Friday, March 31, 2017

Primitive London (1965)

The success of London in the Raw made a follow up inevitable with Primitive London being released the following year.  The film reunites the same creative team behind the earlier film and adds an evocative musical score by Basil Kirchen, (which echoes the score that Riz Ortolani was turning out for contemporary Mondo movies in Italy).   It's clear that, since making London in the Raw, the producers had been exposed to even more Mondo movies, as Primitive London feels much more like its Italian inspirations, not just in its aforementioned musical score, but also its subject matter, structure and style.  Nevertheless, it remains peculiarly British in its overall feel.  The theme of the the first film - the need to belong - still lingers, but this time it sits within a framing device of the potential struggles a new born in modern London will face as they become adults.  Thus, the film kicks off with a graphic, for the era, sequence of a child being born.  Whilst nowadays this sort of thing is hardly a novelty (Channel Four, in particular, seems intent upon shoving new born babies in viewers' faces on a weekly basis), back in 1965 it still had shock value.  Indeed, this opening sequence defines the main difference between this film and its predecessor: in true Mondo fashion it goes for all out shocks.

The baby whose birth we've just witnessed is premature, we are told, and faces a fight for life.  But even he survives, he will face a lifelong fight to get on in life.  Returning to the theme of the previous film, we're told that becoming part of a group is one way to protect oneself from the cut throat world of modern life - which allows the film to focus on several contemporary youth groups: Mods, Rockers and Beatniks.  This time, rather than the staged Beatnik sequence of the earlier film, Primitive London presents us with a series of interviews with various members of these groups, conducted in pubs and cafes.  These feel far more naturalistic than than anything in London in the Raw and are quite enlightening as to the views and attitudes of a cross section of mid-sixties London youth.  Most impressively, unlike many newsreels and documentaries of the era, the narration never seeks to ridicule the various youth groups, the film simply allows the viewer to form their own opinion, based on the youths' own words.  Another thread of the film follows the progress of a young woman taking dancing lessons in order to become a stripper in the capital's then burgeoning strip clubs.  A further thread looks at the constant need for ever more extreme forms of stimulation modern citis=zens seen to require, including sports such as wrestling (this sequence features Mick McManus), and Kendo.

The need for stimulation and excitement culminates with a series of vignettes following a young middle class couple's first foray into wife swapping parties - complete with a warning over the moral perils of such activities.  The film also includes those staples of the Italian Mondo: an obsession with death and animal cruelty. The former is highlighted with a brief sequence concerning the rising number of motoring-related deaths in the UK and a look at the (still unsolved) series of murders of women plaguing London.  These would subsequently be popularly known as the 'Jack the Stripper' killings.  The animal cruelty aspect is handled in a very British form, by chronicling the journey taken by chickens in order to end up, vacuum packed, on supermarket shelves.  It is interesting to note that this sequence raises the very same concerns about factory farming and the methods used to slaughter the birds, that are still being raised today.  Some things never change - as the narration notes, consumers of the final product really don't care what was involved in its creation, provided the price is right.

The most interesting innovation in Primitive London compared to its predecessor is the inclusion of intentionally humourous sequences.  In one such thread, episodes of which are interspersed throughout the film, a voice over artist (McDonald Hobley, playing himself) becomes increasingly frustrated as he tries to record a single line for a commercial ('Mr Coffee is Real Good'), as an ad executive (played by a young Barry Cryer) constantly changes his mind as to how it should be delivered.  Another sequence involves the regular narration being replaced by the (fictional) producer and editor arguing over the content and editing of the movie.  In a segment involving topless models at a fashion show, close us are replaced by pictures of a cow and other animals, much to the producer's chagrin. (This, I'm assuming, is a reference to the censorship imposed upon genuine Italian Mondos by UK censors, who particularly objected to anything involving or implying animal cruelty).  He later complains about the predominance of overweight middle aged men in a Turkish bath segment.

In addition to all of this, the film includes various visits to London clubs, showcasing various risque and sensational acts, (including comic Ray Martine at the Establishment Club), which featured in the first film.  There is also a look at the fickle nature of fame, particularly for teen idols, as well as brief incursions into the worlds of plastic surgery and gyms.  All-in-all Primitive London provides a hugely entertaining mix of sleaze, exploitation, cod social commentary and sensationalism.  It probably represents the closest thing to a genuine Mondo movie produced in the UK, but, like London in the Raw, retains a distinctly British flavour.  It's far more slickly made than London in the Raw, with the sequencing and editing of the various segments feeling less haphazard than in the first film.  Which isn't to say that it is a better film than London in the Raw.  The earlier film, being a first attempt at a British Mondo, undoubtedly feels fresher and has the advantage of novelty.  But Primitive London is still well worth watching, capturing a particular time and place in a very enjoyable fashion.  Once again, the BFI  DVD includes some excellent extras in the form of various short films and documentaries - so invest in a copy, you won't regret it!



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