London in the Raw (UK - BD RB)
The Wilson Brothers are in the raw for this recent Blu-ray release from the BFI
Since the concept of a time-machine was first thought of, many men have dreamed of a device which offers a portal to days past. HG Wells sent a Victorian through the world wars, Doctor Who gave the world a genial guide to previous events and Marty McFly narrowly dodged an Oedipus complex. Flippancy aside, the concept of travelling through time holds a universal appeal, and—just sometimes—the process is more attainable than you’d think.
From the unimpeachable BFI comes London in the Raw, a look at the nations’ capital in the mid 60s, the centre point of monumental change and social upheaval not only in the UK, but the western world over. The concepts of money, sex, social standing and entertainment were in a state of flux, an era which only those who lived through it could appreciate, and generally covered in school textbooks with ‘a time of great change’ or anything as pathetically inadequate. A doorway to this era has not only been found, but London in the Raw kicks it open and drags you through into this tumultuous decade.
We are firmly deposited in the Blue Angel club, where the vibrant entertainment is played out as with a timely musical satirist, taking swipes at the politics of the day, dropping in a very topical reference to the Profumo affair. Its’ almost like watching a live version of That Was the Week that Was, and anyone watching would kill to be in the audience of such viscerally exciting stuff. The young were now free to express themselves, and no subject was taboo—OK, except for homosexuality, but this is the perfect lead in to a film documenting such changing times.
So as to contrast the notion of the old world next to the new, London in the Raw is quick to take a look at Fox-hunting, going so far as to call it a travel-agent’s image of unchanging Britishness. This hits the nail on the head, with the old-guard reluctant to do away with quintessential symbolism which nationally identifies the UK—regardless of how unpopular the practices are. You only have to walk down Oxford Street today to see all of the quaint, outmoded imagery is still being plastered on plastic crap for the tourists to take home and the patriotic to get a warm, fuzzy feeling from. Now, back to this ever-changing world in which we live in…
Being guys of the world, a few acquaintances of ours have been ladies of the night—dominatrixes, mainly—and the prostitutes of London are put under the microscope at during the swinging era. It all seems so quaint back then, where the girls would hang out of windows and beckon punters in with a wave of the finger—streetwalking was illegal, so this method came out of necessity. Once inside, our man with the horn was asked for a financial contribution, which was ‘…for the maid…’, neatly avoiding direct payment for sexual services. The sex industry was rather coy, but documented here in a manner so very fascinating.
A visit to a health club makes will bring a wry smile to the lips of most, but in ways which the filmmakers couldn’t have realised at the time. There are no real ‘gut-buckets’ to be seen, or at least until they are required to make a point. In fact, most of the clientele are seriously overweight, with their excess pounds coming from their advancing years. The narrator points out that for centuries, being overweight was regarded as a status symbol, with the rich being able to buy lots of food and consume as purely as decadence. Only the poor were thin, as food cost money they didn’t have. The wry smile comes when you realise that things have gone the other way in today’s world, as the chronic obesity epidemic is largely associated with the poor, being fed on a constant diet of cheap, lard-filled crap whilst the wealthier can afford to eat better and go to the gym to control their weight. Mum’s gone to Iceland…
This might sound rather obvious, but the footage of the streets of the capitol brings one thing to mind: it looks like London today! There have been have few major changes over the past forty-plus years, and you can easily identify places from the basic architecture in spite of time marching on. This is another of the beguiling qualities of London in the Raw, to be so vividly shown that people walked the same streets and went about their lives in the same way, and that the past existed in glorious colour rather than only black and white.
The item which London in the Raw has to offer which fits into the more traditional staple of ‘Mondo-movie’ is when we are treated to the process of a hair-transplant. This is pretty eye-watering stuff, taking you right through from picking a discrete area at the back were the hair won’t be missed, punching out holes of healthy root, cutting holes in the top of the head and plugging them up with fresh crop. F*ck that! We’re happy to say that we aren’t vain enough to go through all that malarkey. The footage will sort the men from the boys, for sure. The flawed process always reminds us of the line from Agent Clay in Hellboy: ‘It doesn’t look like doll’s hair, does it?’ Just when you thought that a rug was the ultimate in a lack of self-esteem.
If ever the concept of partying in a London nightclub has ever appealed to you, then we get a prime example of the Dionysian atmosphere for which the decade was justly famous for. Stopping off at the Whiskey a Go-Go, the sounds are rich, the birds are delicious and everybody is getting down as of their lives depend on it. One rather nice Swedish girl is interviewed, where she declares that a law should be made that everybody would be happy. This seems a trifle ambitious, not to mention hypocritical, as Sweden has one of the highest suicide rates in Europe. We have to point out just how cool the music is in the club, just like something from a Ray Dennis Steckler movie.
A common thread with some of the ‘themed’ establishments in London in the Raw is that of a sense of melancholy, even at the time it was filmed. Society was changing so radically that it’s almost as though some cultures were banding together and shutting out the rest of the world to keep their own microcosm intact. A trip to an Irish fish restaurant is one of the minor examples, where they offer only a flavour of the country to the uninitiated. We did note that there was a clock on the wall, manufactured with the word ‘Bollock’ emblazoned upon it, but far be it for us to make a smutty joke. For the punters, you would expect a raucous, drunken atmosphere, as the doleful piano music plays, they seem to cater more for the genuine sons of the Emerald Isle.
If one scene appears to be cynical, it’s the section showing the playing of a high-stakes card game. The whole thing looks exactly like the opening of Dr No, at the time James Bond was the biggest thing of the planet. All of the associated trappings are there, and it might well be that they are playing Baccarat—you know, the one which they changed to Texas Hold 'Em poker so as not to confuse the plebs in Casino Royale. It’s fascinating to watch, as the common man would have never been invited to—or had the dough to play—such a game. Just try not to confuse it with high-stakes wrestling, where if you think you get it in the arse when you lose a hand of cards....
There are many younger people today who are blissfully unaware of the beatniks and their movement, so it needs some clarifying to enable those not in the know to appreciate them. The lazy way is to say that they are the fifties version of hippies, shunning society and living by their own code. This is not entirely accurate, as hippies were goofy, but without the pretentiousness which made beatniks objectionable. Simply put, beatniks are modern-day w*nkers. They were self-absorbed ligers craving attention whilst trying to be so very gauche by simultaneously shunning it. Here we see a band of these cheerful dinks eating cat-food, which was probably discarded for stewed-steak once the cameras had been safely packed away. This is another interesting look at the change in society, where the hip, young culture eat cat-food just to be ‘outsiders’ when it is common for poor, elderly people in the world today to eat the stuff because it is the only way they can afford something approximating a nutritious meal.
Speaking of beatniks, a perfect example of these pretentious twats is shown during a following segment set in a still-life class. In accordance with the laws of the time, this was the only way a woman could display her naked charms without being arrested: strip off and don’t move a muscle. Whilst noble that the ‘artists’ are all able to make the minor effort of holding their brushes the right way up, giving the illusion that they aren’t just getting a cheap thrill from a naked bird, the beatnik of the bunch tries to look so desperately cool by only painting the eye of the disrobed woman. Doesn’t it make you want to punch the next performance artist you run into? Oh, our favourite painter of the bunch was the guy who looks like Lucky Pierre.
A section on the phenomenon of ‘clip-joints’ shows that the profession hasn’t changed that much in the intervening years; it’s just moved into classier surroundings. Gullible punters are shown into shady ‘clubs’ where deceitful tarts get the guys’ gonads throbbing with the promise of sex, making them buy astronomically expensive drinks (usually just coloured water) before disappearing at the end of the evening. No transaction is made, nor even any promises. A guy has merely bought a girl some expensive beverages. See? Never trust women.
The world of entertainment is examined again when we come to a section on old-time Jewish theatre. It’s a sad thing to say, but this is one of the sections which might have dated the most, as the routines themselves are rather stereotypical, and would be considered anti-Semitism if done by anyone else other than a Son-of-David. You really have to wonder if the concept of variety is ever going to make a comeback when watching the material on display here, as audiences today would have little patience for the like.
It can only be described as bad taste that the section on Jewish music-hall is followed by a piece about the German quarter in London. The young Deutschlanders are shown getting down with the freedoms of the UK, stepping out the shadows their fathers cast during the war, but they really don’t help their own case when one of them states in a far-too-casual manner: ‘…we inherited a mess…’ after World War Two.’ Oh, no kidding! Why didn’t the guy in question stick his head out the door and take a look at the numerous areas of London which were still classified as ‘bomb-sites’ waiting to be developed at the time?
We get to see inside a Cockney pub when one of their turns is in full swing, with the pungent, smoky atmosphere generated by scores of Woodbines a distant dream in today’s world of Wetherspoons and smoking bans. This is the prime example of an insular microcosm. The words to ’Molly Malone’ echo around the club, to the appreciation of a generation of simpler pleasures. On a personal note, the song is performed in a rather irritating fashion, making you wish for a fusion of A Clockwork Orange and London in the Raw, where the singer belting out the Irish standard is set upon by a band of delinquents. A male singer performs ’Treacle on your Pudding’, which one assumes is based around innuendo, but this really isn’t an endearing set from the guy with scary teeth. The narrator is quick to point out that TV and cinema is/was steadily destroying this kind of entertainment, but you would wonder just how long it could have survived even without these external factors. Variety is dead, and a Cockney chanteuse was seen holding the smoking gun.
The punters being fleeced with coloured water in place of alcohol seems almost quaint when we are taken to meet one of the most wretched of social underclass, that of the meths-drinkers. This is a cult which has almost been completely phased-out in modern society, and the world is a better place for it, as anyone who sees the poisoned, human refuse littering the back streets of London will agree. Someone we know remembers them from the time of this documentary, and told how the meths-drinkers were always the scariest, most violent of the chemically-dependents.
We are then taken to the more respectable side of addiction, that of the prescription-junkies. While it is not saying much to carp on about who is a more valid member of society than another, that their hits are pharmaceutically controlled at least means they are not entirely written-off. Their ritual of waiting until midnight to get the next day’s fix from the all-night chemist is somewhat depressing, but it points out that at the time, America had declared being a drug addict illegal, rather than the possession of drugs being the crime! Sobering stuff, in more ways than just the obvious.
We make our final stop off at the Blue Angel, bringing us back to where we started with the assurance of a trip right through the Circle Line. The laughs and music continue to flow, with the warmth and excitement taking the sting out of watching those poor souls whom society has turned away at the door. All life is out there in London, merely depending which way you let fate take you as to which side of the clubs’ window you are sat on – a fitting end to a fascinating peek at past lives.
You can watch endless modern ‘retrospective’ pieces on the same subject which litter television (particularly wretched was The Trouble with the 60s) which offer the same, dull talking heads spouting many words but saying nothing, but they cannot compete with the seventy-three minutes of footage crammed into London in the Raw. We can’t stress enough how much of an incredible historical document this is. Just how good could something this good look? Is the window to the past smeared? Let’s take a look.
The image is—in a word—amazing. There are too many reviews which praise to reconstructive work when it only comes out as merely ‘OK’. The BFI have given teeth back to the word ‘restoration’ with London in the Raw. There is more natural grain than you could ever hope for, and a film-like image, which is saturated with detail, and will stand up to any superlative you can throw at it. Print damage is minimal. Derived from the 35mm negatives, the 1.33:1 1080p image is more vivid than you could possibly imagine. The colours are so sharp that they are in danger of drawing blood, and they really pop at times. There is undeniably an amount of grain to this release, but we have no problems with that whatsoever, as it was inherent in the original elements—it's supposed to have grain and all we can say is that the restoration people at the BFI have decided not to employ the dreaded DVNR. The freshness of the image truly makes it look as though it was shot yesterday and surely that is the most you can ask when watching documentary footage of a bygone era?
The audio presentation is as solid as the image. There was no reason to go mixing it into 5.1 or any other such molestation of the original tracks, and they are presented here as intended. With no audio speed-bumps looming out at the viewer, the same care has obviously gone into the presentation as it did with the sound. This is sterling stuff, and an object lesson the solid, clean delivery of a Mono soundtrack is imperative to maintaining the dignity of the project as a whole.
As if the wonderful presentation isn’t enough to make you very glad you purchased London in the Raw, the extras which come with it will have you firmly believing it was the best decision you’ve ever made when opening your wallet. Here we go:
London in the Raw: Alternative Cut: This totally different edit of the movie, made for the French market and offering material missing from the completed version. Running at only forty-five minutes, and omitting things like the hair-transplant sequence, this offers an extended look at our unhappy hooker and what happens after the punter has given money ‘for the maid’. Another piece is more of what cinema-goers were expecting, that of nudity! Exploiting the loophole of having performers standing still and changing poses behind a curtain was the staple of such clubs at the time, and it’s nice that this is also preserved for posterity in the alternative cut. Reading the credits of the full version, we noticed that a credit for the ‘Pink Elephant’ club seemed redundant, as there was no sign of it in the film. The alternative version restores this piece, and given the laws at the time, it is no surprise it didn’t make the UK edition. The print of this copy can easily be described as glorious—not bad for a cut none of those involved with the film can even remember making!
Pub: With the rise of the awful ‘theme-pub’, the traditional Cockney boozer is in danger—and in spite of what those arseholes at CAMRA say, making the public pay equally high prices in supermarkets isn’t the answer. Director Peter Davis’ short subject goes a long way to preserving the cornerstone of any London district, and the local pub has rarely been shown with all the flavour, life and genuine atmosphere than it is here. The images captured are so vivid they almost induce a form of psychotropic odourama, with the aroma of stale beer, Craven A cigarettes and heady sweat deposit you right in the middle of a London public house. Davis has said that he makes no great claims of producing an ‘important’ film, but the march of time has rendered ‘Pub’ an indispensable look at the heart of a community, and Davis’ modesty is to be as commended as his work.
Strip: ‘Step right up, everyone an English rose…’ so the barkers always say, but what really went on behind the scenes of a London strip-club during the swinging era? Peter Davis once again unearths the past, this time in his examination of the Phoenix Club in Old Compton Street. Davis and his team made the smart choice of spending time getting to know the girls before shoving cameras in their faces, this leads to very candid, natural footage with the strippers’ baring their souls rather than just their other bits. There are two approaches to the subject, the first being that the ladies are being exploited by unscrupulous entrepreneurs, unable to escape their wicked clutches. The other is that the women are using their looks to make a living, choosing to go into the business because of the financial opportunities—essentially exploiting those who will pay money to come and see them. Strip falls squarely into the latter, as those involved seem fairly happy with their lot in life. You’ll be surprised at the amount of nudity on display, with the odd rug coming into view—and the language can be quite frank, with at least one ‘f’ word letting slip. This is another excellent look into the past, and a long way from the sex-trafficking of present-day Soho. It’s worth pointing out that there is pop-culture value right from the outset when a TV commercial for the Batman TV series is heard. We have no hesitation in designating Strip as required viewing.
Chelsea Bridge Boys: In 1965, filmmakers Staffan Lamm and Peter Davis shot this thirty minute documentary about the titular London motorbike gang. This black and white project consists mainly of a series of interviews with the bikers, asking them about their bikes, their lives and how they view society in general. The young interviewees are for the most part not particularly bright or articulate, with many of them struggling to put their thoughts into words or even string a number of words into a cohesive sentence, although one of them comes across as intelligent, offering well thought out musings on life. This really is great stuff and arguably gives a more realistic feeling to the period than the main feature, showing you the gang tooling around Chelsea on their bikes and socialising.; you can’t fail to get a little nostalgic when you see the boys (and girls) looking at the biker accessories in the window of the shop, with all the imperial prices on them.
Trailer: This particular coming-attraction would have any self-respecting exploitation fan salivating at the prospect, just as a good trailer should. There are giddy thrills to be had, but remember that: ‘Evil lurks in the shadows’. The BFI even went to the trouble of sourcing this from the original inter-negative so as to get the best possible transfer!
Special mention should go to the smashing (as they used to say in the sixties) thirty-four-page booklet which accompanies the disc. This offers information about the production of not only London in the Raw, but also all three featurettes and the shorter version of the main feature. You want more? How about detailed biographies of those behind the movies? A vintage review of London in the Raw? Notes on the origins of all materials used for the creation of the disc? It’s all here, in the kind of book you would normally have to shell out a fiver for from private presses in the 90s!
We couldn’t think of any one way to finish this review, so we’ll have all three we came up with. Take your pick:
The exploitation crowd:
London in the Raw is a superbly enticing mixture of Mondo-movie and variety show, as though taking Teaserama and giving it depth and substance. There were only a handful of such movie made within the UK, and that it is presented here in such incredible fashion means that the space on yourself between The Killing of America and Mondo Cane won’t be properly filled without it. Besides, how else can you prove that Tony Tenser made anything genuinely decent...?
London in the Raw offers a shining gateway to the past, as though the Guardian of Forever has given you a chance to step into the tumultuous times our nations’ capitol. It might be seedy, and an alien world to the one we live in today, but with an astounding transfer and tremendous extras, set faces to stunned.
The BFI prove their credentials as world-class archivists in cinema once again. In a world riddled with worthless, empty nostalgia manufactured by those deeply upset that their era is over, we are privileged to have the real thing presented to us. With extras each the match of the superb main feature and restoration work of a quality rarely lavished on such material, London in the Raw is a labour of love to a bygone age, one of excitement and new freedoms, so it is fitting that the BFI have given us a package which is just as sensational its’ subject.
Whichever one you favour, the bottom line is that this is a very important piece of work, as the times depicted will never come again, and London in the Raw will always be there to remember them by. The quality of the workmanship on this disc alone will demonstrate just how dedicated the BFI are to preserving our national heritage. The movie is a Hell of a lot of fun, and the best thing you could do to let the guys who put the disc together know that you appreciate their work is to dust off your credit card and pick up a copy.
Review by Wilson Bros
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 25th May 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Aspect: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Audio: PCM 2.0 Mono English
Subtitles: English HoH
Extras: Alternate Cut, Pub, Chelsea Bridge Boys, Strip, Trailer, Booklet
Easter Egg: No
Director: Arnold Louis Miller
Cast: David Gell
Length: 0 minutes
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