Permissive (UK - BD RB)
The Wilson Brothers get Permissive. Two drinks and they're anybody's...
The end of the 60s and into the 70s were wild times, and the music scene was alive with more energy, creativity and, in some respects, integrity than any era since. If you couldn’t play an instrument or sing worth a damn, the best thing to be was a hanger-on. While men tried to join their local equivalent of the Memphis Mafia, there was a much easier option for the girls: dropping their knickers. Or in official parlance, becoming a groupie. The BFI continue their excellent Flipside series with the work of Lindsay Shonteff, one of the great (and largely unsung) heroes of British exploitation filmmakers, who shows how the soul is lost as the ankles are parted.
Suzy is a naïve country girl, travelling to London in the hopes of finding something better than the mundane existence mapped out for her in yokelville. She arrives possessing minimal knowledge of nothing in particular, with only passing acquaintance Fiona as a point of contact. Painfully embarrassed by walking in on her friend during a sweaty sex-session upon arrival, Suzy has to learn some brutal lessons about the world, but unfortunately for everyone else, she’s a very quick study. Fiona takes Suzy under her wing, sheltering her from both the lust of the men and the man she is screwing.
Our girl is dropped headfirst into the parasitic lifestyle with all the gentle teasing of being dunked in a bath of ice-water. ‘Have you been on the scene long?’ asks a groupie, sizing up potential competition, wary of the way new, fresh material is craved and quickly expended and falling out of favour before they know what hit them. When interest is show towards the innocent. Unsuspecting girl, one of the older lags goes from friendly to hostile, snarling at her to ‘Fuck off’, fearing being usurped by younger, more tender flesh.
Her education in the harsh realities of life begins when her meekness leads her to hunger. ‘Man does not live by bread alone’, she is told at a party, to which she replies: ‘I’m starving’. Getting her wires crossed by the promise of: ‘I’ll feed you…,’ she hooks up with ‘Pogo’, who doesn’t really believe in the concept of money, but rises to the ugly challenge of capitalism by busking on the Underground, with his dulcet tones—akin to that of a one hundred-a-day smoker after a tracheotomy—barely scraping together enough funds for some coffee. Pogo typifies the kind of shiftless waster who is happy to defy the way society works until they need something, in short: a middle-class arsehole who’ll go running back to Mummy and Daddy once he’s forgiven them for enforcing a comfortable upbringing on him.
Realising that he can’t offer her a life of material contentment, she soon parts company with Pogo in search of something more rewarding and finds her way back to the band‘s door. Such illusions are shattered when treated badly—in post coital fashion—by a member of the group, so she heads off once more in an attempt to put the shallow existence of the groupie scene behind her. Suzy wanders the mean streets of London, rejected and betrayed by all around her. Ironically, a billboard at a newspaper stand reads: ‘Pop star on drugs charge’, and in the midst of her loneliness she meets up with Pogo again, who seems a better option than solitude.
She tries to live the idyllic hippie existence, sleeping in doorways with him, and walking the streets, but illusion is shattered and her heart hardened by the death of Pogo—she realises that life is fleeting, and ideals will only leave you dead and your morals die with you. With Suzy’s track record as a lover, she must be one Hell of a card-player, Pogo meeting his maker through being flattened by a car whilst crossing a road. Whilst this might be perceived as being symptomatic of wearing rose-tinted glasses, it comes as a real irony that he is the type of person who probably deemed the ownership of an internal combustion vehicle as immoral. Suzy hooks back up with the band, and becomes bolder in her sexuality.
Suzy’s newfound sexuality flourishes into the realms of slutdom, as she sleeps her way through the entire band, causing friction among the musicians. As with any other form of freedom, sexual liberation come with responsibilities, and Suzy casts them aside with no thought of the toes she is treading on as she goes. She has realised that to succeed, her burgeoning ruthless streak must be used in conjunction with feminine wiles to sleep her way through to an easy life. Friends no longer exist, they are merely stepping-stones.
When she hooks up with the hunky Lee, the raises the ire of Fiona, who has exclusive groupie rights to him, and fears being tossed aside in favour of a newer, more ruthless model. Following arguments and a rather fetching catfight, Suzy’s wounds are licked—along with other things—by a lesbian seductress. With Suzy’s ruthless nature conflicting with Fiona’s time left as a desirable groupie running low, only one of them is going to come out on top, or even alive: it all depends which cat has the sharper claws.
We really don’t do massive openers which explain a great chunk of the plot, but we had to this time around, as Permissive is a series of events which occur during the life of its’ central character, and this needs more than just ‘a simple country girl becomes a groupie’ to start off with. We have only scratched the surface of Lindsay Shonteff’s film, so grant us the previous indulgence. You are witnessing the odyssey of a girl from naive child to burnt-out, emotionally dead woman, so an extensive plot run-down is needed to release to the following analysis. A bummer, we know!
Permissive starts in jarring and assured fashion, providing a prelude via a montage of images which will make sense as the movie unfolds. This drops you right into oncoming events, combining frank nudity, along with the hustle and bustle of London as the shadow of death looms through the sight of bloodied razorblades. As a heroine, Suzy is certainly a meek and mild one, the butt of many slights against her. When trying out for the attentions of the local rock band, she reluctantly displays her nudity, to be met with the belittling response of ‘If I had tits like yours, I wouldn’t flash ‘em about neither…’. In many ways, including build and hair colour, she is a precursor to Carrie White. She doesn’t even understand the term ‘pulling’!
While there is a great deal to like in Permissive, a movie where the lifestyle depicted is not served with a morality chaser, not most tantalising is that Suzy’s origins. She arrives possessing not only minimal knowledge of the scene or even city she wants to be involved with. Her childlike naivety towards sex might suggest to some that she is either a virgin, but others conjecture that she was sexually abused as a child, and she is soullessly screwing the happening crowd as an outlet for her inner rage. Is she a dumb country girl or a cynical game-player from a safe, middle-class suburb? As much as The Exorcist’s conclusion forced audiences to come away with what they brought in, likewise the coda to every John Carpenter film, Permissive lays the foundation in your mind to create your own prologue, altering your perception of the whole story.
The photography is always interesting, including the fantastic, non-ironic use of ‘yo-yo’ zooms during the musical numbers. This buoys the whole feel of the film, which strives to capture the paradoxical feeling of sexual liberation and the desolation which said freedom can lead to. A man who collects a penny every time camerawork is described as having a ‘documentary feel’ would be a rich one, but Permissive manages that particular style without it seeming pretentious or contrived.
There is an honesty about Permissive which will be most welcome to most who are familiar with the period, and the very same people who have had more than enough of Mike Myers’ rose-tinted parodies of the same era. Where such modern depictions are all squeaky-clean and brightly coloured, Shonteff’s Britain is a grimy place where the bright lights of London only serve to illuminate the filth covering the hallowed gold-paved streets.
The copious sex in the film isn’t necessarily explicit, but there is a rawness which will either arouse or repel, in the same way British hardcore from the 70s continues to do so. Speaking of which, there are instances of characteristic 70s bush for personal delectation, which means that any release in Japan will demand the censors digging out the widest digital blobs they have in their toolboxes.
There is much more going on with Shonteff’s opus than naysayer’s of such films would detect, choosing to shut out subtext in favour of the ‘outrageous’ elements which they seek to decry. One of our favourite tinkering with subtle irony comes during the opening credits, which primarily showcases our heroine as she makes her way to the big city. While this is nicely handled, it is the added cooing of birds which makes it so much richer, apt for a film primarily about the twittering of spiritually bereft groupies.
A perfect example comes during one of the most provocative scenes, where Pogo climbs into the pulpit of a church and delivers a sermon/rant about the ways of the world, with ‘The Man’ clearly the enemy, and the needy being downtrodden/killed by those who wield all the power. Somebody really should tell him that it’s called capitalism, but he is arrested for his political outburst before he can finish spitting the last of his vitriol against the system. The wake of the sexual revolution was the first time that the church’s unquestionable authority was tested by the people, and that Pogo is detained for his expressing his views in a church then released without charge echoes his views that the state is corrupt and its people forced into line under the cosh. All this in a ‘sex -film’, eh?
The sequences of the band on stage are impressively captured, coming across as though the group are playing actual gigs rather than just performing for the camera. As anyone who has suffered through Herschel Gordon Lewis’ Just For The Hell Of It will tell you, it is vitally important to have a band which really can rock if you want to have a cinematic audience commit to the tale unfolding before them. In fact, the music throughout the films feels as though it is from the era, and not mechanically or cynically produced as some kind of pastiche. We extend kudos to the combined work of Forever More, Comus Titus Groan in making Permissive a rockin’ experience.
There have certainly been other movies where actual bands are shoved in front of the camera, with the results varying as wildly as the mood of a bi-polar sufferer. Sure, the Beatles managed it through sheer charm, but one look (and that’s all you need) at Mrs Brown You Have A Lovely Daughter will tell you that his is by no means it is not an exact science. It is to Shutoff’s credit that he keeps them central to the story without thrusting them into the foreground.
Shonteff has always been a somewhat schizophrenic director, not just being a journeyman behind the camera ala Lucio Fulci. Those who have only seen either of his Bond parodies will assume he was best suited to pastiches, or believe that he was only suited to sex-laced action films upon exposure to his Zapper films, but it’s more that Shonteff was all over the place, with a couple of attempts being judged ‘artistic’ achievements. We really didn’t like Big Zapper, with the constant references to Linda Marlowe’s ‘38’s’ leaving us to yell ‘yeah, we get it’ at the screen a few times, but it’s Permissive which showcases his abilities.
Shonteff handles the lesbian sequence with more than just the expected eroticism. While there is the expected trouser-arousal when the brunette seductress reveals her heavily artillery and lays them over her more elfin target, Shonteff uses rapid editing to reveal that she is not actually enjoying the experience, forcing herself to flash images of her previous heterosexual encounters to get through the ‘ordeal’.
The final reveal of Fiona’s naked, bloody form in the bath give you a jolt, in spite of being shown various glimpses of it throughout the film. Unwilling to use such imagery as merely shock value, Shonteff keeps the image as a small part of a reflection in the mirror into which Suzy is casually checking her appearance. By this point, the main character is emotionally dead to the degree that she is completely unfazed by the sight which confronts her, dispassionately marching off with no thought to the fate of the woman who introduced her to the whole scene to which she screwed her way to the top.
Eagle-eyed viewers will also spot that the death of another important character is shown during the opening titles, but will only register subliminally and connect after he is killed. The framing device of showing the dead body of the lead character contrasted against them enjoying the rock and roll lifestyle is one which certainly pre-empts Oliver Stones’ fictional biopic The Doors, to the point where Lindsay Shonteff’s lawyers were probably itching to get in on the act.
The concept of groupies fighting it out among each other is a product of the time Permissive was made, where it wasn’t that the girls were looking to be famous or necessarily enjoying the rock and roll lifestyle, it was more that it was for the status it provided, an extension of the concept of sexual freedom. We’ve been to more than the odd S&M club in our time, and we’ve seen the same thing with transvestite submissives using exceptionally underhanded tactics to usurp others for the favour of Dominatrixes. OK, it’s a bit of an off-the-wall analogy, but the principle (or lack thereof) is the identical.
Permissive is not so much a look at the excesses of the Free Love generation which the title suggests, but of the parasitic entity know as ‘groupies’, and the ruthless infighting which takes place in order to remain top of the heap—or the human pile. Such things have been depicted with frankness in the past, as anyone who has seen the classic Mr Mari’s Girls will attest, but the more realistic edge and sheer uniqueness make Shonteff‘s movie one which can‘t be easily dismissed as merely trash. Not that we have anything against such films—we love them—but this one shouldn‘t be snobbishly ignored or shat upon by more conceited critics.
By this point, you might have noticed that we really dug the movie, and we suggest that you give it whirl yourselves. With the high bar set for audio and visual presentation by BFI Flipside’s other titles, is this the release that rocks the boat? Let’s take a look…
The BFI have done it once again, presenting material which would ordinarily be treated with almost contempt by lesser companies. The 1.33:1 image looks very nice, and perfectly reflects the film as originally shot. Grimy areas of London are accurately rendered in 1080p, with a very healthy level of grain indicative of the stock and lighting used. The colours during the more exuberant sequences contrast perfectly with the sleaze, making them all the more striking when they appear. Bare naked flesh from the pre-tan era of rainy Britain is suitably white, with the restoration work undertaken ridding the picture of unwanted damage. Another peerless presentation from the keepers of the UK’s cinematic flame.
The PCM Mono (48KHz/24-bit) soundtrack is as good as you might hope for, with the BFI doing a commendable clean-up job whilst preserving the purity of the original tracks. Crackles and other audio gremlins have been reduced, and the musical stylings of Forever More, Comus and Titus Groan are faithfully reproduced, keeping the raw edge as recorded. Nice work.
The Trailer: ‘It’s the Happening! It’s here, it’s now! A Psychedelic explosion of sound!’ This is everything you would hope it to be, with the urgent voiceover paradoxically urging you to see it whilst simultaneously condemning what it purveys. The state-of-the-nation charm is all part of the fun, and has enough sexuality and cool tunes in it to get the hipsters in along with those who would watch it as a checklist for the moral decline they read about in the Daily Mail. It’s an effective trailer, and a lot of fun to watch to get you in the mood for a dose of 70s excess.
Bread: What we have here is not exactly supplementary material, in the featurette sense. To paraphrase Lew Grade: ’this isn’t an extra, this is a Goddamn feature!’ Bread tells the tale of a group of young kids who make their way back from the Isle of Wight music festival and suddenly decide that they want to try and put on their own gig to generate masses of the titular slang term.
They blunder their way into the expansive grounds of a stately home, wondering just how communist capitalists like themselves can generate money, and before you can say ‘let’s do the show right here’ (and if anyone does, we’ll personally hunt you down and then kill you very slowly), they are well on their way to producing their own festival. They realise that they need dough of make bread, and we follow the trials, tribulations and mishaps as they try to get money together.
Playing like a prototype of the kind of soft-core sex comedies that producer Stanley Long would churn out during the majority of the seventies, Bread has been seen as a more ‘respectable’ precursor to the Confessions series which spawned them, with Dick Haydon’s ‘Trev’ even sporting a shaggy haircut similar to Robin Askwith’s, and possessing the same uncanny knack of being dragged into bed by nubile crumpet. Indeed, he manages to bag a posh piece of spare in her matrimonial bed whilst her husband is passed next to them! Phwoarrr!
As an avenue of quick financing, the gang decide to make their own porn movie. For research, they pop into a sex-shop and thumb through dirty magazines, much to the anger of the owner. It‘s during this sequence that Bread scores an extra couple of points by deploying a popular term of abuse directed to ‘kids’ at the time, this phrase being: ‘You long-haired git(s)’. It’s in our beloved Psychomania, so it gets the thumbs-up from us for its inclusion here. Keep an eye out for a copy of ‘Health and Efficiency’ on the shelf!
Following on from this, one of the funniest scenes comes when they are shooting said porno, with the expected nerves, pressure to perform and fits of giggles expected in the pre-Viagra era of dirty movies. Our Robin Askwith look-a-like walks in on two girls—starkers—as he tries to look like a filthy-minded foreigner with an insatiable lust. Their disastrous plan is felled when one of the naked girls innocently ask where they intend to get the film developed.
Bread crackles along quite nicely, but begins to fall apart toward the end, most notably when the protagonists commit one act in helping to secure the resources for their concert that would almost certainly lose a modern audience—they steal a lorry loaded with Coca-Cola, which they intend to sell at their gig; if anything, this goes to cement the opinion that many people had (and still have) and hippies—they’re all for peace and love, but if it’s possible to make a quick buck by striking against ‘the man’, then they’re all for it.
There is some suspension of disbelief needed, but this is to do with the economic conditions under which it was filmed. The pre-credits sequence gives us panoramic shots of the masses at the Isle of Wight festival, lending it more production value than they could have ever have afforded. The problems come when they cut to close-up dialogue footage of the group putting the boot into the capitalist nature of the event, where it really doesn’t match the real material they are interspersing it with. In any case, it’s unlikely that they went to the gig with the express purpose of slagging of specific aspects of it. A minor gripe, but others are likely to pick up on it as well.
With Bread being of the same era as Carry On Camping, there comes an interesting convergence between the script of one and reality of the other. In Gerald Thomas’ opus, Sid James, Bernie Breslaw et al are annoyed with the hip musical group playing in the area, and set about sabotaging it. Bread places its protagonists at the Isle of Wight festival and inhabiting the world of popular music, but in this case, there is a lack of interest of—or even an annoyance towards—said scene.
That the tale starts out on the Isle of Wight as its characters make their way back from the legendary concert is of interest, as one of us lives on that particular rock. Those familiar with Ryde will notice that the damn place has hardly changed in the last forty years, and will merely fuel any number of jokes about the island being a number of decades behind the times.
The one real gripe we have is that when the finale rolls around sees the festival go ahead, it consists of too much footage of a couple of groups playing before the whole thing fizzles out far too quickly to be satisfying, but you could also argue this with the Place Hotel Ballroom gig at the climax of The Blues Brothers. ’One old guy singing, two songs and one long instrumental? I want my money back!’
Filled with much full-frontal female nudity, not to mention a surprising amount of uses of the ‘f’-word for the time, Bread is a fairly breezy and light-hearted romp that manages to entertain despite the gossamer-thin storyline. It’s filled with engaging performances from the entire cast, along with one or two witty attempts at satire as far as the state of the UK music biz at the time was concerned. You get this as an extra? We’re being damn-well spoiled!
The image quality of Bread is on a par with—and possibly eclipsing—the main feature, sporting an excellent 1.33:1 transfer bristling with detail but with an intentionally stronger pallet than Permissive. Pasty-white naked flesh contrast sharply with healthy areolas, with lovely greens of hippie pastures taking the top prize. Blacks are strong, and there couldn’t possibly be any complaints from even the most ardent transfer-junkies. The PCM Mono (48KHz/24-bit) audio is just as pleasing, with some rather cool songs nicely balanced alongside the rest of the soundtrack and unhampered by anything in the way of sonic gremlins.
Bread Mute Outtakes: Stanley Long recut the movie (this was even after drastically butchering it shortly after release) to make it more orientated towards the music, re-titling it ‘Festival’. Oddly, this version didn’t make it to the marketplace, so was somewhat pointless. The knock-on effect is that we are presented with the longest version available, even though the large chunks are missing. Sure missing clips are presented here, but the audio has been lost, hence the reason for not being restored to the film itself. Clocking in at a generous quarter of an hour, it is quality stuff, but consigned to the vaults to make a faster-paced movie geared towards a different kind of viewer than originally intended.
‘Ave You Got A Male Assistant Please Miss’: Now this is an odd little inclusion, being a five minute short firmly entrenched in 70s morality. This is essentially a public information film urging the use of contraception among happy, sexually liberated couples. ‘Voice-of-God’ narration interrupts the carnal relations to two hairy individuals, as the shaggy male heeds the advice of our man with the facts and figures about pregnancy and rushes off to buy a pack of jiffies. After purchasing them from a chemist even hairier than he is, he rushes back to sink the pink with his rather cute girl. The moral of this story? Buy a pack of baby-stoppers well in advance of any carnal couplings you might be planning. ‘There’s no need to make an abortion of it!’ - brilliant! A very welcome addition.
Finally, we get another of BFI Flipside’s books included, covering every conceivable aspect of both Permissive and Bread. Beautifully illustrated, thoughtfully written and sporting the original, salacious UK poster (included the hallowed ‘X’ certificate, it is, once again, a superb supplement to an excellent package.
Well, here we are once again, praising yet another BFI Flipside Blu-ray release to the rafters. Permissive is a really enjoyable film which offers something for everyone. Giddy thrills, great music, fetching nudity, and a look into the darker side of girls out to get an easy ride to the good life and the slide down when the scene tires of them. It’s utterly mad that you also get the ridiculously entertaining Bread as an extra! The transfers of both are excellent and are perfect examples of a company who take great care when committing their films to Blu Ray.
We can’t recommend this one highly enough. If you keep buying them, BFI Flipside will endeavour to bring out more of them for our collective viewing pleasure. Superb.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Wilson Bros
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 25th January 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: PCM Mono English
Extras: Trailer, Bread (1971), Bread Mute Outtakes, 'Ave You Got a Male Assistant Please Miss?", Booklet.
Easter Egg: No
Director: Lindsay Shonteff
Cast: Maggie Stride, Gay Singleton, Gilbert Wynne, Forever More.
Length: 90 minutes
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