Primitive London

Dir: Arnold L. Miller, 1967. Documentary.
Primitive London

Sleeker and more satisfying than any fictional era-reproduction in cinema, Primitive London, the follow up to London in the Raw, gives viewers the pleasure of revisiting London's diverse '60s pop culture. Touching on the divide of its affluent and poverty-stricken society following the depression, the film begins by zooming in on London's adolescents.

Starting with mod culture, the film describes those involved in it as having an identity with no class boundaries. Regardless of where you came from, the flashy and colorful clothing of this scene could transform you into a character worthy of fickle respect. There's also an explanation for the effeminate male clothing, which apparently derived from the abundance of womens textiles when many would-be male patrons were killed in two world wars. Outfits that would have been seen as amoral for a man became acceptable.

Moving on, we find the rockers, which would be our equivalent to bikers. Boys and girls are defined by their leather jackets and motorcycles, and no one can join the various cliques without reaching 100mph on the road. They are claimed to have contradictory morals and rely on aimless, if not absent, philosophies. Their personalities resemble that of a gangster, and the overemphasis on masculinity has turned both sexes in the group into equals.

Following the rockers are the beatniks; poets and jobless teens with long hair who gather in pubs to play the harmonica and produce folk music. They believe in free love and are uncertain of marriage and children. Thus they've been deemed as tramps and bums, the jobless leeches of society, and many live by that stigma.

After focusing on the youth, the film moves on to the adult world of London, claimed to have just as much depravity. The narrator, David Gell, goes on to describe people who belong to no particular group. They are obsessed with technology and use things such as television to feel productive and involved. Full of passivity and exercising a lack of self-discovery, they are proclaimed to be an entirely different bottom-feeder. We then move on to the aggressive and competitive side of nearly every profession, from advertisement, to erotic entertainment. And speaking of the latter, the film contains an array of burlesque and striptease footage, which was apparently a popular way for young girls to make extra money. There's even a segment on schools for striptease, where girls who don't even have a desire to dance or be discovered learn "cynical and indifferent" eroticism. For those who can "capitalize on a pair of good legs," London holds various bittersweet opportunities.

Another then-baffling craze was the introduction to key, or swingers parties. Couples put their marriage on the line as they remove the intimacy from sex by making it into a game to play with their neighbors. Everything that follows is a mixture of comedy and history as the narrator approaches the introduction of new fads and activities, from Japanese self-defense courses to ethnic groups straightening their hair in order to have the same style as everyone else. It even goes into the drastic change in stage acts, such as stand up comedy. In the beginning, the comedians were called “comics” and were clownish, jovial performers who had a more or less endearing act. Now, similar to American comedians, they are people who tell crude jokes and are a voice for the unspoken aggression of the audience and society. Behind every group covered, the narrator makes the cynical claim that aggression can be bought anywhere, and that “synthetic emotions” and “hand-me-down philosophy” are found in just about everyone.

The British have always brought daring and thorough documents of their culture to the screen, whether it be the more conventional BBC programs, or organizations such as BFI who pride themselves in the exploitation and exposure of various subjects and groups. The dry, yet witty narration paired with thoughtful and provoking editing in programs like The Up Series have always been a pleasure to watch and learn from. Primitive London is not only a humorous and semi-optimistic take on London's culture, but a wonderful example of every aspect in filmmaking. The camera-work, transition, and pace are exceptional, and the frank approach to the morals and pastimes of a society was refreshing. There's also a ton of excellent music and appearances from many pop idols from yesteryear. Going into everything from the history of Turkish baths, jean-shrinking, and tattoos, this is one of those rare documentaries that targets everyone, leaving a sense of unity and tolerance. Highly Recommended.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
May 27, 2011 1:34pm
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