Tuesday, 16 July 2013

How to Get It

Before wholly becoming leery seaside crassness as in 'On the Buses', permissive populism could be found early back in what was lauded as Britian's first radical film wave, the Postwar British Noir. A major component of Postwar British Noir was the 'angry young man' film, ranging from straightforward bleak drama (A Kind of Loving, 1962), to bleak fantasy (Billy Liar, 1962), to bleak bleak bleak (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, 1962). However when looked at more closely and considered with permissive populism, the content can be much more retrograde than first appears.

Take A Kind of Loving, which appears to fit the idea very well. Alan Bates' Vic is a young working class draughtsman, who falls in love, or believes himself to, with June Ritchie's Ingrid, a typist at the same factory. Vic's only concern is to sleep with Ingrid, and over the course of the film he pressures and coerces her until she finally does so, with long term disastrous consequences. What appears to be a clear motivator for Vic is the image rather than substance of Ingrid: he tunes out when she talks to him, ignores her, generally acts callously. A cheap and nasty pornographic mag reappears through the film, Vic coveting the flat images within. The theme echoes a scene in 'Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner' in which the family is instantly consumed with the adverts on their newly plugged in television set, image replacing reality. The film is ambivalent towards permissive populism; casual sex is the destruction of Vic and Ingrid, leaving them both permanently damaged. The film, earning it's angry credentials, also identifies the traditionalism of Vic's working class family as poisonous, pressuring him to maintain a loveless and destructive relationship. There is also an interesting strand with Ingrid's mother, Thora Hird's Mrs Rothwell, a proto-Thatcher, who puts the blame for society's ills squarely on miners and other workers asking for and receiving too high wages.

The angry young man genre had a brief life, though echoes could be found until the late 1960s. The transition of social realism to sexploitation is really marked by a small film set in Stevenage, big at the time but forgotten now: Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1967). Listed to compete at Canne, a soundtrack by the Spencer Davies Group and Traffic, and an opening night attended by literally everybody in Swinging London, it was a true zeitgeist experience. Here the angry young man transitions into the randy young lad, a sort of Jay from the Inbetweeners a few decades ahead of time. The film's a curious clash of psychadelic Sixtiesploitation (the screen goes a funny colour and the camera wobbles), vaguely recognisable social commentary (Barry Evans' Jamie McGregor and family are working class, there's some rich people, his mum reads big books, there's some striking shots of concrete modernist Stevenage that make it look interesting and European), and not-even-really softcore sex.

The film carries over trace elements of the angry young men genre, Jamie's long monologues about his grievances are very much of the type. Permissive populism is invoked here as Jamie's grievances are mostly that women aren't having sex with him. Jamie's gaze wanders over shop assistants, housewives, church volunteers, strangers in gambling dens (yes, in Stevenage), hippy types holding a happening in a furniture shop (yes, yes, in Stevenage). The whole film is very reminiscent of the softcore British films on the horizon. “I'm capable, I'm capable anywhere!” croaks future Bond girl Angelar Scoular. Not only is Jamie not having sex, everybody else he meets is (Denholm Elliot, of a sex-crazy upper class family, pursuing a yodelling Swedish au pair, comes to mind). It is only once within hippy permissiveness that Jamie can find any satisfaction.

The appeal is for those who can't partake in swinging London or sixties-style swinging due to geographical and class circumstances. The idealistic view of the film is of a coming utopia where sex is completely casual, prevented from developing into anything more sinister by the peace/love elements that seem to keep the worst tendencies here in check. As would become apparent however over the years, the permissive culture would become another item on Mrs Rothwell's list of ailments bringing the country down from greatness. The sourness and sexism that partly animates Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush would become a full dystopia by the time of the mid 1970s.

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