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Permissive (Seedy Sex & Suicide in Post-Psych London)

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Permissive_Quad__Poster

Firstly, a quiz question.

Which member of a highly successful Scottish act played a leading role in British film Permissive in 1970?

Clue: The band he is synonymous with are represented in the current Rip It Up exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Further clue: The same bands’ biggest hit reached the top ten in Britain and America.

Answer: Alan Gorrie of The Average White Band.

*

The permissive society is one of those terms you hear very rarely these days. In the 1970s, though, many a moralist was scandalised by the idea of the filth being peddled by the likes of pop stars and the gutter press.

Watching this depressing drama, you may wonder if the Daily Mail readers and Mary Whitehouse types had a point.

Made at the height of the groupie phenomenon, when Bebe Buell, Sable Starr and Pamela Des Barres were names known to every rock fan, despite them having never played a note, Permissive is an unusual example of the then fashionable youth culture movie.

Directed by British based Canadian Lindsay Shonteff, Permissive tells the story of Suzy (Maggie Stride), a mousy and innocent provincial gal who arrives in a very grey London. Here she hooks up with her pal Fiona (Gay Singleton), although Fiona is about to hit the road with hairy arsed rockers Forever More, whose singer (and bassist) Lee is played by Gorrie. Fiona being Lee’s ‘old lady’.

Maggie Stride - Permissive

Not allowed to join them, Suzy wanders the streets with homeless hippy busker Pogo, a highly irritating religious obsessive. ‘God is uptight, man,’ he declares during an unofficial sermon from the pulpit of a near empty church, before giving his none too original thoughts on war and inequality. Thankfully he is quickly arrested and then killed off almost arbitrarily in a car accident. The good Lord giveth and the good lord taketh away.

After his death, Suzy takes her first steps in the highly competitive groupie scene. She ditches her duffel coat and starts to wear more fashionable glad rags like a bright maxi-dress and bippity-bopitty hat. She also embraces her inner bitch and slowly wins acceptance into the Forever More clique.

Shot very naturalistically on a budget of around £20,000, Permissive is pessimistic as hell and isn’t much of a fun watch in any way. It does, though, present what I would guess is a pretty authentic portrait of a time when the sixties dream was disappearing fast even though many might have refused to admit it.

Suzy Superscrew was one title touted for the film and if any dirty old man had headed along to his local fleapit picture house on the basis of that sensationalist name then they would have left disappointed. Any sex here is dull. ‘Two minutes and 52 seconds of squelching’ to borrow a phrase later used by Johnny Rotten. The bands exploit females and the females – who happily backstab each other to protect their position in the groupie pecking order – are only too keen to give them what they want.

Why they should do so I have little idea, Forever More are far from the rock royalty of the day. Rather than the champagne, cocaine and private jet lifestyle of a Led Zep, this is more a pint of bitter in a dimpled glass, a badly rolled joint and trips across the country in a cramped Ford Transit van.

Alan Gorrie - Permissive

The film’s music has its fans although I’m not really one of them. In addition to Forever More, cult acid-folk band Comus (who Stuart Maconie recently raved about on his Freakshow, and who were once given a residency at David Bowie’s Beckenham Arts Lab) provide a pretty good opening title theme and some other incidental music. There’s also a very forgettable act Titus Groan, who appear briefly onstage too.

Here I should point out that Forever More were a real band. Post-psych longhairs they were a very average white band specialising in very interminably long bluesy numbers. They recorded a couple of albums, Yours and Words on Black Plastic, for RCA which I have no desire to ever seek out.

Alan Gorrie definitely made a good move getting the funk and forming AWB in 1972 along with former Forever More bandmate Onnie McIntyre.

Gorrie’s acting skills are limited but I’ve witnessed many worse performances from musicians over the years. Most of the acting here is mediocre at best although Maggie Stride does a solid enough job as Suzy and Gilbert Wynne as sleazy manager Jimi also impresses.

This was Gorrie’s one and only appearance on celluloid but he did go on to compose and perform the scores for two further Shonteff films, The Yes Girls from 1971 and 1972’s The Fast Kill.

Strangely enough, Permissive, despite all the negatives I’ve listed, is a fascinating watch in places, especially if you have an interest in the Britain of the 1970s.

I’m guessing the editor had paid close attention to Performance, when deciding to add a number of ominous flash-forwards. One near the very start of the film that looks like a suicide. A touch that really sets the tone for one of the bleakest films ever made with a rock background.

If Ken Loach had ever directed a sexploitation film it might have resembled this.

For more on Permissive: https://www.bfi.org.uk/blu-rays-dvds/permissive

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Dressed to Kill & Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!

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Dressed to Kill

My Italian soundtrack composer kick is ongoing. Over the past few nights I’ve been listening to Pino Donaggio, whose soundtrack career started with his haunting score for Don’t Look Now, before he forged a close collaboration with Brian De Palma. Over the years he’s supplied the music for many of that director’s films including Carrie, Body Double and Blow Out.

Before all that, though, Pino Donaggio penned a tune that became one of the great pop classics of the 1960s, Io Che Non Vivo (Senza Te).

This song reached the top of the Italian charts in the Spring of 1965 and was also featured in Luchino Visconti’s award winning film Vaghe stelle dell’Orsa, which is sometimes known as Sandra, or in Britain, Of These Thousand Pleasures.

You might not think you know the tune from its Italian title, but you do and you most likely adore it, believe me, believe me! You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, as it was renamed with newly coined English language lyrics, becoming a British number one in Britain for Dusty Springfield in the Spring of 1966.

Italians Do It Better? Not on this particular occasion, this being one of the relatively few tracks where a cover version far surpasses the original. Here is Pino Donaggio anyway, performing the song on Italian TV.

Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill proved one of the most critically divisive movies of the 1980s. The movie is heavily influenced by Hitchcock’s Psycho and Italian Gialli movies – for starters, there’s a razor wielding killer in disguise, brutal murders and a pair of amateur sleuths, in this case the unlikely pairing of a nerdy and inventive Harry Potter lookalike and a high-end hooker.

The film is far from perfect – even when it was first released I found the whodunnit element easy to solve and Nancy Allen’s acting veers towards the flat but Dressed to Kill certainly grips you and, as always with De Palma, there are many virtuoso touches to enjoy. The long and wordless sequence in the museum is extraordinary, unpredictable and utterly dreamlike and brilliantly complemented by Pino Donaggio’s wonderful score.

The movie’s main theme accompanies the famous opening shower scene (where we see parts of Angie Dickinson’s body that I don’t remember ever seeing on Police Woman). Okay, it was actually a body double.

Donaggio’s music here is sumptuous and might come over as sentimental and even a little sickly but together with the visuals, it provides the ideal suspenseful counterpoint to a scene that makes for increasingly uneasy viewing.

Finally, some more music by another Italian maestro of scoring, Signore Berto Pisano.

From the soundtrack of a Italian/German/Spanish co-production from 1971, Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! that starred James Mason and Jean Seberg, this is a superb slice of bossa nova grooviness featuring that sometimes soaring, otherworldly soprano of Edda Dell’orso.

Another track that Stereolab would love, this is Kill (to Jean):

The Return of Django (& A World Cup Rant)

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Last year on Twitter, Yoko Ono asked the question: Who will win the World Cup? Her answer being, ‘the child who believes in a peaceful world.’

I can never muster up any enthusiasm for football nowadays and haven’t watched a single game but would guess if this child had been in Scotland’s qualifying group, the probability is that Scotland would taken an early lead, before being pegged back immediately and eventually beaten by a last-gasp free kick into the corner of the Hampden net.

It’s just been announced that the next World Cup in Qatar will be played in November/December of 2022 and I’d guess Scotland will once again fail to qualify for this.

You may say I’m a dreamer but I would actually like if the Scottish footballing authorities declared they were refusing to even take part in any qualifying campaign for this corrupt event.

A line has to drawn somewhere and I’d draw it at staging football’s biggest tournament in a undemocratic land where where gay sex is punishable by jail, the stoning of women is legal and where hundreds of migrant workers drop dead each year as they work on construction projects including the building of new stadiums to host the World Cup.

Back in 1977, the SFA were invited to play a friendly as part of a South American tour at the National Stadium in the Chilean capital of Santiago. Four years earlier the country’s dictator General Pinochet had rounded up scores of innocent Chileans for the purpose of brutally torturing and killing them in the very same stadium. Despite this, Scotland’s footballing blazers agreed to the invitation, the resulting match being dubbed the ‘match of shame’.

The chances of the SFA doing the right thing this time around?

About the same as making money from Yoko Ono’s football tips.

*

Anyway, so what have I been up to while half the world has been glued to the coverage of the current World Cup?

Well, watching a lot of Italian cinema has taken up a big chunk of my time. Since the war, Italy has given the world a succession of critically adored directors like Pasolini, Antonioni and Visconti. They’ve also produced some of the planet’s best genre movies, especially in the wake of Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, which ushered in a mad period when Italy was making more westerns than Hollywood.

After the success of Sergio Corbucci’s classic Django, there was maybe even a time when there were more spaghetti westerns with the name Django in the title being made than Hollywood westerns, most only based loosely on the coffin-dragging drifter of the original. Django Shoots First; Don’t Wait, Django! Shoot!; Django Kills Slowly; Django the Bastard and Viva! Django. I could go on. And on.

I’m guessing Italian film copyright law wasn’t stringently enforced back in the day.

Lee Scratch Perry was obviously a fan and here he is with The Upsetters on one of the most irresistible slices of ska ever recorded, The Return of Django:

Bizarrely enough the only official Django sequel came out in 1987, long after the Italian western craze had petered out, although a few years ago it was reported that we might yet see Franco Nero return again as Django,  with speculation surfacing about the actor reprising his iconic role for a third and final time in a movie taking place around fifty years after the events of the original.

Of course, Nero did also turn up in Tarantino’s Django Unchained for a cameo where he asks Jamie Foxx’s Django his name and asks if he can spell it.

‘D.J.A.N.G.O. The D is silent.’

From Django Unchained (but originally used on His Name Was King in 1971), this is Luis Bacalov & Edda Dell’Orso:

For more on Qatar, and the Independent newspaper’s campaign against modern day slavery, click here.

 

Dirty Angels

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Vergogna Schifosi

Tonight, the perfect accompaniment to relaxing in your deckchair on a sunny early evening and sipping a chilled glass of Buckardi (that’s equal measures of Buckfast and Bacardi with slightly less ginger ale).

If you don’t already know this obscure little gem then you’re in for a real treat. Honestly, don’t even think about leaving this page without reading on!

Ennio Morricone is the maestro behind the music of such films as A Fistful of Dollars and Once Upon a Time in the West through to The Untouchables and The Hateful Eight. His work has been sampled by a long list of acts from Big Audio Dynamite, Goldfrapp to The Prodigy and, of course, Stereolab.

He is also one of the rare musicians that I would firmly class in the category of genius.

Even so, I’ve still seen less than half the 500 plus films that he’s supplied the scores to and I can’t claim to have seen Vergogna Schifosi (or Dirty Angels, to give it its English translation) apart from some poor quality clips on YouTube.

It doesn’t seem to be available to buy from eBay or to download anywhere so Mauro Severino’s 1969 movie might be an underappreciated masterpiece or, alternatively, utterly awful, but even if it is a dud there’s still an exquisite Morricone soundtrack to enjoy.

According to someone commenting on YouTube, the opening track Matto, Caldo, Soldi, Morto… Girotondo sounds like a ‘satanic erotic mantra’ and I can see where they’re coming from but from the little I can glean from the internet, the song has some kind of connection to Giro Giro Tondo, an Italian nursery rhyme that is the equivalent to something like Ring Around the Rosie.

Featuring the honey-saturated soprano of Edda Dell’orso, whose voice here conjures up visions of earthly paradises, I’ll go for a Capri beach with golden sands, inhabited by Monica Vitti lookalikes in bikinis and the most intensely coloured rainbow you’ve ever seen in the sky.

Glorioso!

More Morricone in the near future, folks.