Friday, July 20, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #29: Primitive London and London In The Raw (Double Feature)

An odd double-feature of documentaries reviewed for DVDsnapshot. When I republish those reviews here, I'll now be altering the format slightly, moving my review above the "Official Synopsis." 
...and, yes, it is a purely ego-driven choice. Thank you for noticing! (Heh, heh)

Our Take:

This double feature from the mid-sixties collects what must be the most polite Mondo-style “documentaries” ever made. London in the Raw and the more polished Primitive London are an unusual time capsule. Bound up by the manners, appearances, and class structure they hark from, the filmmakers still aspire to illustrate a “seedier” underside of London life... without offending. Some Mondo films featured shockers like sex-change surgeries and animal mutiliation These show a live birth, a hair transplant, and a chicken processing plant; but all with inoffensive jazz accompaniment.

Clearly filmed on the cheap, both films collect a rambling series of ponderously slow scenes bridged with prim, vaguely tut-tutting narration and bouncy music. One of the few scenes with live audio in Raw is a rather patronizing visit to a Jewish theater. Primitive features musical numbers, along with interviews and a series of odd sketches about a coffee commercial. (Most scenes in both films are obviously staged.)

The films “sensationalize” things like Baccarat, pinball “addiction,” belly dancers, and lots of bland Burlesque. But it turns out that even the management of drug addiction is handled in a polite, orderly manner. Odd moments of hat-blocking, middle-aged ladies at the gym, and a staged Key Party are so mundane they become surreal compliments to all the genteel attempts at salaciousness.

Aesthetic treatments like Electrolysis and Acupuncture are presented as exotic in Raw, and the incredibly clean-cut “Bad Kids” are all in suits at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go. In Primitive, there's a trip to the Chiropodist and those kids get divided into Mods, Rockers, and Beatniks. (Quite an evolution in a year.) Mods and Rockers are vaguely implied to be (ahem) “less than manly,” while the interviewer's questions about free love said significantly more about him than the Beatniks.

At the time, these cheap, faux documentaries probably struck some of their audience as a stodgy travelogue of the decline of civilization, but it was all in the service of showing some pasties. Every time something gets educational, silly, or just too boring; they just cut to another Burlesque number. Now these films are surreal time capsules capturing a moment when the world's attention transitioned from the “Greatest Generation” to the “Baby Boomers.”
Finally, there is one moment that stands out as hyperbole then, but honest description today. Just change the subject from Pinball addicts to, say, today's average tech user?

There are others belonging to no group because they are unaware of themselves as members of any society. They dissipate their identity in complete passivity. they become reduced to human adjuncts of a machine; and the machine's flashing lights lends an air of action, of doing something. A sedative to cover an attitude of cynical indifference.”

Official Synopsis:

An outrageous jolt of British exploitation, Primitive London (1965) is an expose of the hidden desires and bizarre vices that percolate behind the exterior of English life. Beginning with the graphic birth of a baby, director Arnold Miller sketches out the options for a child in the new England. So he profiles the stylistic garishness of the mods, the anti-establishment posturing of the rockers, and the lonely lives of pinball addicts. The youth are lost, with the adults no better, dissipating their vain lives in plastic surgery, bizarre exercise routines and wild wife-swapping parties. Through all the debauchery and aimlessness, in Primitive London you can discover a pre-permissive Britain still trying to move on from the post-war depression of the 1950s.

The world's greatest city laid bare!” roars the tagline to London in the Raw (1964), a salacious documentary that tours the strip-clubs and underground divas of the still-swinging city. Exploitation maven Arnold Miller combines documentary footage with staged sequences of leering intimacy, showing the skin of belly dancers and strip-teasers once the sun sets, disappearing along with any inhibitions. As the voice-over says, “Eat a little, dance a little, sketch your naked girlfriend and dream of better things to come.” London in the Raw provides a cynical, sometimes startling vision of life on and off the rain-spattered streets of 1960's London.
Scandal, 1964-style!
Special Features:

None, though the remastered audio and image are surprisingly clear.

London in the Raw and London Primitive are a pair of curious sixties documentaries. They try to sensationalize some extremely tame shifts in British society, but are genteel curios in the “Mondo” style. More importantly, they now document a moment where culture shifted from the hands of the WWI and WWII generations to their children, who made the Sixties explode.

Overall Picture:
Movie: London in the Raw: C, London Primitive: B-
Extras: F

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