Tag Archives: British sex films

‘Primitive London’ (1965) BFI Flipside Release

4 Jul

Made in the model of famous and influential 60s release Mondo Cane, Primitive London is the British equivalent, exploring the various facades of our capital. Using the very loose narrative of the cycle of life as a basic spine for the film (opening with lovely graphic footage of childbirth, which as we all know scares the hell outta me), we get glimpses of various contrasting and ‘shocking’ (remember context folks, this was 1965) looks into female judo, busking, turkish baths, stripping schools, fencing, swingers parties and stand up comedy routines. Personally interesting to watch were women jean shrinking in their bathtub (which you don’t really need to do these days, thank you skinny jeans!), people getting tattoos done and footage of old British Wrestling promotions including Brit legend Mick McManus working a fight. Watching an operation on a goldfish, however, was just a little weird and, well, less said about the scene at the factory killing battery chickens…

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As mediocre as it is to watch, it is fascinating to see footage of London from over fifty years ago and seeing just how much it’s landscape has changed. Women being tattooed and learning judo are here played with a hint of shocked ignorance which has since given way to nothing but normality. Interesting to watch are also the streets of Soho, full of clubs and advertising strippers left, right and centre. You’d be hard pushed to find much of that London history in Soho as it stands now, with its past feeling very nearly wiped out than celebrated for what it was. Shot by future director Stanley Long (Adventures of a Plumbers Mate, Adventures of a Taxi Driver) and produced, written and directed by Arnold L. Miller (Nudes of the WorldUnder The Table You Must Go), some of the film has efforts of surrealism, with cows intercut against topless models wearing the latest fashions and the task of food shopping contrasted against strip club routines. Whenever the moralising voice of the narrator feels like its starting to wane (one feels somewhat sorry for the young beatniks who are interviewed at the start of the film who get spoken to sometimes as if they were very young children), we always cut back to a stripper. Interesting and yet mundane.

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Released in 1965, it was originally given an ‘A’ certificate. So, at the last-minute some footage of a Jack The Ripper murder re-enactment was added in which ensured it got an ‘X’ certificate for release (something the producers specifically wanted). It first screened at the Windmill Theatre, and in true 60s advertising, a group of exotic dancers were hired for the night. Soho dancer Vicki Grey donned a fur-coat and leopard print bikini in homage to the famous ‘Leopard The Wild One’ dance, the imagery of which made most of the posters and front of house stills. Grey toured the West End with a cheetah on a leash (loaned by Colchester Zoo, sadly a leopard wasn’t available), before relaxing with it in the foyer. It received fairly negative reviews upon release and wasn’t as successful as its predecessor London In The Raw, however it still provides a watchable slice of Brit history.

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Also included  on the BFI Flipside release is a short film from 1965 called Carousella. A short documentary on the lives of a few Soho strippers, Carousella is probably more interesting to watch than Primitive London itself, aware of its short running time and making a narrative with material that still interests and has relevance today. Whilst it was made without much fuss in the 60s, it was immediately banned by John Trevelyan after he watched it, exclaiming that it was nothing more than a recruitment film. It was given a ‘X’ certificate by a few local authorities, but numbers didn’t make for an eventual cinematic release. It’s a shame because the film is beautifully shot and feels really rather human. Nothing is scandalised and the narrative and comments given by the girls featured are delivered well and romanticized but far from the point of being patronising or condescending. A short worth seeking out.

‘Carry On Emmannuelle’ (1978)

22 Jan

As one of the most well-known and successful cinematic institutions of Britain, it probably wasn’t surprising that the Carry On… films would eventually turn their attention to euro-softcore hit Emmanuelle. Released in 1978, Carry on Emmannuelle (note the two m’s and n’s) parodied the hugely successful French film, turning Emmanuelle from shy and sexually inquisitive into Emmannuelle (here played by Suzanne Danielle), confident and sexually predatory. More openly sexual than its predecessors, the feature effectively, and very obviously in terms of logical inversions, mocks the film that would also go on to have its own long running series. Full of some great double entendre that prehaps loses a bit of its bite in such a setting, Carry On Emmannuelle is a welcome, and occasionally much needed, break from the original film and its many successors…

Cosmic Dancer – Norman J. Warren’s ‘Spaced Out’ (1979)

6 Nov

By the end of the 1970s, director Norman J. Warren was more well-known in Britain as a homegrown horror director, having established his career with the features Satan’s Slave, Terror and Prey. But 1979 saw Warren return to the genre that kick started his career, the sexploitation film, with Spaced Out (aka Outer Touch), his first British sex film since 1968’s Loving Feeling.

Spaced Out, a zany sex-comedy, see’s an alien ship inhabited by three female-like humanoids crash-land on Earth (Clapham Common no less…) after suffering engine malfunctions. Sadly for them, their emergency rest stop was witnessed by a few individuals who they take as prisoners to be ‘experimented’ on; an engaged couple called Oliver (Barry Stokes) and Prudence (Lynne Ross), older peeping tom Cliff (Michael Rowlatt) and sex-obsessed, masturbation addicted  teenager Willy (Tony Maiden). Hi-jinks and hilarity ensues as the aliens try to find out as much as they can about their captives whilst also learning about human sexual relations…

Spaced Out is a fun feature to watch and an interesting comedic counterpoint to Warren’s earlier sexploitation films, Loving Feeling and Her Private Hell, which are more serious and downbeat in their tone. After turning down work for fear of being pigeon holed as a director, Warren was persuaded to take on the picture which was originally a script entitled S.E.C.K, standing for Close Encounters of the Sexual Kind. Eventually re-titled, the picture was released in August 1979 as Outer Touch, a title perfectly encompassing the major theme of the film (the film became known as Spaced Out after Miramax picked the feature up at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival for US distribution, where it was re-cut and given new music and voiceovers).Whilst the aliens are completely out of touch and new to human sexual practices, the human characters themselves are also at a total loss with each other. Ross and Stokes are a frigid couple struggling to find a happy medium (‘When we’re married Ollie, you can have it as much as you want… On Saturday nights anyway’ ), Rowlatt is the experienced older man who thinks he can handle women and Maiden is the teenager who has yet to touch anything other than himself (‘I’ve gone blind! They told me it was an old wives tale!’).

The film’s enjoyability is largely thanks to a relatively good cast willing to work with the little luxuries they’ve been given (the spaceship itself, at times, was nothing more than plastic sheeting draped over scaffolding, whilst exterior shots of it travelling through space were shots culled from television series Space 1999). Stokes, Ross and Rowlatt are good in their roles but it’s the rest of the cast that outshines them. The three aliens are terrifically played by Kate Ferguson, Ava Cadell (Confessions of a Window Cleaner) and Glory Annen (Felicity, Prey). Each really make the role their own with defined personalities in a film type which, lets face it, doesn’t really ask for much. The real stand-out is Tony Maiden as Willy, whose teenage virgin is in fact ‘the most advanced body in the universe’. Full of one-liners that the other characters could sometimes do with, Maiden becomes the hero of the entire film, enlightening all three of his alien captors. Special mention also goes to Bill Mitchell as the voice of the ships Wurlitzer, an exasperated sex therapist that you can’t help but feel sorry for.

A marvellous counterpart to Warren’s earlier sexploitation films, Spaced Out is deserving of its status as a cult classic which may look slightly dated but has humour that still translates today.

Gravity’s Rainbow – Willy Roe’s ‘Confessions From The David Galaxy Affair’ (1979)

8 Aug

Teaming up again with director Willy Roe (Playbirds), producer and porn mag mogul David Sullivan released Confessions From The David Galaxy Affair onto the British public in 1979. Starring the ever popular and bankable pornography model and personality Mary Millington (this would be her third film collaboration with Sullivan), the feature also starred Rosemary England (aka Jada Smith) and a whole heap of actors from across Britain’s film (Diana Dors, Anothony Booth) and television (Glynn Edwards, Kenny Lynch) comedy board.

The film see’s playboy astrologer David Galaxy (Alan Lake) having to provide the police with an alibi for a robbery that took place five years earlier. Along the way we get to meet his clientle of bed conquests, including a high society gal who’s never had an orgasm (Millington), a secretive MP and a busty beauty queen (England). Things don’t quite go to plan for Galaxy and he’s eventually sent to prison at the end of the film. Not necessarily a bad thing as Galaxy is a narcissistic pig of a character who is impossible to like.

And that’s, sadly, pretty much it. Advertised as being ‘nearly two hours of non-stop porno’, there’s actually not an awful lot to Confessions in both story or sex (it is a British sex film, obviously I was keeping tabs on the raunchy stuff) but it’s a damn sight better than earlier release Playbirds which was a successful, if not entirely dire, film. Sadly for Sullivan, the public didn’t quite feel the same way as before. Clearly hoping for a hat trick of successes, Sullivan had to deal with a rapid tail off of box office takings after only a few days release. Millington was even called down to the Eros Cinema in Piccadilly Circus (where the film had premiered) to do urgent photo calls for publicity boosting but the film only lasted two months, a massive disappointment considering the success of Sullivan’s Come Play With Me. The film was even re-titled and re-released in 1980 under Star Sex in a bid to capitalise on Millington’s death and recoup some of the budget. Not even the connotations to the very successful Confessions of… franchise in the original title could draw in an audience, the new title fared no differently.

Which is a shame because the film is a bit of a rough gem. Alan Lake is manically fantastic as David Galaxy (probably due to being drunk on set), clearly enjoying himself in a role which was made for him. Tigon, the pictures distributer, heavily publicised Lake’s role in the film in a big to appeal to a female audience as well, but Lake is hardly beefcake material. Millington is however as wooden as ever. Whilst she is certainly better in this then she is in Come Play With Me, the lady was never going to be an actress no matter how hard she tried. Having said that, there is a slither of promise in her performance. If she hadn’t died, who knows where she would have gone with it. Sullivan’s new protegé Rosemary England is beautiful, lighting up every shot and giving a relaxed role. A real life successful beauty queen, the film see’s her taking on the role of a booby queen so to speak. England was Sullivan’s new ‘it’ girl for his magazines and frequently appeared alongside Millington in photo shoots, although disappointingly here neither share a scene. The rest of the cast fair relatively well, including veteran actress Diana Dors (Lake’s real-life wife and this time singing the film’s title track), Anthony Booth (who went on to become a close friend of Millington), Queenie Watts and Bernie Winters. Whilst not as bad as Playbirds, there are certainly more films that are far better then Confessions From The David Galaxy Affair. Completest Millington fans should seek it out, lovers of British sex films should stick to more enjoyable titles.

Eau D’Bedroom Dancing – Jack Arnold’s ‘Sex Play’ (1974)

2 Aug

Known for directing numerous television series and sci-fi/horror classics such as It Came from Outer Space and Creature from the Black Lagoon, Jack Arnold also took to directing one British sex film in the 1970s, Sex Play aka The Bunny Caper aka Games Girls Play. This cute little Anglo sexploitationer follows a young sex-mad American girl, Bunny O’Hara (Christina Hart of Helter Skelter fame), as she is shipped off to Britain to avoid her causing any potential major political catastrophes. In other words, the girl has been sleeping with everyone and is on her way to Congress and the White House (Arnold uses a sweet montage to depict the military ranks she’s gone through, rank by rank, uniform by uniform, whilst she’s jumping into bed with everyone in the background). A terrible situation for America to be in…

Sent to a strict boarding school just outside of London in an attempt to curb her behaviour (and sex drive), Bunny instead inspires her three fellow roommates into being a little more provocative and naughty (I’d be more inclined to watch basketball if the matches always ended the way they do in this film…). This culminates in a game; each girl has to try to seduce an important celebrity/political aide and the winner is the one that gets her man into bed! With photographic evidence! Simple really.

Or not, as it transpires that the girls are about to stumble across and break up a hugely important political meeting on arms safety. Ensure more laughs, language barriers, ping-pong and political bashing of the East as Bunny tries to explain that she was just trying to make the world of politics a happier place. At eighty-eight minutes, the film is a surprisingly enjoyable romp, paced well enough that it doesn’t drag on too much and lose your interest. Filled with a group of gorgeous young ladies (Drina Pavlovic, Jane Anthony and Jill Damas round out the cast), this is a sexploitation flick worth seeking out.

Norman J Warren’s ‘Her Private Hell’ (1967) BFI Flipside Release

5 Jun

The BFI’s Flipside label should be celebrated far more than it already is. The label releases forgotten British cinematic gems that have been long overlooked, under praised or generally not seen since their initial theatrical run, and presents them in restored glory on dual format. This February finally saw the first feature length picture by British director Norman J Warren, Her Private Hell, released on DVD through the Institutes label.

A simple cautionary tale, Her Private Hell is the story of Italian model Marisa (Lucia Modugno) who travels over to London to start a lucrative career in fashion modelling. Young and pretty, but clearly inexperienced, Marisa eventually finds out that it’s not fashion modelling that her agency really wants her to do… After being seduced by photographer Bernie (Terry Skelton) and being made to live in his flat under supervision of magazine executives (Pearl Catlin and Robert Crewdson), tensions increase when Bernie’s previous flame tries to undermine Marisa and our lead girl starts falling for rival photographer Matt (Daniel Ollier, in a role once considered for Udo Kier whose screen tests are included as an extra in the DVD release). Eventually revealing photographers of Marisa are sold to another magazine and she must decide what she wants to do and who she wants to be friends with before her career ends.

Released in 1968, Her Private Hell has historical significance as it was Britain’s first narrative sex film and it’s wonderful to finally be able to see it. In the mid-60s, British film circles finally realised that sex had a real commercial value and European titles were regularly imported and distributed, their art-house vibe and slightly more relaxed attitudes towards sex and sexuality a big hit with a more censored and straight-laced British audience. Bachoo Sen, one such distributor, set up Piccadilly Pictures with cinema owner Richard Schulman and together they both set out to finance Britain’s first narrative sex film (with a budget of roughly £18,000). The script was written by New Zealander Glynn Christian (himself having recently moved to England and clearly familiar with the feeling of isolation that Marisa struggles to deal with) and young director Norman J Warren was signed up to direct.

The picture itself is beautiful to watch with some wonderful shots captured on the black and white celluloid. The transfer is well presented but has notable jump cuts here and there where the negative had been destroyed over time. To try and get the most complete picture they could, the BFI enlisted the help of Something Weird Video who provided some standard definition inserts. Whilst this footage is of a lesser quality, the thought of their contribution far outweighs the annoyance of a few blurry shots. Considering its starter point in British sexploitation history, the film owes far more to European cinema in its tone than the later smuttier comedy that would dominate British sex films of the 1970s (given Sen’s distribution background this is hardly surprising). The cast are brilliant, with Modugno perfectly capturing the feel of being a fish completely out of water, her wide eyes full of innocence and naivety. She plays her torment well; angry, confused and torn between the people she thinks she’s friends with and whom she can trust. There’s a great moment when Bernie plays with Marisa in a sinister way, shining a projection of a glamour model right into her face knowing her insecurities and dilemma around her work situation. The poor girl looks utterly terrified. Skelton, Catlin and Crewdson are also fantastic as the magazine executives and the hotshot photographer slowly grooming and manipulating their ‘star’ model to earn them more money. Cute eye candy is supplied by Ollier as the younger, more talented rival photographer who might possibly be the only good guy in the whole film (Ollier’s French accident was so thick and incomprehensible that he was dubbed in post production, sadly rather obviously).

Successful and profitable upon release (although Warren saw none of the money), it ran in cinemas for months after premièring at London’s Cameo-Royal Cinema, albeit in cut form. Whilst not an explicit film, it still had material that the BBFC had issues with and wanted to cut, namely imagery of nude breasts and the revelation that Skelton and Catlin were married which implied an open marriage and infidelity. Unsurprisingly, a little more nudity existed in the US cut of the film, including a great trippy striptease from Jeannette Wild, which can be seen in alternate sequences as an extra on the DVD package. Even the title cards from the trailer (which I have posted below) were subject to exception by the BBFC. Intact were the opening credits, somewhat racy for their time but beautifully shot of a naked couple caressing on a bed. It is worth remembering however (because there are some people out there who will wonder…) that this is an early sexploitation release, so nudity is incredibly limited and sex is all but implied.

Also included in the extras selection are Warren’s first two films, the shorts Incident (shot in 1959 but completed in 2007) and Fragment (1965, Warren’s first theatrical release) which show Warren’s early competences as a director. Both films are a delight to watch and deftly deal with their subject matter of doomed relationships and desperation. Warren would make one more film with Sen the following year, 1968 sexploitation release Loving Feeling before parting ways with Piccadilly Pictures over money. Warren would have later success in the 70s and 80s within the horror genre, releasing Satan’s Slave (1976), Prey (1977), the Suspiria influenced Terror (1978), Alien rip-off Inseminoid (1981) and Bloody New Year (1987).

Fine acting, a good jazz inspired soundtrack (just one of the similarities to Blow Up released six months before) and a beautiful transfer make for a stunning package that once again shows the Flipside label as a force to be reckoned with.

People Are Strange – Antony Balch’s ‘Secrets Of Sex’ (1969)

1 Mar

Secrets of Sex is a very strange film. Whilst it does have some sex in it and a lot of topless ladies, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a sex film. But that’s just what it is, having been released right at the start of a period of a few years that saw British sex films booming in adult theatres. The film is a series of short stories showing the war between the sexes to varying degrees, all the while being narrated by a mummy. As in an Egyptian mummy. The fact that this film was released in America under the title Bizarre really doesn’t surprise me one bit. The film really is bizarre.

The feature opens with a short prologue about a judge whose wife locks her lover in a trunk. After spending the night wondering what to do about it, the judge decides to bury the trunk and tosses the key to open it into the sea. A thousand years later, the mummified lover (who I’m assuming mummified himself…) then recounts different stories which show the two sexes battling against each other, his death the result of one such battle. Except that these stories don’t really feel sexy, but horrifically kinky. One see’s a lesbian photographer castrate a model using medieval torture equipment. Another has a young American man trying to get a prostitute to have a threesome with himself and a lizard. The film feels like the obscure bastard child of a horror anthology in the vein of Amicus or Hammer more than anything else.

Credit where credit is due though, director Antony Balch really knew a thing or two about audiences and exploitation films. This is the man who was responsible for buying the UK right to Freaks (1932) in the 1960s and distributed it once the BBFC had passed the film uncut in 1963. Prior to that, it had been banned in Britain for over thirty years. He screened an abridged version of Haxan (1922) and brought films by Russ Meyer and Ted V. Mikels into his two cinemas. Thanks to coverage in the press and some good film reviews, Secrets of Sex proved to be quite successful, running at Balch’s Jacey cinema for a solid six months. A strange British (I struggle to say it but I know many others have called it such) gem, this is well worth a watch at least once in your lifetime. I promise you, you will never forget it.