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.
Realist or kitchen sink might well be phrases that could be used to describe it.
Essentially it’s the story of two good time girls (who don’t seem to be having a very good time), who work in a hostess/cabaret club, live together and variously have run ins with a respectable Shakespeare loving father and almost run away with a frustrated son-of-an-industrialist, marriage of convenience playboy like (again in an understated manner) boyfriend.
It’s quietly seedy and is slightly awkward about itself and in particular the possibly more salubrious aspects of the gals lives and profession (there’s a great, supposedly knowing/falsely flirtatious awkward and unnatural wink by Sylvia Syms to a gent who’s been reading the “professional model” cards in a shop window).
This is a frequent, obvious, if slightly odd marketing tool that seemed/seems to often be used on film posters, book covers etc; take an actually not all that prurient or salacious story and spice it up for general consumption in a “not really correctly labelled” manner.
I can only imagine the disapointment on certain gents’ faces when they popped into their local dream palace to enjoy some Soho sin and actually got to see this quite grey, melancholic film and it’s tale of the frustations and sometimes futilities / inevitabilities of life.
(As an aside, the cover of the DVD release combines the attempt-at-salaciousness-but-actually-curiously-gritty design of the original poster with a dash of Pussycat Alley-isms).
When I recently rewatched the film I’m not sure that enjoyment is a phrase that I would use about it. I’m not knocking the film at all though, it’s more that it feels like 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.
Well, while we’re talking about weathered suaveness (see here)…
If you should want to gather up a few of such people from this side of the sea, well, 44 Inch Chest does a fair job of such things.
For a while I was somewhat obsessed by the poster for the film (and indeed it was a particular influence on a particular piece of my own Afterhours work).
Although the layout of making sure all the prime members of a cast are present and displayed in a backward sloping arrow shape has become something of a commonplace occurrence these days (at the behest of publicity clauses in contracts or as a form of lending recognisable faces to a story or brand maybe?), this is something of a favourite of such things.
Why? Well, it’s that sense of weathered suaveness and more than a touch of menace. Not in the fizzy, hormone packed way that a youthful gathering may present, more in a sense of lives travelled and “now, let’s not have any messing about, son” manner.
Also, sometimes it seems as though some actors carry the possible routes their characters’ lives might take and their stories from one film to another.
Take Ian McShane here. When I saw the poster, it felt as though I was looking at who Wolfe from Villain had become a fair few years later (via various misdemeanours and bother in Sitting Target, Freelance and higher up the layer cake during Sexy Beast along the way).
John Hurt – well, he may be playing a more working class chap here and he may be (I think) actually a “posher” gent in real life but if you should want to see the result of life lived on a face and (really rather) weathered suaveness then look no further.
And Ms Whalley? Well, this role may well be more no-nonsense moll-ish than the Christine Keeler in Scandal became or might have become, in either the film or actual life but there’s a link there via smoke filled bars or basements and too many years watching and hearing the promises from all around them.
I couldn’t quite say how. A certain kind of texturalness? A sense of layered, hidden stories that thread deeply throughout places and people? A weathered suaveness? A stepping (figuratively) into the basements of the soul? It’s those and all kinds of other aspects I expect.
And if you should want the very essence of such things in an explorative and also traditional manner, well, they could well be a place to look.
(And it’s not much more than a brief move to other surrounding lands, travellers and those who have come afterwards: David Eugene Edward’s work with Woven Hand, the dusted plains heartbreak of Lillium and the like.)
I think the words reverent or transcendental would not be amiss here, something that can even be quite overt in their work – Mr Edward’s can indeed look like he is summoning or has travelled to another place during performance, something that brings to mind his own background and history in American preaching.
Along which lines, I would particularly recommend the Live DVD they put out – beautifully packaged and referrring back to souls and basements, it features the last song they ever performed as 16 Horsepower – a cover of Joy Division’s Heart and Soul.
Now, a cover of a song by a band with such, well, heavy history is a tricky thing but this wanders to somewhere else.
As a PS and bringing such things/connecting them back to more traditional Afterhours territory, when I went a-wandering, I was glad to come across the image above of their name up in lights. In a fairer world etc etc this would have been a more justly common sight.