Saturday, 7 November 2009


When the BFI/Flipside rescued their latest three British films from cinematic obscurity and gave them a deluxe DVD release, the one that initially looked the most unappealing turned out a real treasure. That was Gerry O’Hara’s 1969 All The Right Noises.

It looked iffy due to the storyline of a 32 year old married man, Len (played by Tom Bell), having an affair with a 15 year old temptress, Val (Olivia Hussey – yes, I know what you’re thinking but I’m not saying it). I expected a heavy handed, sensationalistic shocker, when in fact it’s a thoughtful, well scripted, subtle and engaging drama with convincing performances from Bell and especially Hussey who is brilliantly cast.

When Len and Val meet and start getting fresh, Len is unaware of Val’s age but when he discovers her in her school uniform he protests for, oooh, seconds. And seconds is what he has. He is coldly untroubled by his deceit and brazenness, even getting Val to stay at his flat whilst his wife is away. When we see his missus on her way home early, the tension is so gripping you question why you even care if the dirty dog gets caught or not. Why’s that? I wasn’t counting on getting so involved. Val may have been skipping her homework but director and screenwriter Gerry O’Hara had obviously done his.

1960’s scenes showing smoking on the tube, Leicester Square station, Uxbridge station, Brighton beach, and the River Thames would usually be enough of a recommendation in itself but these are only added bonuses to a film already rich with layers and detail. Shame about Melanie caterwauling on the soundtrack but you can’t have everything.

The other two are Man of Violence (aka Moon) and Herostratus. Man of Violence is a 1970 gangster flick with little to redeem it beyond busty birds whipping off their bras and waddling around in big saggy knickers. I couldn’t follow the plot; the leading man had all the charisma and presence of a tea towel; and at 107 minutes it done me bleedin’ head in. If that weren’t bad enough it comes with a “bonus” film of The Big Switch (1968) which is more of the same except the collars, lapels and sideburns are half an inch narrower.

It’ll be a long time until I can sit through nearly two and half hours of Herostratus (1967) again, but by jingo, what a film. I know jack shit about films or the art of filmmaking but can recognize and appreciate sheer bloody minded passion and dedication when I see it and it pours out of Don Levy’s precise and frequently haunting and surrealistic film. Michael Gothard plays Max, who asks an advertising company to make a spectacle of his suicide, which they agree to with icy detachment, gradually taking more and more control over the one thing Max has left in life. We moan about celebrity culture and media spin nowadays yet this film was started 45 years ago and it was already prevalent then. Gothard’s portrayal of Max is terrifying, no more so than in the early scene where he manically smashes his flat to pieces with an axe. I’m thinking “oh, be careful, you’ll hurt yourself”. The film is spliced with all manner of hellish news footage, bizarre images, strippers, slaughtered cows and Francis Baconesque stills. An extraordinary film. That Don Levy committed suicide in 1987, followed by Michael Gothard in 1992, is no surprise.

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