Monday, 27 July 2009

X Rated: Adventures of an Exploitation Filmmaker

Over recent years Reynolds and Hearn has established itself as one of the leading publishers on cult British cinema, with volumes such as Jonathan Rigby’s self-explanatory English Gothic and Simon Sheridan’s Keeping the British End Up, about the British sex film, and Come Play with Me, a biography of perhaps its biggest star, Mary Millington, vital additions to the bookshelves of anyone interested in the subject.

This latest volume, co-authored by Stanley Long and Sheridan, takes a different approach from the latter’s previous works on the British sexploitation film in that it’s the former’s memoirs of working in the low-budget exploitation end of the British film industry from the 1950s to the 1980s. As such its gives a more direct and personal take on things, presenting a valuable counterpoint to the drier chronological and genre based account presented in its predecessor.

The two accounts complement one another to a large degree, with Long’s discussions of such industry figures as Derek Ford, a former film-making partner who increasingly merged business and pleasure by moving into illegal hardcore territory, according with Sheridan’s previous work.

But they also show the potential pitfalls in taking a genre centred approach when addressing the work of an outfit like Compton / Tigon and a producer-director-cinematographer-distributor-whatever figure like Long.

As producers, Compton / Tigon dabbled in horror and (s)exploitation; as Long comments they were the two genres that for a time more or less guaranteed a profit, though he admits that horror wasn't really his thing.

As a cinematographer Long worked on Repulsion, where he stood in for the credited Gilbert Taylor after shooting overran its schedule, and The Sorcerers, where he recalls Michael Reeves’s intensity and apparent blood kink.

In his capacity as a pilot, Long also helped Polanski scout locations for Cul de sac; talk about a jack of all trades.

Though Long respected Polanski and Reeves, he is also forthright about the difference between his own no-nonsense approach to the business of film-making and the creative excesses of such more artistically inclined figures, that their imaginations could outstrip the means at their disposal.

Long has far less time for the snobbish critics along with Mary Whitehouse and other moral entrepreneurs of the day, viewing the former as out of touch with the ordinary audience member who just wanted to be entertained and the latter as little more than a canny self-publicist. On both counts, it’s hard to disagree.

The BBFC come across a bit better, particularly John Trevelyan, with Long acknowledging the position they were caught in between film-makers keen to push the boundaries forward and the Whitehouses who wanted them pushed back to some pre-permissive golden age.

Long is deservedly proud of his own accomplishments, giving work to actors and technicians who would otherwise have been unemployed and pleasure to his target audience, and bringing in his films on time and on budget.

Informative, entertaining and a pleasure to read, X Rated: Adventures of an Exploitation Filmmaker is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the shadow / unofficial history of the British cinema, of the films audiences really went to see rather than the ones the critics favoured.

1 comment:

Keith said...

That sounds like a good read. I'll have to check it out.