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Tuesday Morning Foreign [But Not Foreign-Region] [Blu-ray disc] DVD Report: "Primitive London" (Arnold L. Miller, 1965)

Finally...a motion picture that blows the lid off...BOWLING!

No kidding. At one point in this droll exploitation "documentary," a made-in-Britain variant of the various "Mondo" films that had been sweeping the globe since the release of Mondo Cane in 1962, the narrator, Canada-born (and hence bereft of British accent) David Gell points out that "ten-pin bowling" was slow to capture the popular imagination of London, but now it's really taking off, and the reason why, as with everything else in this hilariously cynical film, is something really, really bad. "[The sport's] fascination? Subtle, submerged, canalised aggression." That's right. "The launching of this heavy, destructive missile..." And so it goes on.

Primitive London's a sequel of sorts to 1964's London In The Raw, producer/director Miller's first Mondo Cane knockoff, created in the wake of Miller's nudist colony docs, which were the thing before Cane became such a huge worldwide hit. There's some nudity here, mostly of the cabaret variety...and also some grotty glimpses of very fat old men in saunas...and a really hard-to-take childbirth scene right smack dab in the beginning, right after Gell tells us that modern man is just a bunch of cringing cowards because of its denials of the essentiality of birth and death. Whereupon it cuts to these glimpses of somewhat older, non-covered-in-blood kids. Who are all gonna be a bunch of laboring losers, unless they've been born into wealth, in which case they'll become rotters.

Really, it is the narration of these types of attention-span defying olio films that gives them their kick. Here's my favorite bit: "The 20th century has its own particular booby trap: the synthetic. We deal in synthetic emotions, synthetic music, ready-made opinions, and hand-me down philosophy. In this school [the camera has been holding on a shot of a dance studio, wherein several woman and a man desultorily work on some steps—Ed.] girls are taught the technique of the striptease dance. The law of supply and demand works everywhere." Huh? And also, how'd you like that sneaky shift from "synthetic music" to "ready-made opinions and hand-me-down philosophy," eh? Life stinks, and so do you, buddy.

Here's more proof: Beatniks. Hanging out in a nightclub of some sort. Playing "folk" music. (I wonder if those two cats above are now grandparents to a member of Gomez.) An interviewer asks various and sundry young people why they don't have jobs, and where the hell they get off enjoying themselves, for Christ's sake. Not in so many words, mind you, but that's the general idea. Later, a scene of Mersey beat idol Billy J. Kramer getting mobbed while a one-time pop chart topper stands by unrecognized provides a bitter parable on the fleeting nature of fame. The participants of a kew party, or some such adulterous fol-de-rol, are admonished by Gell to "Eat, drink, and be merry...for tomorrow you'll have to lie!" J'accuse!!!

Also part of this rich pageant: a scene of automated chicken-plucking and slaughter, and a profile of a podiatrist who removes corns with a knife. Yuch.

This release is from BFI's recently initiated "Flipside" series, and sports a rather excellent Blu-ray image and is playable on Blu-ray machines worldwide. Why this and not Richard Lester's more artistically challenging The Bed-Sitting Room I have no idea, but that's life. It's actually kind of funny that this is on a region-free Blu-ray, to tell the truth. The package also boasts an excellent info-filled booklet with essays by historian Iain Sinclair and BFI curators Vic Pratt and Victor Fowler. Not quite one for the "amaze your friends" shelf, but definitely amusing.

I enjoyed every sordid minute of it. Do yourself a favour, by the way, and watch the short film that’s included as part of the extras, Carousella – it’s a beguiling piece of work that turns the seedy voyeurism of the feature into a kind of freewheeling poetry, and it exudes total joy in the access to the materials of filmmaking in the way that only first films can. It was directed by John Irvin, whose other films I must have seen, somewhere along the line, but none of them has made any impression on me whatsoever. He started out well, it must be said.
Sounds great! The feature is pretty dazzling in its desperation to SHOCK! And Ben Kingsley speaks very highly of John Irvin, I think. I get the impression he’s very good at his job, but somehow hasn’t ever made anything that really hit the heights.

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