened and courageous film for not adhering to the status quo of the period.

Marsden’s anti-professional approach, use of hand held camerawork and favouring of authentic location work over studio shooting, creates the illusion of a film that could easily have been made by one of its own twenty something student characters. Say, had one of them brought a film camera back home from university for the weekend and decided to turn the camera on the sexual problems of themselves and their fellow tenants. Sex filmmaking meets group therapy.

Another of the film’s distinguishing qualities is the almost entire avoidance of dialogue. A decision that adds to the sense of alienation, and feels plausible too, you’re never in any doubt that painfully timid characters like these can go for days without speaking to anyone. What could have been an irritating gimmick is a device used to brilliant, heavily disorienting effect. Just when you think this thing might become conventional and be on the verge of being dialogue friendly it goes in the opposite direction and piles on the audio confusion, the radio that Ilsa is heard listening to turning out to be broadcast in her naïve German, and the shopping precinct pervert of course talking a language all of his very own. Dialogue is abstained for so long here that on the rare occurrences it does surface it somehow feels a grossly unnatural act for these long mute characters to suddenly begin engaging in conversation.

As a stand-in for dialogue Boys and Girls Together draws on music in a proto-music video manner of commenting on the onscreen action or setting the tone. Moody, depressing instrumental tracks are aptly utilised for the film’s miserablist first half, elsewhere an endlessly repeated song ponders the sexual possibilities on offer to the characters “every boy should have a girlfriend, every girl should have a boyfriend… every boy should have a boyfriend, every boy should have a gay friend… every girl should have a girlfriend”. Songs and music here all being the work of an unknown singer/songwriter hiding out in the end credits under the joke pseudonym of ‘Clift Ritchard’. A phoney name that always gets a laugh for its cheeky attempt to implicate a sound-a-like singer in a sexually explicit, gay favoured film like this.

Effectively bleak as its opening half is, Boys and Girls Together eventually reveals itself to be a fundamentally positive and upbeat film. A shift in tone signalled by the couples- Ilsa and Jenny, Jat and Leroy, Don and Lily- taking a romantic walk around a park. All of a sudden London doesn’t look the grey netherworld of thieving prostitutes and mumbling perverts that it had previously, as the hot, midday sun beats down on the picturesque park setting, the actors, and cheery members of the public –including a few nuns- unwittingly captured on film here.

 Our man Clift Ritchard returns to the soundtrack to celebrate the experience “my, my, what a lark it is to walk in a park on a Sunday” sings a man not born Harry Webb “when you get to the end you can meet a new friend on a Sunday”.

The park’s maze temporarily splits up the couples who go off in different pairings for further sexual shenanigans. Leroy is partnered up with Jenny, Don with Ilsa, and Jat with Lily, before all re-converge on the park to cast away their clothes, inhibitions and the concept of monogamy in order to dance naked, embrace each other then enter into group sex. A freeze frame of this nude, ecstatic bunch –sitting in a circle, their hands raised up to the sky- ends the film.



A closer inspection of the credits reveals a surprise connection between this apparently fringe piece of filmmaking and the commercial side of the British sex film industry, the opening credits revealing this to be a production by David Sullivan’s Roldvale company, and the end credits listing regular Roldvale director Willy Roe as the film’s producer. It is the unlikeliest of marriage, the lack of sexploitation names in the Boys and Girls Together cast, plus the film’s blatantly bi-sexual orientation having little in common with the defiantly heterosexual nature of regular Roldvale fare like The Playbirds and Queen of the Blues. Marsden even breaks the golden rule of Roldvale filmmaking by having Don read a porn mag that wasn’t one of Sullivan’s own top shelf publications, Sullivan being the king of cross marketing, product placement in his films and magazines.

The Roldvale parentage makes the gay elements in the film a greater surprise, given Sullivan’s noticeable discomfort with the subject of homosexuality in the past. Credit where its due however there is little evidence of Sullivan imposing his own personality over this production or removing material that he may have found personally distasteful in post-production.

  The same unfortunately couldn’t be said of the British censor who trimmed over two minutes from the film before granting it an X- certificate in 1980. Judging by the cuts list what was lost to the censor was –predictably enough- part of the gay sex scene, and a significant reduction of male nudity. The version submitted to them reportedly containing a great deal of hand to genitals contact and shots of actors sporting hard-ons (“After women spills coffee on young man's trousers and pulls them down, remove sight of semi-erect penis”, “remove sight of blonde woman with her legs over man's shoulders and profile shot of his erect penis entering her” and “in sequence where black woman sunbathes on roof with Chinese man, remove all shots of his erect penis and subsequent thrusting” were among the cuts).






Regrettably it is this heavily censored version –complete with distracting jumps to the picture and soundtrack- that has always been the version issued on VHS and DVD, a version that only hints at the sexually revolutionary film this must have been in its original, uncut state.
If truth be told the majority of British sex films are antiquated in their outlook these days, of course that’s also part of their charm as a window into a past that was –for better or worse- a very different country, but Boys and Girls Together might be the exception to the rule –a film whose tolerance towards people regardless of skin colour or sexual preferences is something these turbulent times could do well to learn from – and of course Boys and Girls Together is a film that loves to break the rules.