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.