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Cult 60s Films Reviewed

by Ian Johnston Rating: Release Date:

In May last year the BFI launched Flipside, a new label presenting off-beat, bizarre and dazzling British films in new, remastered high-quality editions on DVD and Blu-ray. The first three releases in the series gave an indication of the focus series; Richard Lester's darkly comic vision of post nuclear apocalypse Britain, The Bed Sitting Room (1969) and Arnold Louis Miller's pioneering 'Mondo' 'shockumentaries', London in the Raw (1964) and Primitive London (1965), influenced by the highly commercially successful Italian 1962 documentary Mondo Cane.

Developed from its popular monthly screening sessions at BFI Southbank, the BFI's Flipside series on DVD and Blu-ray is produced to re-examine and revaluate British films that currently have no place in accepted cinema history - films that were overlooked, banned, or critically undervalued when they where first released, or are located outside the established canon of acknowledged British film classics. The subject matter and genres vary widely in the Flipside range, encompassing everything from Pete Walker's sleazy low budget crime thrillers Man of Violence (aka Moon)(1970)and The Big Switch (1968) to Don Levy's 1967 art house picture Herostratus (featuring a young Helen Mirren), groupies on the 1970 rock scene in Lindsay Shonteff's Permissive and Peter Watkins' 1967 nightmare vision of a government's attempt to control and use a famous pop star for their own ends in Privilege, starring Manfred Mann's lead singer Paul Jones and 'it' girl model Jean Shrimpton.

This month, another two impressive black and white titles are added to the Flipside collection. The first is Bond director Guy Hamilton's (Goldfinger, Diamonds are Forever) London Beatniks drama The Party's Over (1963-65), originally heavily cut by the British censors and delayed for release for three years, starring a young and brooding Oliver Reed. The second is Gerry O'Hara's (director of two other Flipside titles, That Kind Of Girl (1962) and the 1971 forbidden love saga All The Right Noises) unique vision of 60s swinging London, The Pleasure Girls(1965), featuring Francesca Annis, Ian McShane (Deadwood, Sexy Beast, 44 Inch Chest), the legendary Klaus Kinski ( star of Werner Herzog's greatest films) Anneke Wills, the first genuine swinging London 'chick' assistant for Time Lords William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton in the TV series Doctor Who) and future Hammer girl Suzanna Leigh.

The Party's Over, written by Marc Behm (Charade, Help!) and scored with a marvellous melancholic and driving jazz soundtrack by the great film composer John Barry (Beat Girl, Thunderball, The Lion In Winter), charts the downfall of a rich, young American girl Melina (Louise Sorel) who has joined a partying band of Chelsea beatniks, lead by the band's defiant and troubled leader, the iconic Moise (Reed, in one of his best performances). After a crazed and drunken party, Melina disappears, leaving her American fiance Carson (Clifford David) and her father (big US star of the day Eddie Albert) to uncover the terrible truth. Hamilton's view of pre-swinging London is a revelation (the bomb damage from the Second World War is still visible in West London) and rather than being treated as comic relief, as in so many other British pictures of the time, Reed's posse of anti establishment beats are treated sympathetically. Obviously, in a 'wild youth' made nearly 50 years ago, there are many moments of unintentional hilarity (Mike Pratt, who would star in the popular 1960s TV series Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased), is woefully miscast as a 'hip talking' Cuban beatnik artist/jazz drummer) but the film, and Reed's turn in particular, carry real conviction. Annie Ross's theme song, with haunting music by Barry, offers a bleak accompaniment to the sight of Reed's hung-over beatnik band crossing the Albert Bridge at dawn ("Life is a butterfly span and waits for no man..."). One of the band, beat artist Nina (Catherine Woodville), is wearing a bowler hat and carrying an umbrella, a look that anticipates Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. The film sufficiently upset The British Board of Film Censors of the day, lead by John Trevelyan, that so many cuts where made that Hamilton would take his name off the picture when it was finally issued in 1965.

Gerry O'Hara's The Pleasure Girls, is also radical for its time, with sharp dialogue and editing and spirited performances from its ensemble cast. Sally (Francesca Annis) moves to London to pursue a modelling career. She moves in with Angela (Anneke Wills) and Dee (Suzanna Leigh) and discovers the world of the carefree 'bachelor girl', over a weekend of parties and romantic encounters with sex obsessed fashion photographer Keith (Ian McShane). The film has a rough edge missing from other Swinging London pictures of the time (The Knack, Darling and Georgy Girl, to name but a few), with Kinski playing a ruthless Peter Rachman style slum landlord who will stop at nothing to increase his wealth and strings his moll Dee along for kicks. The Pleasure Girls all eventually call the shots about there own desires and destinies (very different from the stereotype depiction of dumb 'dolly birds' of the day), while the homosexual characters in the film, still very much illegal during 1965, are presented as just regular flatmates. All this from a director who would eventually direct the Joan Collins sexploitation pot-boiler The Bitch in 1979. Despite being marketed as an exploitation flick ("Meet The Pleasure Girls. They came for the kicks, these bittersweet beauties of London's Bedsitter Land" runs the amusing trailer), The Pleasure Girls carries more of genuine flavour of the Sixties in London than most over movies of the period. However, when viewers complained about the behaviour displayed in the film, the British Board of Film Censors wrote back, "There is no possibility that this film could, as you seem to suggest, incite juvenile violence at holiday weekends."

Rather than than just offering cheap retro kitsch thrills, though there are definitely some to be had, these latest additions to the BFI's Flipside collection, complete with lavish booklets and short film extras (The 1962 picture The Rocking Horse, by James Scott on The Pleasure Girls disc, which depicts an encounter between a teddy boy biker and an artist is particularly good), offer an incredible opportunity to view another side of recent British history/popular culture.

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