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BFI Flipside # 2: London in the Raw
on 30 May 2012
'Mondo' films came out of Italy in the early 1960s, they represented a different type of filmmaking that would probably be called documentary today. Presented in an almost magazine format, of a number of 5-10 minute scenes, each one was dedicated to some of the more unusual sides of life. The main reason for the success of these imports in England was that they contained quite shocking content for the time, including nudity, which was still many years away from the mainstream. Keen to capitalise on this popular, low-budget success, a film company helmed by Arnold Miller were contracted by a Soho business to create a 'Mondo' film focussed on London. And so, in 1964, the film Miller returned was 'London in the Raw'. Must of it is almost laughably dated now, though the ever-present narrator tries to keep the tone professional with his measured description of "health clubs" and seedy night spots. As the narrator states: "there isn't a woman living who wouldn't sacrifice health for appearance", all the while the camera focuses on women's buttocks as they conduct their exercises on "machines and operations that would have delighted the Marquis de Sade". Far less easy to watch is a gentleman having a primitive form of hair transplant carried out. We're also introduced to those dancing clubs where these kids like to spend their time, and even a club in which a naked girl is displayed for the men's enjoyment. What is surprising about this club is that as they sip their drinks, they also dab at easels with their paintbrushes, including one guy who is the most stereotypical painter you'll have ever seen in your life. I'd love to know what became of him. So there's a fair bit of nudity and sex here, as we see London slowly trying to circumvent the England's decency laws - what is apparent here is how seriously everyone seems to take themselves, there doesn't seem to be a lot of fun here, considering this was the swinging 60s. So this is no great undiscovered film, though as a historical document it is fascinating and at times quite surprising just how liberal many people were, or wanted to be.
This is another excellent transfer from the original 35mm film, even the DVD looks amazing, the Blu-ray (included here in the same package) is just stunning. The BFI also supply a set of extras that may just be better than the main film itself. There's an alternate, 47-minute cut of 'London in the Raw', which remains a mystery as to why it was created, as it contains some closer shots of nudity than the long version, but also some segments completely absent from the original. This is worth a watch, if only to see the truly depressing middle-aged men sat in a dark, silent room, whilst a curtain is pulled to reveal a scantily-clad young woman on a stage. After a few seconds the curtain is dropped, before being raised again to show her in a different position. She must not move, as that goes against licencing laws, they must not serve drinks, food or play music, as that goes against licencing laws. Next we get three 'London sketches' from the 60s - 'Pub', a black and white documentary made in 1962, with interviews with some of the locals. It's a charming piece, and made me realise many pubs in Shropshire haven't really changed in 50 years! There's also the half-hour 'Chelsea Bridge Boys' from 1965, following some rockers on their loud, fast motorbikes, along with some revealing interviews. Finally is the enticingly-titled 'Strip' from 1966. This follows, as you may have guessed, a group of strippers working in a London club. As its existence is down to the fact that it was the only way at the time to get any 'skin' shown in cinemas, it's easy to be cynical here, but again it serves as an interesting insight into a time that now seems more detached than ever.
I've been a bit harsh to give this 3 stars, as it's a great thing to watch once, but there's not an awful lot of rewatch value here, and there are many superior Flipside releases to this one. But for anyone with an interest in Britain (and London) in the 1960s, this is about as revealing an insight as you can find.