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DVD Review: Permissive (1970)

Permissive

When the British Film Institute was formed back in 1933, I suspect it wasn't for the preservation of movies like Permissive. But here it is, courtesy of the Flipside offshoot - and I, for one, am glad it is.

Let's keep a tight reign on expectations here though - Permissive is a low budget movie (just £20,000 to film), it has acting that's often amateur at best and the plot is as thin as tracing paper. So why is this groupie flick worth your heard earned cash? Well....

Permissive2

Essentially because Permissive captures a mood and an era and despite its exploitation undertones, it doesn't glorify and sensationalise the scene - in fact, you could say it's the complete opposite.

In a (just) post-Swinging London, Suzy (Maggie Stride) has landed with just a duffle coat and rucksack for company. She seeks out her old schoolfriend Fiona (the amusingly-named and very attractive Gay Singleton), who is a groupie with the (real) band Forever More. Fiona (who is a permanent fixture on the arm of lead singer Lee (Alan Gorrie) takes Suzie under her wing, but the band aren't quite so keen - throwing her out when they leave London for a short tour. Forced to live rough, she hooks up with the Nick Drake-like Pogo (Robin Daubigny), making a living from busking, sleeping amongst the rubble of the capital by night.

But when Pogo is knocked down and killed, Suzy is forced to seek out Fiona again, this time carving out a niche with the band - working her way through the members (so to speak) and the manager - before picking up the main prize of Lee - and ousting Fiona from 'queen of the groupies' at the same time.

See, told you there wasn't much plot. But what it lacks in story, it makes up for as a viewing experience. Music-wise, you get to see two real bands in all their hairy glory - the previously-mentioned Forever More and cult prog rockers Titus Groan. Not only that, the incidental music/score is by uber-hip acid folkies Comus - probably reason enough for some to buy it. Comus even appear in the movie as 'hangers-on' after a gig, but sadly don't play tunes on-screen.

But it's the realism of Permissive that's the selling point. Yes, there is some titillation in there, but if you're buying the movie for that, you'll be very disappointed. Instead, director Lindsay Shonteff captures a dull and downbeat scene, far removed from the rockers and groupies tales of rock 'n' roll folklore. The women constantly hang around looking bored and disinterested in the music, the musicians are equally bored in the hotel rooms and Transit van. Not even the swinging capital can liven things up - unless the sight of begging on the Underground, crumbling buildings and anonymous hotels floats your boat.

It paints a picture that's likely to be far nearer the 'real' rock scene of late 60s Britain than all the notorious tales of excess from the likes of The Who and The Rolling Stones. If that doesn't drag things down enough for you, Shonteff's use of flash forwards, signposting the tragedy heading the way of some of the characters, adds an air of inevitability to it all, while the ending, although expected, drops a cherry onto this particularly downbeat cake.

Yet, for all those reasons, Permissive is both an essential period piece and fascinating viewing. Not the best film you'll see this year, but if you have any kind of interest in the era, certainly one you should see.

Want more? Well, how about Bread? Yes, amongst the extras is Stanley Long's 'lost' tribute to the British counterculture. Stanley Long - the man behind West End Jungle, Primitive London and London in the Raw. High brow it isn't.

Long had just made some cash out of Groupie Girl (another film worth seeking out) and wanted to make more cash with something similar. With Bread, he took on the producer and (for the first time) director's role, borrowing the soundtrack from Groupie Girl and some stock footage of the Isle of Wight festival to produce a tale of some 'heads' setting up their own festival.

The 'heads' (the men in appalling wigs and looking far too old for the parts, the women only too keen to strip off) are hitch hiking back from the IOW, moaning about the 'straights' making all the cash and looking for somewhere to camp. They find a stately home and after some initial confrontation with the owners, convince them that they'll paint the place for a roof over their heads. The owners leave - and the 'heads' start to organise a festival.

They manage to talk Juicy Lucy and Crazy Mabel (both real bands) into playing, but find festivals aren't that easy to organise as the punters gatecrash the event and the owner turns up to see his land being destroyed. Oh yes, in-between all that the heads try to make their own adult movies to make money for the festival, find an old car to drive between London and Harefield House (the venue), have encounters with pop moguls and the law and even do a spot of painting.

Is it a good film? Well, even in this partially-restored version (the original, inevitably, has been cut to bits), it's hard to say it is. But Bread is very entertaining, again offering some music footage of the day, along with an insight into the British hippy scene and a DIY guide to creating your own festival in a few days with no money. Ok, maybe not the third one. It's the film equivalent of the BBC Hippies sitcom of some years back - but probably with more laughs.

So two 'rock' films, a strange public information film about family planning in the early 70s, the original trailer for Permissive, some Bread outtakes and an extremely well-written booklet covering both movies. We like very much and suspect you will too.

Find out more about the DVD at Amazon.co.uk

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