One of the big draws for me was the ambience of the world that it created and projected – that populuxe, sharp very late 1950s/1960s American styling, which was a kind of grown-up Mod thing but from over the other side of the sea.
(A form of mod with a few more sheckels in it’s pocket of course – more than for a tailor made suit or two and a cup of that new fangled Italian style coffee down Soho way.)
It was that ambience and its richness, the lushness, a vintage recreation/reimagining without grit or grain – Erwin Olaf’s Grief, Hope, Rain series of photographs brought to smoothly flickering, storytelling life – that stayed with me after the series.
In honour of those aesthetics, here I gather a few of my favourite promotional related images that to my mind and eye seemed to summon up that world particularly well.
And why not a touch of Roger Sterling channelling Harry Palmer?
As a postscript: Mainstream. Hmmm. It’s interesting how these things work. Mad Men conquered the world while Magic City, which shared some not dissimilar aesthetics was seen by relatively but a few. Visit tales of Magic City around these parts here.continue reading
In an interconnected manner, during that film, in a meta fictional/blurring of the boundaries between fiction and faction manner, is a scene where a poster for the then banned documentary West End Jungle can be seen.
It is part of a loose film cycle largely by director/producer Arnold Miller that would lead to future salacious sometimes partly-non-documentaries such as London In The Raw and Primitive London, both of which have been rescued / rehabilitated and gained an air of academic respectability by their relatively recently release, brush and scrub up by the BFI.
This rescue and rehibilitation is something that as I type is a process that is also being undergone by the Soho shennanigan film cycle titles Expresso Bongo and Beat Girl, as part of the BFI’s Flipside film release on DVD/Bluray and latterly internet label.
The Flipside is described by the BFI as:
“BFI Flipside is dedicated to rediscovering cult British films, reclaiming a space for forgotten British films and filmmakers who would otherwise be in danger of disappearing from our screens forever.”
When it was first inaugurated London In The Raw and Primitive London were two of their first releases and it felt like the label had been set up just for me; a sort of classy trawling of the underbelly and neglected undercurrents of film.
If you were to imagine a very selectively done Something Weird Video with institutional status, public funding, a tendency to wander towards an almost Derek Jarman-esque/arthouse take on what constitutes mondo film, a touch more prudish or possibly jurisprudent take on such things than say Something Weird, high end reproduction and releasing, well you could well be heading in the right direction.
PS Is it just me or does the publicity photograph of Gillian Hills from Beat Girl above seem like something of a predecessor to Mr Vince Ray’s Death Of The Teenage Death Song work?
I was recently nattering about The World Ten Times Over, which seems to be part of a loose cycle of British films from around the late 1950s to about 1963 (or, as I’m fond of saying around these parts, just pre-Swinging London); tales of life lived but a few steps away from the gutter in London’s Soho and heart of the town nightlife, often set in and around hostess bars / clip joints and the shennanigans, ducking and diving that such ways of life can involve.
As with The World Ten Times Over these are all films that could each be described as “a curiousity, a snapshot of a particular way of life and a transitional point in life and culture – post-war auserity about to make way for the colour, spark and vitality of first Swinging London and pop-art mod(ernisms) and later the evolutions and looseness of psychedelia and what has come to be labelled hippie-dom.”
This is a film cycle that could well include the surprising Soho Johnny of Expresso Bongo, the almost Arthur Seaton down-to-earth night out but in Soho-isms of Saturday Night Out, in a more teenage-kicks Bohemian coffee bar manner Beat Girl, the slightly earlier tabloid-esque scares of The Flesh Is Weak, the quota quickie feeling Jungle Girl, the blonde bombshell from over the seas Too Hot To Handle and for myself the somewhat fine grandfather of them all The Small World Of Sammy Lee.
I could possibly include the pre-Steptoe Harry H. Corbett featuring Cover Girl Killer. Released in 1959, it feels like it belongs to a much earlier era. It also has that quota quickie feel but also that curiously clipped older British film sense to it – a past far, far away from modern mores and modes.
Or the also slightly later 1964 Harry H. Corbett featuring Rattle Of A Simple Man, where he plays a Northern innocent lost in Soho who meets a hostess, spends the night with but not in the manner which might be expected.
And in a further over the seas the imagined / reimagined Soho of Das Phantom Von Soho could well belong loosely to this cycle.
One thing that is curious about many of these films is that despite their tabloid friendly subject matter, this can sometimes mask much more human stories than their subject matter and setting might imply and they are not always or just salacious exploitation films; The World Ten Times Over is a gritty realist film with a sense of the consideration of the futilities of life, Rattle Of A Simple Man is actually quite a sweet, touching story of romance rather than times in “London’s sin-filled strip” and The Small World Of Sammy Lee is, well, just mighty fine cinema that takes in realism, thriller, love and loss in this particular heart of London.
Whence wandered an interest in a re-imagining of times gone by, noir-ish shennanigans, far-too-late-night-bar suave but weary adventures and the like?
I have a suspicion that the 1987 film Angel Heart may have a touch to do with it.
Although it’s now a fair few years since I’ve seen it if I think of the film, well, I tend to think of a crumpled but suave, good liking hero (I use the word loosely there), a certain kind of smokey, textural, noirish textures and atmosphere, an almost palpable sense of the character, sweat, soul and atmosphere of the South, a haunting jazz soundtrack, convoluted hidden stories.
This was probably one of the first times that I’d come across such a heady mix and it seems to have stayed with me over the years.
There are a couple of classic/more well known posters/video covers that have accompanied Angel Heart over the years in the west but (as I’ve mentioned around these parts before) I have something of a soft-spot for the designs, posters etc that accompany films over the years and in different places.
I’d accompany that particular soft-spot for one with obscure and/or semi-forgotten forms of media, so with that in mind, above is one of the laserdisc covers which has intrigued me – it takes Angel Heart much more overtly into horror or demonic territory – more overtly black-ridden tales than it’s Southern, noirish aesthetic side.
In a lot of ways The Bank Job from 2008 is something of a b-movie, a touch cheesy here and there and has that “the period recreation doesn’t quite always naturally gel/the costumes etc look, well, like costumes etc” thing that seems to plague a lot of British period based television and film and yet…
…I find it a thoroughly enjoyable number.
It’s an escapist period crime/heist romp (caper?) film but with a background of all kinds of hidden history and reference points.
Early 1970s questionable black power leaders? Yep. A touch of 1970s grit that around these parts tends to tick a box or two. Check. Hidden powers that be “off the book” activities? Check. 1970s Scotland Yard/vice squad over cosiness in the gentleman’s leisure reading activity and film game in the old heart of town that was Soho? Check.
Saffron Burroughs cheekbones? Check.
That iconic-period-crime/heist-romp-(caper?)-film-and-television suave chap on either side of the straight line car of choice the Jaguar Mark II alongside a fair few other classic “motors” (including a period police car that reminds me a little of the 1960s TV series Batmobile)? Check.
To part borrow a phrase written about another set of tales set around the same (well, actually made around that time), it’s something of a guilty pleasure full of fags, blags, Jags and slags.
The film was penned by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, who also wrote the likes of Porridge and The Likely Lads… oh and Afterhours favourite Villain, which is (loosely) based on the life/lives of East End twins who gained more than a touch of notoriety and which is set (or rather was made/is set) in a similar early 1970s period of shennanigans and stories embedded in a society gone more overtly corrupt/to seed – which in a way links forwards and backwards to The Bank Job.
The film is based (loosely?) on true stories, which you can peruse more of here.
And while we are talking about classic British 1960s kitchen sink drama and “A kind of drab (or should that be against a drab world/setting?), suited and booted, beehived and bouffanted glamour, charisma, style and working class rebellion” and “a certain kind of rough hewn, no mucking about masculinity” mixed in with that and more than a touch of solid, glowering male-ness, alongside a just pre-Swinging London kicking against it all (see here)…
…well, it wouldn’t be quite right to not mention Albert Finney In Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
In the photograph above he tends to remind me of an early 1960s “angry young man” meets an iconic Wild Western frontier kind of chap.
And maybe there’s something in that as this was a time when new frontiers were opening up (sometimes only relatively briefly) and one of those frontiers could be seen to be life outside the metropolis represented cinematically in British kitchen sink films.
If there was one of those new(ish) fangled online encyclopedia pages for the above paragraph, I expect they could just put a photograph of Mr Finney in the adaptation of Mr Sillitoe’s book with a note saying “See image above.”
Along which lines, I think I shall let the images speak for themselves.
Well, almost, apart from to say has there ever been a finer book cover than the film tie-in to Saturday Night and Sunday Morning? I’m not sure I’ve seen one. It’s always cheers the day up when I see a copy in a charity shop (and I have to restrain myself from not buying it again just because, well, it’s always worth buying).
Classic period pulp fiction-esque painting style that has wandered off to a particularly classy slice of British northern/midlands cinematically realised social realism and iconography.
A bit like somehow or other 1970s grit along the lines of Villain is in amongst Afterhours and my own work, somewhere along the line could be found some kind of inkling of classic kitchen sink drama, cinema etc. Think Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, A Taste Of Honey etc.
It’s possibly in the very Britishness. A kind of drab (or should that be against a drab world/setting?), suited and booted, beehived and bouffanted glamour, charisma, style and working class rebellion that could be traced forwards to the likes of the Medway scene in the 1980s (Billy Childish, The Milkshakes etc). A certain kind of kicking back against how things are just before they’re ready to fully start changing and having a little give – ie just pre-swinging London-ness, as I have something of a fondness for. Possibly a certain kind of rough hewn, no mucking about masculinity mixed in with that just mentioned suited and booted style.
There’s a point in Tom Jones autobiography where one of his early managers sees him perform for the first time and afterwards his wife says something along the lines of “I’ve never seen anything so male.”
And then wandering back to 1970s grit, mixing it in with 1960s kitchen sink drama (and because as I think I’ve said before, I have something of a fondness for how books, films etc are presented, postered, covered etc over the years)… the cover below is from around the mid-1960s, the style and cut of the clothes says that time but the setting and the cooling towers tends to make me think more of the early to mid-1970s, that sense of an industrial nation neglected, troubled, possibly gone to seed.
Oh and prime time kitchen sink? Well, the the A Kind Of Loving TV series was broadcast at a time when there were but three or so television channels in the UK and in that climate this particular slice of kitchen sink drama was only kept off the top viewing figures slot by the then most popular soap opera. 15 million folk turned on and tuned in, effectively heading towards a third of the population.