Sunday, 18 February 2018

The Over Amorous Artist (1974)

The Over Amorous Artist… Just One More Time … or maybe just call it ‘Alan Street Begins’ this being the first in a series of David Hamilton Grant produced British sex film shorts to be centered around the character of struggling artist Alan Street. In a then topical move this first instalment in the saga sees Street drop out of the 9 to 5 in order to concentrate on his fledgling art career and become a house husband, while his wife goes out to work and becomes the breadwinner.

Street is played by former bodybuilder John Hamill who back in the 1960s built up a sizeable gay following due to the beefcake modelling he did during that decade. As a result never run Hamill’s name through internet search engines if you are not prepared to see a thousand and one photos of his cock. Hamill’s acting career in the 1970s generally made sure to placate Hamill’s old fanbase, often in hilariously unsubtle ways. Check out the laughably gratuitous reason that 1970’s ‘Trog’ finds to have Hamill strip down to his underwear… like a man in uniform, ducky? then ‘The Beast in the Cellar’ gives you Hamill dressed up as a soldier, Hamill’s buttocks also became familiar to British horror film fans for their appearance in ‘Tower of Evil’. The Alan Street films serve up Hamill as easy going fresh meat there to be circled and pounced upon by a cross-section of British womanhood. In a ‘something for everyone’ manner the Street films appease British sex film fans with plenty of female T&A, pacify Hamill’s fanbase by featuring him in as much a state of undress as his female co-stars, and allow their star to bask in all his narcissistic glory. By all accounts Hamill was very much in love with himself, as tends to be the case with bodybuilders. So, Alan Street truly was all things to all men.

The Over Amorous Artist doesn’t waste much time in setting out its British sex film credentials, its opening titles featuring glamour model Bobby Sparrow dancing fully nude to the music of John Shakespeare, who once again provides a theme tune to a British sex film that will burrow into your head and replay there about a 100 times “one more time, that’s all I hear you say, one more time, every night and every day”. Does the fact that Bobby is dancing to John Shakespeare music in this movie qualify her as being a Shakespearian actress?...and why when she is full frontally nude throughout the sequence is she suddenly wearing panties in the final shot of the credits? In fairness, the Over Amorous Artist does make an effort to tie Bobby’s nude dancing into the plot of the film, since she appears to be a stripper hired to celebrate Street’s last day on the job. Don’t go expecting a party scene with extras though, this being an el cheapo David Grant production all we get to see is Street interacting with an off-screen gathering and waiving an empty wine glass about. A scene probably shot in Grant’s own office, multiple cigarettes stubbed out into a Schweppes ash tray suggesting a smoky late night game of backgammon may well have taken place there prior to filming.

Street’s wife is played by Sue Longhurst, always a great choice for playing bossy, ball busters who wear the trousers in her relationships. As if to deliberately blur the line between the actress and her British sex film persona, The Over Amorous Artist has Longhurst literally playing a character called ‘Sue’. The film’s idea of gender-reversal satire is to have Sue jump Alan in the bedroom and tell him “if I’m going to be the man of the house from now on, I’m going to start by raping you”. Various likeminded females have similar plans for him, and Street’s presence causes a sensation amongst his female neighbours during those long, boring, male-less afternoons in suburbia. Soon Street’s valiant attempts to do the housework and prove that men are good at multi-tasking comes under fire from a middle aged nymphomaniac, the prick teasing babysitter, the hippie chick next door, and the scantily clad neighbour who gets locked out of her house in a state of undress. Street is obliged to get his end away with all of them, with requests to draw their portraits enviably being a prelude to sexual demands.

Everything good, bad and ugly about the British sex comedy era can be found here, all compacted into a bite-sized 43 minute running time. The Over Amorous Artist makes a case for David Grant having virtually invented the British sex comedy genre, with the film laying the foundations for a genre that other filmmakers, with ambitions beyond Grant’s 43 minute Eady-money cash grabs like this, would soon use to build the Confessions and the Adventures series. As tends to be the case with the other long thought gone British sex films that recently resurfaced via the BFI player service and then through unauthorized DVDs, The Over Amorous Artist plays pretty much like you always imagined it to. In fact this may well be the quintessential British sex comedy. Dialogue is awash with double-entendres (“I can always get a man up…from the electricity board”), interiors are ‘The House that Dripped Kitsch’, although astonishingly no one appears to own a copy of Vladimir Tretchikoff’s The Green Lady, exteriors are staggering in their early 1970s new town blandness and conformity…the kids from Psychomania would have been in their element trashing this place. Old comedy actors wander through this landscape, there for a paycheque and maybe the chance to get an eyeful of tits and asses. Ticking that box here is Bob Todd, who shows up as a postman, a role so brief it could well have been filmed during a lunch break on The Benny Hill Show. The Over Amorous Artist is filled with so many genre clichés that you often have to remind yourself it is an actual product of that era, rather than a meticulously researched send-up of the genre, say like The Fast Show’s ‘Confessions’ series parody or the sex comedy era worshipping fan films of Jan Manthey.

As well as establishing John Hamill as a sex film ubiquity, The Over Amorous Artist ensured pretty much every female cast member here plenty more work in the genre, with Sue Longhurst and Hilary Pritchard being asked to repeat their roles here verbatim in other movies. Marianne Morris pop up in this too, playing Street’s feminist neighbour who blows her top when she discovers he has painted her in the nude, and calls him a “bastard”, allowing a brief glimpse of the claws she’d bare to far greater effect in Vampyres. The Over Amorous Artist also paved the way for Felicity Devonshire’s career as the genre’s favourite piece of pseudo-jailbait.

Now, I must admit I don’t like the Alan Street character in this film as much as I do in the 1975 sequel Girls Come First. Which sounds odd considering that it is the same character, played by the same actor in both movies. Street does come across as a bit of a jerk here, one who cheats on his wife while she is out working, gets a little rapey with one of his neighbours after he mistakes her actions as a sexual come-on, and keeps forgetting to pick up his young daughter from school because he gets preoccupied with painting and/or screwing his neighbours. Good god, only David Hamilton Grant would have dared turn child neglect into a running sight gag in a sex comedy. Street’s daughter Abigail is frequently seen sitting alone outside the school gates having seemingly been waiting there for hours for her absent father, who when he does turn up greets her with “sorry darling, don’t tell mummy will you”. One of these sequences opens with a huge close-up of a sign for ‘Burhill County First School’, whom I’m sure were just over the moon to receive a name check in a film like this.

The Over Amorous Artist is a film that continually breaks the rule of ‘never work with children or animals’ with not only a generous amount of screen time given over to little Abigail, but also ‘Rover the Dog’ who gets his own billing in the opening credits, and seems to be on a quest to steal scenes away from John Hamill. In a moment of clearly unplanned and unintended humour Rover the Dog becomes hysterical during Hamill’s big full frontal scene in the film, necessitating a jump cut. One minute Rover is curiously sticking his head into shot, one jump cut later he is gone. A scene so funny that watching it on an ipod caused me to laugh out loud in a public place, proof if ever it was needed that films like The Over Amorous Artist were never meant to be watched on ipods. The emphasis on a cute dog and a child in a film like this is striking in its inappropriateness and does make you wonder if this pair could have been Grant’s own daughter and pet? There is way too much doting over these two in the movie for them not to have had some kind of personal connection to the production.

The ever inquisitive ‘Rover the Dog’

Speaking of inappropriate things…is it a bird? Is it a plane? its Super Racially Offensive Man, aka John Bluthal in brown face make-up playing a Pakistani door to door salesman who appears on Alan Street’s door and tries to sell him all manner of crap. Yammering gibberish in a put on Pakistani accent (“I got reference from Enoch”) Bluthal blows into this film like a politically incorrect hurricane. Much of a pro as Hamill was, he seems at a loss over just what to make of Bluthal’s minstrel show. Like Bob Todd before him, Bluthal is gone after one scene, but was recalled by Grant for further browned up antics in The Great McGonagall and Escape to Entebbe.

As they say on Talking Pictures TV “the following film contains scenes of outdated racial representation that some viewers may find offensive”.

Grant seems to have taken to racial humour like a duck to water, in the sequel Girls Come First pesky Pakistanis are supplanted by a penny pinching rabbi who haggles over the price of top-shelf magazines and Sashimi, the Japanese chauffeur who loves to eat dogs. Abandon all politically correctness ye who enter the cinematic universe of David Hamilton Grant. On the basis of The Over Amorous Artist, Grant delighted in making fun of feminists and Pakistanis, but in his defence he was obviously sweet on small dogs.

Incidentally there is a Canadian poster for Girls Come First which gives Hilary Pritchard prominent billing, and a British ‘Girls Come First’ poster which bills Bluthal, Bob Todd and Felicity Devonshire among its cast. Since all those people aren’t in Girls Come First, but do appear in The Over Amorous Artist are we then to assume that whoever designed those posters fucked up? Or more intriguingly could there have been a version of Girls Come First that incorporated footage from, if not the entirety of, The Over Amorous Artist into its running time?

Quite how that would have worked out remains to be seen though, considering that continuity between films is not a David Grant strong point. In the Over Amorous Artist, Sue and Alan are a married couple with a young daughter, whereas in Girls Come First they are an unmarried boyfriend and girlfriend, Abigail and Rover are nowhere to be seen, and Sue has a child by another man. So what the fuck happened to this couple inbetween films is anyone’s guess, maybe Abigail got farmed out to Uncle David and Rover got gobbled up by Sashimi. It actually makes more sense if you view Girls Come First as a prequel to The Over Amorous Artist rather than a sequel, but even then the continuity is still screwy with Street establishing a name for himself in the art world in Girls Come First and yet being an unknown at the start of The Over Amorous Artist, and what became of Sue’s illegitimate child?

Of course, in my mind the whole dysfunctional Street family is still out there, Alan, now 70, resides in a nursing home where he tries to dodge the advances of the over amorous OAPs, Sue probably lives as a man these days, and Abigail, now a traumatized middle aged woman, is still waiting outside the gates of Burhill county first school wondering when her father is going to pick her up. I think David Grant should stop pretending he is dead and make that movie.

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