Tag Archives: Documentary

‘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…

primitivelondon256

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.

primitive_london_xl_01--film-A

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.

imagesCACDMI7Q

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.

MEYER MONTH – ‘Skyscrapers and Brassieres’ (1963)

29 Mar

Russ Meyer doesn’t mince words, especially when it comes to the title of 1963 short Skyscrapers and Brassieres. Made to accompany the feature Heavenly Bodies, at four and a half minutes long, Skyscrapers is one of Meyer’s shortest pieces of work and gets straight to the point from the first second. Intercut footage of the city landscapes (quite literally shots of skyscrapers and office buildings) of California are shown against footage of model Rochelle Kennedy getting a custom-made bra fitted at a shop called Paulette’s. For a nice little touch, the director has a narrator spewing all sorts of architecture, mechanical engineering and physical principles which make a cute analogy to the dynamics of the bra itself and what it does for the breast. Short and sweet, it’s worth seeing just for the wonderment at how the process of making custom fitted bras at Paulette’s (a real shop of which I can find no information) worked. Definitely an experience that differs greatly from your first bra-fitting at Marks and Spencers.

MEYER MONTH – ‘French Peep Show’ (1952)

1 Mar

The time; the early 1950s. The scene; the El Rey Burlesk Theater in Oakland, California. The situation; photographer Russ Meyer makes something of a living photographing burlesque dancers and strippers in cheesecake poses on black and white film. Meyer’s favourite is stripper Tempest Storm and one day he decides to shoot a two hundred foot roll of Kodachrome of the girl working her stuff after closing hours.

Meyer was playing with fire. Only Kodak itself could process the film stock and in those days, the subject matter would have alarm bells ringing. He might even have his film confiscated. But the director made sure that a pretty girl delivered it personally to the lab and gave the lab man a little something extra. Things would have been fine, had Meyer not handed in the roll in a tin that bore his employer’s sticker, Gene Walker Films (Meyer at this point was also working on industrial short films). One call from Kodak to Walker later and Meyer was read the riot whilst also, surprisingly, being given his reel of film back. Russ showed El Rey manager Pete DeCenzie the footage which made his eyes bulge. DeCenzie asked Meyer to shoot a filmed version of a typical El Rey show and so one night, Russ smuggled his bosses 16mm camera into the club and churned out French Peep Show. This would be the start of Meyer’s film career.

blog 1 fps

Attributed to around 1952 but frequently to 1954, French Peep Show clocked in at an hour-long. Produced by Pete DeCenzie, the film plays host to Meyer’s first ‘directed by’ and ‘photographed by’ credits. Your standard El Rey show, he picture featured eight dancers, including Tempest Storm, and a host of comedians performing their acts. To accompany the production, a publication was also put together featuring Meyer’s pin-up photography and on-set production stills. According to Jimmy McDonough, Meyer told Fling magazine’s Arv Miller that the picture never got beyond pasties, which as McDonough notes would make some sense. It was the early 1950s and although nudity in film had been seen before, it’s hard to think that Meyer could have gotten away with showing topless burlesque dancers in the film. That said, I have no doubts that it was an exciting film none the less, a time capsule of entertainment that was once popular. If Meyer’s cheesecake photographs from this time are anything to go by, the picture would have been well executed, capturing well the routines of the strippers and dancers in all the seductive amusement.

Sadly, French Peep Show is no more. Out of circulation since its original theatrical run, it is now presumed lost. No one appears to have a copy, even Meyer himself didn’t hold on to one. According to him, once Pete died, his wife Yvonne burnt all remaining copies (Yvonne and Russ didn’t see eye to eye, especially when Russ wasn’t given his ten per cent of the profits that the picture saw). I remain optimistic that a remaining print still exists but doubt greatly that the Meyer estate hold a secret copy (otherwise it would have been a logical title to add to their recent release of Meyer’s early films that have never been publicly available before). Although The Immoral Mr.Teas was his first feature film and general success, I believe that had Meyer still had or had found a copy he would have released it whilst he was still alive. Always one to promote and publicise himself, even Russ would have understood French Peep Show’s significance for being the first example of all his cinematic career and style on celluloid (he openly admits that this is his first ‘proper’ film in a late 1990s interview for magazine Total Film) and as part of burlesque film history.

‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ (2008)

31 Jan

Whilst a certain percentage of stalkers might not really come under the banner of ‘horror’, there are certainly a few that are more than a bit scary. Documentary I Think We’re Alone Now (2008) showcases two huge fans of the 1980s pop-star Tiffany, fifty year old Jeff Turner and thirty-eight year old Kelly McCormick, as they reveal just how much they love the singer.

tiffany

There are elements of the picture that certainly come across as rather scary but the overwhelming feeling that you are left with is one of sincere sadness. Jeff Turner has aspergers syndrome, has never had a girlfriend and has clearly struggled to make friends or maintain few existing relationships long enough to really last. Yet Turner is convinced that spiritually him and Tiffany have some sort of pseudo relationship and that she loves him (her Playboy shot was a ‘silent gesture of her love for him’ because she is married according to Jeff…). Turner was once arrested for trying to give Tiffany chrysanthemums and a samurai sword and was ordered to stay away from her on another occasion for three years. He also uses a radionics machine to spiritually communicate with the singer.  As we walk around his house we see stacks of magazines and cuttings related to the redhead and Turner constantly refers to her as ‘his close friend’. The truth is he isn’t and its very easy to see why a seventeen year old Tiffany would have been scared shitless of him in the late 80s. Whilst it is very hard to completely empathise with a scenario that you really do not know anything about, it does seem that the media has sensationalized and labelled Turner as a stalker in somewhat of a derogatory way. Whilst he does seem very obsessive (and one can understand why you’d be a bit terrified if someone you didn’t know showed up out of nowhere to give you a sword whilst professing their love for you), he does come across as nothing more than a big softie – an honest fan that happens to know a lot. During the documentary itself we see the singer give him a lot of time, something the director Sean Donnelly feels Tiffany may have come to peace with the older she has become.

tiffany 2

Stalker number two, Kelly McCormick, is a different kettle of fish altogether. Someone who identifies herself as intersex (although would seem to be a woman trapped in a man’s body as opposed to having some form of hermaphrodism) and has clearly faced many difficulties in her life. McCormick isn’t just a fan, she is in love with Tiffany and believes they are destined to be together. What makes her all the more of an interesting case is that she is mentally and emotionally unstable (she refers to it as a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, she was involved in an accident which left her in a coma and felt she was visited by Tiffany herself which led to her waking up) and far more psychosexually and emotionally involved with her Tiffany obsession than Turner. McCormick appears more than unhinged on a few occasions and I feel that this is where some claims of  exploitation of the director’s part arise from. Whilst one can understand why people might view it that way, I think Kelly’s behaviour, at times, speaks for itself and she probably doesn’t do herself any justice in her behaviour and beliefs. That said, one can’t help but feel like she shouldn’t be a part of a documentary with this sort of focus, rather seeking help or being helped in a more proactive way.

tiffany 3

Creepy feelings aside, I Think We’re Alone Now is a great portrait of just how much some people can really touch our lives and make a difference in way’s that they might not expect. Whilst serious stalkers are dangerous, it’s not hard to admire the fact both McCormick and Turner have stayed such loyal fans for so long in an industry that is incredibly fickle at times. Without fans, where would many people in this world really be….?

Geek To Geek Chic – ‘Chasing Ghosts: Beyond The Arcade’ (2007)

7 Jan

In 1982, Life magazine went to Ottumwa, Iowa, the gaming capital of the world, to photograph a group of young gamers. The photograph, part of a spread which was meant to capture the various moods and themes of Western culture, featured those with, at the time, the highest scores in arcade gaming. At that moment in time, the group were recognised as the video game champions of the world. In 2007, director Lincoln Ruchti used the portrait as a basis to catch up on those who were involved, developing the interesting documentary Chasing Ghosts: Beyond The Arcade.

gaming

Back then, being hailed world champions in their field by such a renowned publication led to local and national interest and popularity. Twenty three years later we pick up where photographer Enrico Ferorelli signed off, catching up with nine of the original sixteen as they share their initial childhood/teenage experiences and dreams and how they all changed when the arcade scene began, through to its eventrual demise.

gaming 2

Full of nostalgia, hope and the cruel realities (and differences) or changing landscapes (puberty to adulthood, local to national fame, arcade gaming to home console gaming), Chasing Ghosts will not only appeal to gamers, geeks and fanatics but also those who truly loved something when they were younger and never let go of the passion for it.

Russ Meyer’s Vintage Bodies – Early Films Finally Get Released

14 Nov

Christmas really has come early for Russ Meyer fans this year with news that the Russ Meyer Trust have finally released his early films on one DVD set. Not seen since original theatrical circulation and long believed by Meyer himself to be films of his that would never be available to fans,  Russ Meyer’s Vintage Bodies set see’s four of his early films collected together for the first time. The set includes 1960 short This Is My Body (attributed to 1959 by Jimmy McDonough in his superb biography Big Bosoms And Square Jaws), 1961 release Erotica and 1963 release and co-feature Heavenly Bodies and Skyscrapers and Brassieres.

This is a massive step for those in charge of the Russ Meyer estate, long considered by friends and fans to not really care about the directors work or the wealth of materials they inherited since his death. These four films provide the last batch of his catalogue that had never been released before and which fans presumed they would never be able to see. According to the Russ Meyer website, the Trust had the films digitally restored especially. A must-have for fans of the Nudie Cutie genre, sexploitation film genre and of Meyer himself, this box set will finally let audiences catch a glimpse of how the auteur developed his well distinguished cinematic style. Sadly, Meyer’s first real foray into filmmaking, The French Peep Show, isn’t included although one hopes that Meyer had a print somewhere that will eventually surface.

Reviews and features on the films included in the set will be included in this blog as part of next years ‘Meyer Month’.

Back To School – John D Lamond’s ‘The ABC Of Love and Sex: Australia Style’ (1978)

1 Sep

Australian director John D. Lamond, fresh from having recently shot the mondo-style documentary Australia After Dark, found himself in the difficult territory of coming up with a second feature in the late 1970s. And so, having done the sexploitation documentary, moved directly onto the next logical step, in the guise of an ‘educational’ sexploitation flick. Step forward 1978 release The ABC Of Love and Sex: Australia Style, an adult softcore, sex-ed picture exploring every aspect of human sexuality.

And ABC literally is what it says on the tin. Opening with a sweet stop motion animation of a teacher running through sex education with his students, the picture goes from A is for anatomy through to C for contraception (‘the tool of permissive society’), H for homosexuality and even R is for rape. Each letter is followed up with a cutesy vignette exploring the scenario with some lightly erotic scenes and a few good-looking actors, through animation, naughty dialogue, situation segments and porn. Oh, and some large inflatable contraceptive pills, genitals and building blocks for good measure.

It’s a testament to the efforts of Lamond in trying to make the film a slightly different type of sexploitation picture that ABC manages to still feel fresh thirty years later. It does provide some sexy, if not softcore, moments whilst delivering some genuinely interesting facts and figures about human sexuality that, whilst may now be somewhat dated, are revelatory to people who maybe haven’t cared to look at sex with that much depth before. Throw in a Swedish professor providing some psychosexual insight and the odd, borderline hardcore scene (shot in Sweden when Lamond went there to blow up Australia After Dark from 16mm to 35mm and initially cut from the original release) and you have a tongue-in-cheek sexploitation documentary that has a really sweet charm to it.