Thursday, 25 January 2018

Over Exposed (1977)



Over Exposed was one of a constant stream of sex film shorts cranked out during the 1970s by the now lesser sighted David Hamilton Grant. Though this is one particular piece of Grant’s filmography that I never expected to see flicker before my very eyes, if only because I was once informed that this 35 minute mini-movie had never flickered before anyone’s eyes, due to a ‘camera fault’ with the negative rendering the film unreleasable. Given that deception and misinformation seem to go hand in hand with the subject of David Hamilton Grant, it should really come as no surprise that this ‘fault with the negative’ story turned out to be absolute nonsense and that Over Exposed had enjoyed a bit of theatrical exposure in 1977 as the second feature to Walerian Borowczyk’s The Streetwalker, before going into hibernation for several decades.

Eventually it emerged that the BFI held a beat up print of Over Exposed in their vaults which they eventually put up on their BFI player service, albeit behind a paywall. With the film existing in cyberspace, but being without a physical release, it was perhaps inevitable that some crafty herbert would rip the film from the BFI’s site and put it out on unofficial DVD, and I must confess I did go the bootlegger route in order to see Over Exposed. It remains to be seen what will piss the BFI off more, the fact that someone is stealing content from their website, or the fact that they’ve had the audacity to bill their DVD double-bill of Over Exposed and Secrets of a Superstud as “2 Classic British movies”.

Over Exposed’s rather difficult journey to the big screen began in 1974, back when the film was known as ‘The Session’ and was the recipient of a generous amount of publicity within the pages of Cinema X magazine, including the cover of their Vol. 7, No. 6 issue. All of this sadly proving to be in vain as a later issue of Cinema X noted that the film had run into censorship problems and “remains banned by the censor for, apparently, having no story”. Never one to say die however, Grant had a second go at unleashing The Session onto the British public in 1977, retitling it Over Exposed and tagging on a hastily shot scene featuring Suzy Mandel being photographed by the film’s main character Tony. Despite Suzy only being in the film for a matter of seconds, this didn’t prevent her from being billed as the main star of the movie in the newspaper ads, with the canny Grant being keen to capitalise on her name, even if spelling it correctly appeared to be beyond him. Mandel is spelt with two L’s in the print ads, while the actual credits of the film make an even greater pig’s ear of it, billing her as ‘Susy Mandell’. Over Exposed was one of a number of odd jobs that Suzy did for Grant during the British sex comedy era, which included modelling for the UK poster of Pussy Talk and trying out for the role of Sugar Cane in Blonde Ambition, auditions for which took place at Grant’s Piccadilly Circus office. Grant even played cupid by setting Suzy up on a blind date with her future hubby Stanley Margolis.

 

'Susy'


Now with added Mandel, Grant had better luck with the BBFC second time around, and with BBFC approval turned out Over Exposed to do tricks with The Streetwalker in 1977. Over Exposed might not exactly have ‘no story’ but it is fair to say it has a rather slender and inconsequential one. As tends to be the case with Grant’s mini-movies, Over Exposed is really just a series of erotic incidents in search of a proper three act narrative, which it never manages to find. The fact that Over Exposed is so blatant in its pornographic intensions, and adds up to little more than one long, glossy cinema advert, with sex being the product on sale, was obviously too much for the BBFC to handle in 1974. Given that the years that followed would see British cinema screens bombarded by the Confessions and Adventures movies, plus a copious amount of eurosex movies (mostly courtesy of Mr Grant himself) the idea of banning a film on the grounds of being gratuitously titillating must have felt redundant by 1977.

What little plot there is in Over Exposed centres around Tony (James McLean) a stressed out glamour photographer who finds the demands of his job, and the demands of his models, are leaving him in a permanent state of exhaustion. Even when he isn’t snapping away at girl on girl photo-shoots, Tony is finding himself in such male fantasy scenarios as stopping off at the local off-licence and returning to find sexy hitchhiker Olivia (Ava Cadell) in the passenger seat of his car, demanding he take her back to his place for a bath…and a whole lot more. Similarly demanding is his photo session with Heather Deeley (in her film debut) who plays a model that insists on giving Tony a body oil massage, then insists on him doing the same to her….its a hard knock life for Tony. The Deeley sequence is undoubtedly the film’s visual highlight, albeit one at risk of inducing motion sickness in some viewers, with the entire scene shot in one long take and Grant’s camera hyperactively circling the pairs’ body oil frolics like some demented shark prowling around fresh meat…you almost expect to hear John Williams’ Jaws theme creep onto the film’s soundtrack. Its a super sexy calling card to Deeley’s brief, intense reign as British sex cinema’s numero uno ‘It Girl’.



Deeley



The only real hint of a dramatic development in Over Exposed comes when Tony gets news that his houseboat is due in for repairs, necessitating a trip down the river that two of his models (Samantha Stewart and Andee Cromarty) invite themselves along too. Absent minded Tony has however forgotten that he left his previous conquest Olivia on board the ship the previous week. Poor Olivia has spent a whole week on board the ship wondering where he got to, and has been passing the time by playing with herself whilst reading “Portnoy's Complaint”. Having Ava Cadell’s character masturbate while reading a famous novel about masturbation being very much in keeping with Grant’s sense of humour, as well as giving him a chance to visually name check a hip, controversial book.

Tony’s model Jackie (Andee Cromarty) has an ulterior motive for joining him on the boat, and is less a fuck buddy of Tony and more a bisexual partner in crime who sets about seducing his other model (busty, one movie wonder Samantha Stewart). Thoughtfully though Jackie remembers to turn on the boat’s CCTV system thus allowing Tony to opportunity to watch some girl on girl action on his TV. Seemingly the only thing he is capable of after being worn down by the oversexed likes of Deeley and Cadell, “I couldn’t get it up with a crane” he admits.

Despite its plot being a little thin on the ground Over Exposed is a prime example of how David Hamilton Grant personalised the British sex film genre, and there are elements of the man himself wheatpasted throughout Over Exposed. The film clearly draws on Grant’s own background as a photographer and its hero shares Grant’s keen interest in riverside living, Grant having owned a boat home in Wraysbury. Given the ultra-low budget it seems likely that Tony’s photo studio and flash, open topped car both belonged to Grant himself, and that Tony’s boathouse was Captain Grant’s very own sailing vessel. Over Exposed also seems sufficiently smitten with CCTV to confirm rumours that its auteur had an off-screen love affair going with CCTV, and all the sexual hijinks that particular mod con had to offer. When Over Exposed isn’t fixated on sex, which isn’t very often, it seems an outlet for a personality that is in its element when it is causing offense or cocking a snook at the establishment, with The Salvation Army and BBC2 being the butt of jokes here. BBC2 getting a bashing when Olivia catches Tony watching the girl on girl action on his TV, and out of embarrassment he bamboozles her into thinking it is a BBC2 programme. “I always thought BBC2 showed stuffy plays, ballet and things like that” she remarks in amazement. However a visual gag centred around a poster in Tony’s studio proclaiming ‘KING KONG IS KWEER’, mentioned in Cinema X’s write-up of The Session, doesn’t appear to have made it into the Over Exposed re-edit.

The character of Tony might have echoes of Grant himself, but the actor who plays the role James McLean (aka Tony King) doesn’t resemble Grant, but rather is a dead ringer for Richard O’Sullivan. A comparison that doesn’t exactly work in this film’s favour. McLean might look uncannily like Richard O’Sullivan but he certainly doesn’t have his acting chops or charisma, and puts in a noticeably disengaged performance. Although its probably unintentional the resemblance between McLean and O’Sullivan does give Over Exposed the accidental appearance of an X-rated take on Man About the House, with the houseboat setting recalling the Thames set opening titles of MATH’s 5th series and both the film and the sitcom being based around a hippie-era guy who finds himself being socially outnumbered by attractive women. By rights there should be even greater Man About the House comparisons here, given Heather Deeley’s more than passing resemblance to Paula Wilcox, with Deeley frequently coming across on film as Wilcox’s naughtier, cokeheaded sister, but the fact that Deeley is uncharacteristically blonde in this film means that the comparisons between the two actresses aren’t as strongly felt here as in Deeley’s other movies.

As Over Exposed’s lead actor is something of a non-entity, the film frequently becomes a vehicle for its female cast, with Andee Cromarty and Ava Cadell, two actresses who rarely got a chance to shine in British sex films, making the most of their meatier than usual roles here. Cadell in particular pretty much steals the entire film, and shows considerable comic talent, with her exaggerated airhead shtick here pointing the way forward to her only other decent British sex comedy role in Norman J Warren’s Outer Touch.

 


Even back in 1977 Over Exposed must have felt a few years suspiciously out of date, with Grant’s soundtrack preferences being firmly rooted in the early 70s. Grant’s musical choices here favouring the moody, shoe gazing, folky, hippie, and any other word you can think of to describe songs with lyrics like “have you ever wanted to talk to butterflies and be the only one”. Its hero also seems very much a product of the early 70s, where every young guy fancied the hard living, trendy and affluent lifestyle of the David Hemmings character in Blow-Up. Whereas by the late 70s, when Over Exposed finally came out, the preference for sex comedy heroes tended to be the type of humble, cash strapped everyman played by Robin Askwith and Barry Evans. Over Exposed is very much a photographer’s film, made at a time when Grant was only beginning to dip his toe into narrative cinema, but plays to Grant’s strengths as a former photographer. To give him his due that little reprobate sure knew how to photograph women, and displays an expert photographer’s talent for bringing out his subjects’ personalities and sexy potential. Over Exposed suggests was Grant selling himself and his fellow British sexploiters short when he later remarked “the British are good at some things, like making Yorkshire puddings but making pornographic films in the 1970s?...NO”.


 

'he's an eady lover' Grant in 1978's 'Your Driving Me Crazy'



While all British films from the mid-fifties and up until the mid-eighties benefited from the Eady Levy, the tax designed to encourage British film production by allocating a percentage of the box-office takings back to the filmmakers and the distributors, Grant’s short sex films were one of a number of pockets of British cinema that entirely owed their existence to the Eady Levy. Grant would buy up a European or American sex film with obvious box-office potential (in this case The Streetwalker) then go off and shoot 40 odd minutes of film to act as the co-feature, in doing so entitling himself to generous amounts of Eady money. A highly profitable venture, with Grant once claiming to have earned £50,000 from the Eady fund in one year alone. Grant was hardly alone in profiting from this scheme, likeminded people such as the Fancey family were similarly inclined to throw money at the making of featurette length British tat in order to reap the Eady money rewards. While the Eady scheme came to an end in 1985, the film industry still attracts people drawn to filmmaking by tax scams than any artistic journey. Sometimes they get away with it, sometimes they get caught with their hands in the till, like would be British horror film auteur Richard Driscoll. While the tax fraud motivated crime movie ‘Landscape of Lies’ even warranted its own, highly entreating, BBC4 documentary expose.

By rights, Grant’s main motivation for making these films should appal the cineaste in me, yet in a roundabout way the likes of Over Exposed don’t divert too strongly from what the Eady Levy was surely set up to do. Namely encourage British film production, keep dusty old comedians and scantily clad starlets in gainful employment and provide distinctly British entertainment for the masses. Grant’s sex film shorts do have the pacifying quality of giving the public value for money in terms of tits, bums and British humour, should the main feature fail to live up to expectations or prove to be too alienatingly arty-farty for a British audience. Grant’s films did at least provide the British public with what they actually wanted to see… I doubt anyone could make the same case for the output of Richard Driscoll.

Considering that few worked harder than Grant when it came to flooding the country with softcore porn, and that as a producer and distributor Grant more than earned his self-proclaimed title ‘King of Sexploitation’ it does seem ironic that Grant’s own british sex films are now the least remembered aspect of his legacy. Instead if Grant’s name echoes throughout the internet these days it is usually in relation to either his imprisonment for distributing ‘Nightmares in a Damaged Brain’ on video during the Video Nasties furore, or 1980s tabloid allegations that Grant was involved in the making and distribution of kiddie porn.


 

'Bring Me the Head of David Hamilton Grant' DHG in the tabloids



Thirty odd years on the latter allegations still make Grant a person of interest nay valuable scalp to internet paedo-hunters, who more recently have attempted to link Grant to the ‘Elm Guest House’ paedophile ring and even Asil Nadir’s escape from British justice in 1993. Disappointingly if you dive deep into the various sites purporting to offer evidence of Grant’s nefarious activities it doesn’t really add up to much more than a mad hatter’s tea party of wild speculation, character assassination and conspiracy theories, lacking anything approaching the type of smoking gun evidence you’d expect to see from individuals who have spent decades pouring time, money and energy into investigating a supposedly guilty party.

By far the most peculiar Grant related incident in the internet age though was the appearance of getfitanstayfit.com a now deleted website claiming to promote a keep fit company. Behind the keep fit fa├žade of the site name and site menu though, getfitanstayfit.com lead to an extensive biography of Grant, as well as writings on related subjects, with sections entitled ‘Asil Nadir 1993’, ‘Eady Levy’ and ‘Vidio Nasties’ (sic). The two part bio of Grant, ‘DHG 66-69’ and ‘DHG 69-79’, proved to be a rich source of information on Grant, bringing to light details about his career that not even the most dedicated cineastes and paedo-hunters have ever managed to unearth. Despite the site’s adherence to referring to Grant in the third person, the degree of detail and access to personal anecdotes on the site lead you to the conclusion that getfitanstayfit.com must have either have been written by the man himself or written by someone on his behalf. Who else could have known the exact month that Grant purchased the film rights to the book ‘Love Variations’, the number of crew members involved in the shooting of that movie, the exact number of days it took to film said movie, the exact amount of Eady money Grant earned in 1972…etc…etc.

Elsewhere the site felt like a trip down memory lane when it came to recalling Grant’s hitherto unknown involvement as a publicist on the films ‘The Magic Christian’ and ‘Julius Caesar’. Grant struck up an unlikely friendship with Charlton Heston (affectionately referred to as ‘Chuck’ on the site) during the making of the latter, with Grant masterminding a photo-shoot involving Chuck lounging poolside and flanked by topless slave girls “even John Gielgud participated but insisted that the topless girls had to be behind him”. Alas poor Grant, the film’s director (referred to as ‘a well-respected Shakespearian theatre director’) nixed the idea and the photos never saw the light of day.

Getfitanstayfit.com wasn’t all name dropping showbiz anecdotes though, and frequently seemed close to abandoning its third party stance in favour of a first person rant when it came to discussing what it felt were misconceptions about Grant. Getfitanstayfit.com seemed genuinely miffed that people have been claiming Grant filmed hardcore versions of his films, stating that such additional footage would have damaged Grant’s standing with the film fund agency and compromised his entitlement to further Eady money. “Nobody has ever produced a single copy of any pornographic film that DG supposedly made, or where he supposedly added extra hardcore sex scenes to make another version. Not one”.

Getfitanstayfit.com appeared equally determined to prove Grant had no involvement in Asil Nadir’s escape from Britain to Northern Cyprus in 1993, citing tax and insurance records as evidence that Grant was living on the Greek island of Aegina during the period that Nadir was covertly flown from Dorset to Northern Cyprus. Curiously the writing on this section of the website took on the appearance of a leaked conversation between two individuals exchanging views on how best to approach websites and blogs that attempted to tie Grant in with Nadir's flight from justice. "We suggest that if this report is sent in full it should then be possible to demand voluntary alterations to the existing blogs or files and confirm that we will take legal action if they are not made voluntarily".

Of course you have to ask yourself who would be on the warpath against sites that slandered David Hamilton Grant, and who would be interested in prepping cease and desist orders against the offending sites and blogs other than ermm… David Hamilton Grant himself? Unsurprisingly the author of getfitanstayfit.com demonstrated an immense knowledge of the Eady Levy scheme.

Getfitanstayfit.com has since gone to Internet heaven aka 'this site cannot be displayed'... chalk it up as a colourful footnote in the case of the missing British sex film producer. Chalk up Over Exposed as a time capsule of Grant's good times, when the champagne and the Eady money flowed freely, and before Captain Grant sailed into stormy waters. Maybe the man currently making money from DVD bootlegs of Over Exposed should send a complimentary copy to the Greek island of Aegina?

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