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Saturday Night at the Movies

By Stewart Home.

The British Film Institutes’s first three Flipside releases of neglected and off-beat British cinema; these DVD and Blu-ray reissues are an extension of the monthly ‘Flipside’ screenings at BFI Southbank. Aside from The Bed Sitting Room (1969), the other two disks are the fabulous London In The Raw (1964) and Primitive London (1965), both directed by Arnold L. Miller. The Miller titles are mondo movies about London and its nightlife in the 1960s. There are variant versions of each film on the disks plus a host of extras, including two great documentary shorts about London strip clubs – Strip (1966) is served up alongside London In The Raw, while Carousella (1966) acts as a side-dish to Primitive London.

I contributed an essay to the London In The Raw booklet, while Iain Sinclair provides a companion-piece to my text for Primitive London. I got quite carried with this engagement, since it was an opportunity to write about London clubs in the 1960s… and very quickly my composition became too long to accompany a film release. Therefore, I chopped out a lot of material before I emailed the text to the BFI and reformatted some of that into an earlier blog (the opening and closing paragraphs were written to make this material work as an online post, the rest is unrevised material I’d cut from my BFI essay). I find the subject of London clubs of the 1960s endlessly fascinating, which is why I ran way over the word count the BFI provided and had to take rather a lot out. Originally, I’d wanted to conclude with a paragraph or three of contextualising remarks, but in the end this also had to go. One of those ‘lost’ paragraphs read as follows:

The fascination with strip and hostess clubs evident in the work of both sets of film-makers represented on this disk reflects the fact that such establishments proliferated in London during the sixties as a direct consequence of the 1959 Street Offences Act, which attempted to sweep prostitution off the city’s pavements in line with the desires of the Wolfenden Committee. It should go without saying that the sex industry didn’t disappear, although large parts of it did relocate to both dank basements and apparently swanky clubs. When strip clubs spread to the vast bulk of cities in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s, a similar cinematic obsession with such establishments was evident in many North American movies. That said, to my eyes and ears, London in the sixties is infinitely preferable to the American mid-west of the nineteen-nineties; the girls were more varied in those largely pre-plastic surgery days and the music was better. The British pop-cultural obsession with strippers was still very much in evidence a few years after the films gathered here were made; one example being the song ‘The Girls Are Naked’ issued by top London mod act The Creation as the b-side to their May 1968 Polydor single ‘Midway Down’.

First posted: Saturday, July 4th, 2009.

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