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Tonite Let's All Make Love in London (1967)

Courtesy of Contemporary Films

Main image of Tonite Let's All Make Love in London (1967)
16mm, 72 mins, colour
DirectorPeter Whitehead
Production CompanyLorrimer Films
ProducerPeter Whitehead
Script (uncredited)Peter Whitehead

Cast: Michael Caine; Edna O'Brien; Genevieve; Vanessa Redgrave; The Animals; Andrew Loog Oldham; Mick Jagger; Julie Christie; David Hockney

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An exploration of the explosion of English pop culture in the days of 'Swinging London'.

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A much misunderstood film, popularly perceived as an iconic celebration of Swinging London during the 1967 Summer of Love, Tonite Let's All Make Love in London is actually a critique of the myths that were already being constructed around the metropolitan epicentre of hip youth rebellion and anti-war protest.

A self-described 'Pop Concerto for Film', the film's main theme is the notion of pop as the cultural expression of the excitement occurring in the city at that time. Tonite interrogates a cross-section of key contemporary personalities, asking all of them the simple question: what makes London at this time such a 'swinging' place, if that's what it is?

The first 'movement' of the concerto, entitled 'The Loss of the British Empire,' satirises the decline of the British class-based aristocracy. The changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace is juxtaposed with a hippy wearing a red military jacket on Portobello Road, an image compounded by a symbolic shot of a member of the Queen's Guards being stretchered off after collapsing.

While Tonite critiques England's repressed class-system, it is the country's uneasy relationship with America that underlies much of director Peter Whitehead's conversations with his chosen interviewees. While Vanessa Redgrave salutes Fidel Castro's Cuba against the Western capitalist model (as a protest march against the Vietnam War converges on Trafalgar Square), David Hockney speaks highly of America's sense of egalitarianism, rejecting London as too expensive to be truly swinging.

This sense of alienation is encapsulated by disorientating images syncopated to a portentous, dissonant instrumental piece by the early Pink Floyd, reproducing the experience of the psychedelic light shows so familiar to contemporary audiences on London's underground scene. The optical printing of still frames of flailing ecstatic movement, mimicking the effect of stuttering movement created by a nightclub strobe-light, conveys the sense of dislocation and alienation of a post-war youth culture facing the uncertainties posed by American imperialism and the threat of nuclear Armageddon, the unwanted legacy of their parents' generation.

The exuberance of pop culture displayed in Tonite, then, is the exuberance of living well as the best form of revenge. As Edna O'Brien points out in the film, the day's thinking people are decadent because of the times in which they live, "and there's nothing you can say to that unless you're God, and if you're God you can say 'it's alright, I won't drop the bomb.'"

Stuart Heaney

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Video Clips
1. The loss of the British Empire (3:00)
2. Dolly girls (3:11)
3. Pop art seduction (2:41)
4. 14 hour technicolour dream (3:00)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
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Redgrave, Vanessa (1937-)
Whitehead, Peter (1937- )