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Her Private Hell

Review by: 
Black Gloves
Release Date: 
1967
Studio: 
BFI
Genre: 
Exploitation
Format: 
Blu-ray
Region: 
All
Aspect Ratio: 
1.33:1
Directed by: 
Norman J Warren
Cast: 
Lucia Modunio
Terry Skelton
Pearl Catlin
Daniel Ollier
Jeanette Wild
Movie: 
4
Extras: 
5
Bottom Line: 
4
Video: 
Click to Play

 Although Britain during the 1960s saw the development of new trends in consumerism, the rise of youth culture, and more inventive marketing and advertising combine with an explosion of talent and innovation that spread right across the arts and touched everything from music, fashion, painting and British design to place London at the very epicentre of an international revolution in pop culture, British cinema remained subject to a harsh censorship regime grounded in exactly the sort of snobbery mixed with prudery that the so-called ‘Swinging Sixties’ were supposed to have  abolished. British films were still prohibited from overt displays of nudity at the beginning of the decade, although there was a double standard often employed for artier foreign films, which were sometimes thought to be more artistically worthy and so not as likely to appeal to the ordinary masses. Side by side with the strip clubs which came to proliferate around Soho during this period, private members’ cinema clubs also sprang up as a means of evading these class-based strictures on sexual display then being enforced by John Trevelyan and the BBFC. These establishments were able to screen the much racier continental ‘arthouse’ films for their select paying clientele without a certificate (alongside the titillating naturist ‘documentaries’ that mark out the era, which provided the only other way for naked female flesh to find its way on to British cinema screens). By the end of the sixties, of course, even mainstream films and some renowned directors, whose credentials couldn’t so easily be denigrated, were often pushing at the boundaries of acceptability -- the process had already started, arguably, by 1958 when the BBFC used the ‘artistic merit’ card to pass Jack Clayton’s “Room At The Top”, although it didn’t come fast enough to save Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom” from general opprobrium --  and because the old distinctions between what was merely exploitation and what constituted art were by then in something of a state of flux, it eventually became impossible for Trevelyan and his successors to maintain the same standards of ‘decency’ as those which they had once successfully enforced at the beginning of the decade.

The main feature on the BFI’s latest release in its ‘Flipside’ strand, which aims to resurrect the obscure, the weird and the forgotten from the vaults of British cinema, is a film widely touted as being Britain’s first narrative sex film – or at least that’s how it was sold and consumed in 1967 by the legions who apparently cued to see it at the time. There had, of course, been a small industry in minor exploitation films before this, most of them unbelievably coy by today’s standards. “Her Private Hell” differs from many of these in that its director, the twenty-five-year-old Norman J Warren, was clearly more interested in exploiting the sub-genre of sexploitation itself, mainly as a means of establishing himself as a worthy director rather than for providing the requisite thrills of the genre for cinema audiences. 

Establish Warren the film certainly did, since the young director’s name was prominently displayed on the accompanying poster. Most people who are aware of the name Norman J. Warren today will no doubt remember him most for a series of memorably gory, low-budget British horror films, largely made in the 1970s; titles such as “Satan’s Slave”, “Terror” and “Inseminoid” were part of a new wave of independent horror which emerged as a response to the failure of British stalwarts Hammer Films and Amicus to pick up on the challenge posed by films like “The Exorcist” and the other, much more extreme fare then emerging from across the pond.  Although Warren had worked in and around the film industry from a young age, doing every job going from tea boy for producers Anatole Dimitri de Grunwald, to acting as a runner on the 1960 Peter Sellers and Sofia Loren film “The Millionairess”, his only other directorial credit before this was for a self-financed ten minute arthouse short called “Fragment” (also featured on this disc) which was clearly aiming to be seen as a serious piece of moody filmmaking inspired by the French New Wave, and perhaps with a nod at Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” to it as well. It brought him to the attention of independent producer and distributor Bachoo Sen, though, who duly gave the aspiring director the chance to make his first full length feature film, even if it was to be a mere sexploitation venture. Although Warren dutifully supplied the copious topless footage (full frontal was still completely out of the question at this stage) of stars Lucia Modunio and Jeanette  Wild for “Her Private Hell”, most of the nudity was in the end still cut out of the British release print by the BBFC (an extra six minutes of it did sneak into the U.S. print, despite that version of the film running at least twenty minutes shorter than its British counterpart overall), meaning, ironically enough, that few viewers who watch the film today would even register its status as a sex film at all, the skin quotient is so light.

Luckily though, Warren enthusiastically set about the making of the film with exactly the same meticulous intent as was previously evinced in “Fragment”, producing a classy, polished piece of work that was still infused with the style and sophistication of contemporary foreign cinema despite its lowly pedigree. Seen today “Her Private Hell” emerges as an interesting time capsule that stands up rather well as a piece of sleek, stylish ‘60s low budget cinema, sometimes clumsy in its execution, true (Warren was learning on the job and often found he’d made basic errors such as misaligning eye-lines, making the film tough to edit later!), thanks to the requirement that the whole shoot be completed in a mere two weeks. And it's occasionally gauche in its often innocent attitudes, which might be more accurately attributed to screenwriter Glynn Christian (better known to British viewers as a 1980s cookery expert from breakfast TV); but often attractively and imaginatively staged by the young director, nonetheless. It’s a film which reveals a deep unease and yet a fascination with the mores and fashions and surface gloss that attended the London of the mid-‘60s. Unlike his contemporary, Pete Walker (another indie filmmaker who started in sexploitation then moved into horror), whose first feature, the bluntly titled “I like Birds”, was released in the same year as this, Warren’s film displays an awareness of the down side of the perceived permissiveness that characterised emerging social attitudes attached to a newly sexualised, marketable ideal that was being expressed in the lauded new icons of the age: the modish rock stars, the elfin fashion models and the trend-setting snappers who often contributed to making them famous.

Walker’s early films lasciviously celebrated the freedoms of the ‘60s but also railed against the establishment which condemned youth culture, while often at the same time exploiting its capacity for sexual licence (the Profumo Affair was a key factor in determining the stance of Walker’s very British sex films). “Her Private Hell” is a little more circumspect about endorsing the independence offered by the alluring 1960s milieu of fashionable boutiques, chic nightspots and restaurants, and the whole media glitz of the London scene with its dolly birds and glamorous photo shoots etc., but crucially not out of any obvious desire to be censorious about it, and not because that independence is assumed to be necessarily a bad thing; but more so because, or so the film posits at least, the whole deal might be one giant mirage, at least for women.

Unusually (but not surprisingly once you’ve seen the two shorts that Warren made previous to this and which are also on the disc) “Her Private Hell” is wholly sympathetic to its female protagonist’s plight. She’s not someone who has to be seen to be punished at the end merely for having committed the ‘sin’ of taking her top off for some ‘glamour’ shots, as is so often the case in exploitation films of a ‘cautionary’ bent that insist on having it both ways; she’s someone who is in fact betrayed by a corrupt industry that turns out to be a glossy, pop art front for some rather dodgy business shenanigans at a dubious, sneakily exploitative modelling agency. The film posits corruption, exploitation and perversion might be what truly  lies behind the alluring image of permissiveness promoted so brightly by this modern new culture; the sixties woman is offered the false dawn of affluence and independence but it’s really all a ruse to keep her in exactly the same state of dependency -- emotional and financial -- as before.

It might be pushing it a bit to claim the film as an unambiguous feminist text (especially when you see all those mightily unflattering jiggling nude shots of Jeanette Wild that were cut out of the Brit version) but Warren wouldn’t be the last person to endorse an assertion that the sixties’ claim to sexual freedom might not be all it was cracked up to be from the point of view of women. It’s also surely not a coincidence that the focus of the film’s narrative revolves around a modelling agency -- the principle maker and seller of images associated with the lifestyle of the Swinging phenomena, as well as provider of many of its role models, at the head of the table being the hot young hipster photographer. Michelangelo Antonioni obviously came to the same conclusions when he travelled to swinging London to shoot “Blow Up” the year previous to this film’s release. Taking rather a more rarefied and existential approach to the same subject matter, the Italian master nevertheless became fascinated with the phenomena of the cool, young, affluent ‘rock star’ photographer, even circulating a questionnaire (to help him research the film) that included a detailed set of inquiries about the lifestyle of people such as David Bailey, asking them, for instance, such questions as did they drive their own Rolls Royce, or employ someone to drive it for them?!

We might just as well be in the exquisitely shot, perfectly aligned, geometric black and white world of Antonioni’s sixties Italian films at the start of “Her Private Hell”, at least after we’ve negotiated the charcoal-grey, tastefully posed, still life art-nude shots of the opening titles:  the representative, Sally (Mary Land), of an apparently of-the-moment modelling agency is seen arriving at a London airport to pick up aspiring young Italian model Marisa (Lucia Modunio). Warren lets his nouvelle vague inclinations run riot just in this simple sequence, implementing a dynamic aesthetic that makes use of over-the-shoulder shots of the representative seen from behind in the passenger seat of her chauffeur driven car, with Godard-like jump-cuts creating a sense of jagged movement and disruptive flow as we approach the imposing airport building. Inside the chic reception area Warren switches to hand-held camera work as we follow the young representative in her search for Marisa among the throngs crowding the baggage area. The inventiveness, just in these opening seconds, takes us far beyond the normal static point-and-shoot set-ups of most sexploitation fare. Marisa is transported back to the agency’s trendy studio where she is introduced to the austere and remote head of the business, Neville (Robert Crewdson) and his second in command, the icily assured Margaret (Pearl Catlin). After a test session which ends up with Marisa having to strip so as to have her body ‘inspected’ for suitability by Neville, Margaret and the agency’s chief photographer Bernie (Terry Skelton) and his mop-haired young assistant Matt (Daniel Ollier), we cut to Margaret spelling out the terms of the contract the dubious Marisa will be required to sign. The agency is rather possessive about its ‘talent’ and wants to keep Marisa away from any of its competitors, insisting that she live on-site with photographer Bernie in his specially prepared all mod cons flat. Marisa is rather more wary about just what sort of photographs Neville has in mind for her though; but, waving the unsigned contract impatiently in front of her, Margaret reminds the young woman that, somewhat implausibly: ‘We’re offering you the chance to be a top model; within a few months your face could be on the front cover of every magazine in the country!’

Transported to some remote region of the English countryside that’s clearly a world away from the centre of the swinging scene she’d originally come to experience, Marisa finds herself exploring a somewhat derelict, rundown mansion that looks more like something out of “Satan’s Slave”, Warren’s attempt to update the Hammer formula, made in 1971. Indeed, the two films seem rather similar in outline at this stage, both featuring naive young beautiful women lured to a remote spot through obscure machinations and schemes that represent patriarchal control. In this case, though, rather than Satanic plots, Marisa finds a suite of rooms in the centre of the otherwise crumbling, cobwebby mansion, all decked out in the latest chic modernist design, with sliding doors and remote controlled descending arc lights operated from a device the size of a brick. There’s even a TV hidden behind a painting, and despite the spare space-age minimalist design of the place, the décor combines wall-length pop art with an Art Nouveau taste for decorative ornaments and bric-a-brac, an Edwardian-era telephone sitting happily side by side with the modish new stereo system that is to regularly blast out Patrick John Scott’s breezy contemporary jazz/pop score at frequent points throughout the rest of the film. The place screams mid-sixties chic to such an extent that one half expects John Steed or Emma Peel to come sauntering into shot at any moment.

Marisa is immediately charmed by the attractiveness of these surroundings and soon falls into bed with her photographer benefactor, only to discover that she’s just one of his many aspiring model conquests. One of the others, the haughty, sexually manipulative Paula (Jeanette Wild) is not giving up her hard-won place in this fashionable suite of luxury ‘60s opulence without a fight. But there’s soon to be another rivalry, this time for Marisa’s affections, between the agency’s photographer top dog Bernie (who’s allowed the flat and the pick of the agency models to share his bed) and the young, ambitious photographers’ assistant Matt, whose Brian Jones looks are soon proving a temptation for Marisa, especially after Matt assures her that she’s too good for the tired has-been formula being executed under Bernie’s tutelage. Matt’s previously won a top photography award, and wants to develop ‘an entirely new style of photography’ with Marisa as his muse. This brand new style turns out to mostly involve driving out to the countryside in Bernie’s sleek sports car and Marisa posing with a giant cuddly panda bear, before cavorting in a woodland clearing clad only in a transparent shroud.

Nevertheless the ensuing competition for Marisa between Bernie, Matt and the agency as fronted by Margaret and Neville -- the latter two coming across like perfect textbook exemplars of Avengers-style  villainy (indeed, Pearl Catlin had previously appeared in a Cathy Gale episode of the series) --  eventually leads to the central conundrum that makes up the ‘private hell’ referred to in the film’s title: during her various fallings in and out of bed with first Bernie then Matt, certain risqué photos of Marisa in the buff have been taken which have now turned up in a continental porn mag. Who is really responsible for this potentially career-and-reputation-ruining outrage becomes the focus of what passes for a plot in the remainder of the film. Is Bernie taking revenge for Marisa switching allegiance to his rival? Or were Matt’s intentions always dishonourable to start with? Or is there an even more sinister plan afoot with Margaret and Neville at its core?

This plot device, of course, seems rather quaint and old-fashioned in our own cynical era of Lads’ mags and NUTS magazine photo shoots, but a modern version of the scenario might still perhaps be possible today and would probably involve, for instance, an actress’s private camera phone photos (or a private sex tape) being leaked onto the internet. Even so, one can’t imagine anyone’s career actually being put in jeopardy over such a matter in this day and age. Part of the fun of the movie for a modern audience involves the fact that, while aiming to appear ‘with it’ and ‘groovy’ by focusing on the trappings of ‘60s modernity and highlighting the swinging lifestyle of madcap parties and ‘happenings’ and zany photo shoots (which is where much of the minor nudity gets shoehorned in), the film becomes a perfect chronicle of a bygone era. As Josephine Botting mentions in her short essay/review of the film in the disc’s accompanying booklet, Glynn Christian’s screenplay uses the allure of the lifestyle represented by the showcasing of modish interior décor, high fashion and the promise of fame and fortune, to isolate it’s female protagonist – a stranger adrift in a foreign culture  -- and rendering her childlike and at the beck and call of a conspiracy of males who wish to shape her to their requirements using the enticing promise of a lifestyle which is in fact merely a construct of powerful business interests.

The film sags a bit as it tries to pad out its flimsy plot with endless groovy party sequences that drone on a little too long, and interminable photo shoots, with the French actor Daniel Ollier striking his most ridiculous David Bailey poses (the actor had to be re-voiced because his French accent rendered his dialogue indecipherable) can be equally grating. Ollier never appeared in any other film, but the rest of the cast is the usual hodgepodge of minor film stars and people who went on to eke out their short lived acting careers with bit parts in British television during the ‘70s. Lucia Modunio can also be spotted in Mario Bava’s “Diabolik” and “The Girl Who Knew Too Much” if you’re eagle-eyed enough, as well as in films by Sergio Corbucci and a not very well-known Lucio Fulci flick from the early sixties. She’s perhaps slightly miscast here as a naive young waif seduced by sex and ‘60s glamour, as she’s neither young nor a waif, and you always feel like she looks experienced enough to have seen through the dodgy ruse that she’s being sucked into a lot sooner than she does. The film’s most lasting associations were perhaps forged by Norman J. Warren himself: cinematographer Peter Jessop would go on to photograph all of Warren’s best known horrors while camera operator Les Young produced the director’s best films “Satan Slave” and “Terror”. Even focus puller Hayden Pearce swapped jobs and became art director and production designer on all Warren’s subsequent movies.

The film appears here in a HD transfer culled from the best available 35 mm source held at the BFI National Archive. The transfer is excellent, with lots of detail and fine levels of contrast evident throughout. But the original materials have not weathered the test of time too well, and the film contains frequent audio drop outs and missing frames. The BFI team has filled a handful of small gaps with non HD materials sourced from the US distributor Something Weird, although these replacements are very short in length and don’t stand out too much. There are also lots of scratches on the print, but so rare is this film that there seems little possibility of it looking any better than it does here and one can only marvel that such a once poorly regarded example of low budget British exploitation is getting this kind of lavish treatment at all. The BFI release comes with a free DVD copy in the now standard double-play package. 

Norman J. Warren, Glynn Christian and stars Pearl Catlin and Jeanette Wild speak of their fond memories of the period after seeing the film again for the first time in forty-four years at a special BFI screening organised for a fifteen minute featurette included here, and produced by National Archive curator Josephine Botting. The six minutes of nude footage cut out of the British version is included as an extra and mainly consists of Jeanette Wild cavorting topless on a rug. There’s also 16 mm silent footage from the screen test that the twenty-five -year-old Udo Keir shot when he was up for the role of Matt, and part of Jeanette Wild’s screen test as well.

Alongside the main feature two of Norman J. Warren’s earliest short films have been included and quickly prove them-selves to be just as interesting as the sexploitation classic. “Incident” takes us right back to Warren’s earliest beginnings as an independent film director. In fact it’s one of his very earliest finished amateur projects, shot on 16 mm film with the help of childhood friend and aspiring cameraman Brian Tufano – a man whose subsequent career as a cinematographer has seen him go on to become one of the most renowned professionals in the business. After starting at the BBC as a camera operator Tufano graduated to working in the film industry and on such internationally successful British film projects as “Billy Elliot” and Danny Boyle’s “Shallow Grave”; the beginnings of that talent can already be seen here in his teenage collaboration with Warren: “Incident” is a 13 minute short, conceived as a means of experimenting with a new grade of especially fast 16 mm film stock which had just come out at the time and which made shooting at night an achievable possibility. In 1959, the two set out for Battersea Pleasure Gardens where a large funfair that had first been opened up for business as part of the celebrations surrounding the 1951 Festival of Britain Exhibition (an attempt by the Labour Atlee administration to promote a sense of post-war recovery in austerity Britain by evoking the memory of The Great Exhibition of the mid-1800s) was still operating on the site. Rather than make a documentary feature along the lines of ‘a night at the funfair’ etc., Warren came up with a simple story to accompany the night-time imagery he and Tufano expected to shoot, which can now be seen as perhaps the first iteration of the common theme that can be traced throughout Norman J Warren’s genre work, in which the dreams of youthful womanhood are often seen thwarted by masculine perfidy of varying hues and shades. He and Tufano cast a non-actress, Carol Isted, who lived in the same street as Brian, to play the female role, and another non-actor, a man called Bob Mallon, who was introduced to them by a mutual friend and got the part because he owned a smart Italian suit, rode a Vespa scooter and sported a trendy Perry Como haircut, to play the bequiffed ‘mod’ who messes up a night out with his date by getting a bit too fresh. The foursome visited the fairground several nights a week, managed to get permission to take their equipment on the rides so long as they were willing to accept responsibility for any injury or damage that might result (one can’t imagine this being allowed these days!), and Warren edited the subsequent footage in his bedroom.

At the time, that’s where the project rested. Neither Warren nor Tufano had access to enough money to take the film to the post production stage and, as their developing careers took wildly divergent directions, both men fell out of touch until 2006 when they briefly came into contact once again. During the course of reminiscing about their boyhood film projects, they hit on the idea of completing the little film they had first started all those years ago in 1959.  Young composer Matt Davison, then of the National Film and Television School, contributed a brand new score, and with the enthusiastic help of various laboratories and post production facilities, the duo made good on their original decades old project.

The film comes across as surprisingly proficient for such a youthful enterprise, and the slight sense of disassociation that comes about as a result of the contrast between the contemporary sound quality of the score and its being attached to images that clearly belong to another time completely -- that of late’50s London – gives the whole thing a regretful wistfulness that goes beyond that which was originally intended by the two aspiring filmmakers back when they first started out on the project. The film begins with a wonderful, vertiginous shot from above that then descends in an arc to zero in on the female protagonist, and immediately there’s a sense of unexpected richness to the imagery since it feels like we’re being subjected to some sort of amazing crane shot like something Orson Welles might have conceived for the opening of “Touch of Evil” – something surely way out of the reach of two amateur cineastes with a 16 mm camera … until you realise that, actually, Tufano is merely sitting on the Big Wheel with his camera equipment, shooting the action below as the ride revolves!

This is just one example of the inventiveness which characterises Warren’s approach as a director, using the rides and attractions such as the Waltzers and the Dodgems to create dynamic shots which embody both the characters’ direct experience of the fairground in hand-held POVs, but also convey some internal truth behind the emotional excitement and giddiness of the date itself. The budding director proves extremely adept at coming up with striking shots, one of the most notable being found in a sequence which takes advantage of a lighted fountain at night to create a romantic silhouetted image of the two, backlit against the cascading waters. The excitable atmosphere and razzmatazz of the neon-lit fairground at night is superbly evoked and then wonderfully contrasted with the girl’s return the next morning; in the pale daylight, the same site feels decidedly less glamorous (there’s nothing quite so disheartening as a deserted, litter-strewn British fairground in the daytime). With its subtle, tender, simple storyline evinced so beautifully without any recourse to dialogue, and its coolly rendered study of ambiguous, conflicting emotions, “Incident” is a worthy showcase that displays the aspiring young director’s early cinematic ambitions with aplomb, and is well worth the forty year wait for its completion.

Next up we’re treated to the short film that really started it all for Warren as a director, earning him the chance to helm “Her Private Hell” after Richard Schulman and producer Bachoo Sen bumped into the young filmmaker during a screening he’d arranged at Schulman’s independent cinema in South Kensington. Once again, this assured ten minute short makes an immediate impression with its subdued but striking performances and icy cool black and white cinematography. Even here, Warren’s knack for finding raw industry talent and showcasing it to its best advantage at an early stage is clearly in evidence: cinematographer Peter Biziou later worked on films such as “Bugsy Malone” and “The Truman Show” while co-producer and on-screen actor Michael Craze was soon to find nationwide fame as companion Ben Jackson alongside Patrick Troughton and Anneke Wills in “Doctor Who”. Craze was a veteran of a previous failed attempt by Warren to produce a short film, starring alongside a pre-disc jockey Alan Freeman and actress Georgina Hale in an unfinished piece called “Carole”.

“Fragment” benefits greatly from the addition of a professional score, composed by John Scott (the same man as the Patrick John Scott of “Her Private Hell”) and performed by his Johnny Scott Quintet, written for the film for free after Warren met the jazz player and composer while working on the making of a commercial for British Petroleum during his day job as a staff editor. Scott had written the music for the commercial, and offered his services as a favour when Warren happened to mention that he was making his own independent short film on the side. Despite once again not having the advantages of dialogue, the film is a perfect piece of subtle storytelling which conveys everything it needs to in just the facial expressions of Maureen Roche, who plays the central character, and in the texture of the locations she’s seen in. The film starts like a psychologically stark Ingmar Bergman portrait, alternating a bleak and snowy wintertime view of the Thames with tight close-ups on the face of a woman (Roche) who stands on a bridge in the sleet gazing out over the blackened waters. The film feels like it comes full circle in its brief ten minute span; but that’s because it slides into a flashback that’s so subtle you don’t even notice it the first time you see the piece. Roche, who never appeared in anything else besides this short, plays a woman who seems isolated, alone and adrift but who then finds some kind of solace in a brief love affair which starts by accident after a random meeting in the street with a man played by Simon Brent. The two go for a drink in a pub, take a rowing trip across a lake, indulge in the sort of flirty chase through sparse woodland that’s also later seen in “Her Private Hell” and have a romantic interlude at the man’s flat just as heavily posed and stylised as the sexual encounters pictured in the sexploitation film Warren was soon to shoot afterwards -- which seems to suggest that it was a formally stylised approach he favoured quite apart from the BBFC’s requirement that bed scenes could not feature any movement.

The film subtly matches weather conditions to emotional mood, switching from a bleak, snowbound bridge location seen in a blizzard during the protagonist’s lonely vigil, to thawing London streets that feature only patches of melting ice when her love affair seems to be proceeding well, and bright sunny countryside images when it’s at its peak; but then things revert to the more moody, wintery shots again when it all goes tragically wrong. Even the extreme close-ups at the start of the film, which highlight the driving sleet settling on the woman’s eyelashes, are matched by equivalent shots later in the film of the male lover kissing her eyes, adding resonance when we realise that the woman is thinking back to these happier times before her hopes were dashed. There are moments here, particularly when a dazed, fragile-looking Roche is seen wandering in London streets at night to the accompaniment of a atonal jazz score, in which the film’s style and monochrome imagery evoke the unhinged atmosphere of Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion”; Warren probably never got to make another film as emotionally truthful and poetic as this one, especially once he’d turned his hand to more direct genre pieces in the thrall of the horror genre rather than the French New Wave, but it remains a minor highlight of his filmography and fits in perfectly here.

Also included is a piece of contextualising material in the form of a 30 minute documentary from 1971 produced by Walter Shenson – also the producer of the Beatles’ film “A Hard Day’s Night”. “Anatomy of a Pin-Up” is a day-in-the-life piece for Penthouse Magazine, showcasing Bob Guccione at work, interviewing some of the young women tempted to shed their clothes for £250 a pop and conducting vox pops with members of the public as to their attitudes towards nude pin-ups and the girls who appear in them . Also participating are journalist Lynn Barber (at the time a writer for Penthouse but these days better known as the author of the memoir which became the Carey Mulligan starring film “An Education”), and pink-encrusted romantic novelist Barbara Cartland, who appears as a staid (but very pink) representative of conservative values, for balance. Remarkably, this cheerleading parade of tits and bums got to play alongside Alfred Hitchcock’s “Frenzy” in 1972! But besides the numerous slow motion shots of buck naked twenty-something would-be models sprinting through London parks in the buff, there are some revealing moments perhaps inadvertently put forward by the producers. The vox pops interviews are a hoot and reveal that Dick Emery’s comical parade of eccentrics were apparently in no way exaggerations of the kind of bizarrely attired individuals you were likely to meet on an average London Street in 1971!  The girls themselves all seem to be women from average backgrounds, who feel like they have no hope of escaping their routine provincial lives other than by shedding their clothes for what in those days seemed like a lot of money. There is some footage from a Woman’s Lib march which reveals an ideological split, that probably still exists today, between those who find the whole thing exploitative and those who see it as a way of females achieving independence and taking control of their sexuality. Probably the most off-putting aspect of the whole film though is not the frequent nudity of the young women hoping to make it big, but the bulging midriffs, flowery cravats and over-coiffured hairstyles of the decidedly middle-aged 1970s photographers and art directors pictured overseeing the industry from behind the scenes.

As usual this snapshot collection of fashionable ‘60s exploitation comes with an excellent glossy booklet packed with great pieces, including Josephine Botting’s pert analysis of “Her Private Hell”; screenwriter David McGillivray’s memories of attending the premier of the film and his first meeting with Norman J Warren; Adrian Smith’s piece on the censorship history of the film; and a translated extract from Lucia Modugno’s published autobiography, in which she discusses coming to Isleworth to make what was then her first English-speaking film and her (unsuccessful) attempts to escape having to do any nude scenes for it. There’s a biography of Warren, a piece by the director himself on his short film “Incident” and a few paragraphs by Sam Dunn, head of BFI video, on “Fragment”. Director David Cohen recalls the making of “Anatomy of a Pin-Up”; Lynn Barber remembers the era during which she worked for Penthouse as an in-house journalist; and non-fiction curator at the BFI Katy McGahan casts a critical eye over this aged documentary and considers what it tells us about the sexual politics of its time, and ours.

A more thorough, comprehensive collection of related materials it’s difficult to image; as usual, the BFI have gone to great lengths to make the disc’s extra features stand up as a complete package that places the film and the career of the director in their proper overall cultural and social context. It’s one of the best Flipside releases so far, and bound to find a favoured place with fans of Warren alongside their prized coffin-shaped horror boxed sets from a few years back! Highly recommended.

Read More from Black Gloves at the blog Nothing But The Night!

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