Following in the wake of their own genre defining West End Jungle (1961), but
overshadowed by the success of the Italian production Mondo Cane (1962), Stanley
Long and Arnold Louis Miller's Primitive London was the third cheaply made
'Mondo' film produced under their Searchlight Films banner to juxtapose
documentary footage with staged sequences to exploitative effect.
Beginning with dramatic (but cheap) shots of an aeroplane presumably en route
to London - flown by Long himself - Primitive London, like other 'Mondo' films,
is a bizarre hotchpotch of loosely linked and entirely disconnected sequences,
mixing the salacious and the supposedly shocking with the banal, the ridiculous
and the bewilderingly mundane. These images are underpinned by a
pseudo-moralistic narration, which is deliberately undermined by the supposedly
titillating footage on display. While commentary sanctimoniously condemns
depraved modern society, the visuals offer an intermittently lurid sideshow
spectacle in which the viewer is invited to revel.
Among the elements included are interviews with mods, rockers and beatniks;
bloody footage of a birth; battery chickens being killed; a grisly re-enactment
of a Jack The Ripper murder (inserted at the last minute to ensure that the film
was given an 'X' certificate); flabby men in a sauna bath; women modelling
topless swimsuits; a wife swapping party (which inspired Long's later
production, The Wife Swappers (1970)); 'violent' sports such as kendo; the life
of a Soho stripper, and even a chiropodist at work. Today, the chicken slaughter
scenes still retain the power to shock. "I never ate chicken for a year after
shooting... I came home and burnt all the clothes I had worn that day,"
cinematographer Long recalls.
Snootily dismissed at the time by the Monthly Film Bulletin as a "modishly
cynical and negative expose of the obvious", in retrospect the film is an
entertaining period piece, more interesting precisely because of its unusual and
vaguely seedy counterpoint to the prevailing myth of 'swinging sixties' London.
Indeed, as an artefact of its era, Primitive London provides a fascinating
antithesis to the frothy fixed-grin joviality of its documentary contemporary
the Pathé Colour Pictorial (1955-1969).
'Exotic dancers' were hired to celebrate the film's premiere at London's
Windmill Theatre, including one girl resplendent in a borrowed fur-coat and
leopard skin bikini, reflecting some striking promotional material. She 'toured'
the West End with a cheetah on a leash, loaned by Colchester Zoo (a leopard
wasn't available). The film played to a full house.
*This film available on a BFI Flipside DVD and Blu-ray.