Tuesday, 26 October 2010

West End Jungle

Effectively banned on its initial release but now coming across as a quaint time-capsule, this 1961 expose of prostitution in London exhibits the tension between documenting and exploiting its subject matter from the off.

If it's a good film, it's a Miracle!

Though the production company’s name, Searchlight, connotes the documentarian ideal of illumination and enlightenment, those behind the film were none other than Arnold Miller and Stanley Long whose other contributions to cinema the same year, setting the pattern for the kind of exploitation material to follow, were Nudist Memories and Nudes of the World.

More important, though the film purports to show scenes captured from the sordid underbelly of London life, the fact that various performers are credited clearly undercuts its claims to realism. There’s also, however, an amateurishness and ugliness to them, a fact emphasised by the absence of actual dialogue in lieu of a soundtrack comprised of extensive use of needle-drop crime jazz interspersed with authorial voice-off and unidentified responses to interview-style questions in which the participants seem curiously okay about self-incriminating:

Interviewer: “How gay and cheerful do they [the girls] have to be? Enough to go to bed with the customers?”
Club owner: “That is their concern. What they do after they leave here is nothing to do with us at all. “
“When a girl comes to you for a job as a hostess do you ask her whether she has any objections to going to bed with men?”
“Do you?”
“Well, yes.”
“And supposing she does object to sleeping with a client does she get the job?”
“No, not necessarily.”

Dancer: “Men? They make me sick. Look at them sitting there drooling!”
Interviewer: “Then why do you do it?”
“I don’t know the money’s not bad. Better than I got serving in a shop. Besides, I always wanted to be on the stage. You’ve got to start somewhere, haven’t you?”

For the most part Miller’s direction serves to keep up the documentary pretence by being of an unobtrusive and functional sort, though inevitably he is unable to resist the odd jarring subjective shot when it comes to filming a strip routine.

Street prostitution, before the new law

And off the street, sort of, afterwards

Long’s cinematography is crisp and professional, but thereby perhaps likewise a bit incongruous at times – things tend to look that bit too well set-up.

If its depictions can be taken as valid the film had a certain social/moral value. To wit:

If you are a young woman from the provinces then this is how a pimp sizes you up and operates, so beware and don’t be taken in by him: “The transformation, mental as well as physical, is easy. In only a few days the weak willed, glamour hungry bumpkin has become a skilful heartless gold-digger.”

If you are a young man then this is how a clip joint works, so watch out or you may find yourself paying “as much as ten shillings for a glass of blackcurrant juice.”

If you are a businessman and offered companionship, then be forewarned about where this might lead in terms of blackmail.

Predictably, however, these messages are dealt with in somewhat two-faced and decidedly hyperbolic terms: Look at these pathetic figures, male and female alike, and feel superior to them, even as you’ve maybe been taken in the filmmakers.

The inevitable Raymond Revue Bar shot

“Laughable or sordid, perhaps something of both. But really pitiful and depressing” about sums it up.

1 comment:

Marc said...

We did an interview with Arnold Louis Miller back in April 2009: