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Primitive London (1965)

Courtesy of Euro London Films Ltd

Main image of Primitive London (1965)
35mm, 76 min, colour
DirectorArnold Louis Miller
Production CompanySearchlight Films
ProducersArnold Louis Miller
 Stanley A. Long
ScreenplayArnold Louis Miller
CinematographyStanley A. Long

Narrator: David Gell; Cast: MacDonald Hobley, Billy J. Kramer, Diana Noble, Bobby Chandler

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Survey of 'everyday' life in London, with the accent on the outlandish and bizarre.

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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.

Vic Pratt

*This film available on a BFI Flipside DVD and Blu-ray.

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Video Clips
1. The key party (1:05)
2. The new wave of comedians (3:15)
3. Leopard Girl (1:09)
Monthly Film Bulletin
Tonite Let's All Make Love in London (1967)
Long, Stanley A. (1933-2012)
Miller, Arnold Louis (1922-)