Scuddy Mags

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We called them scuddy mags or scuddy books at school. Not sure why. Scuddy rhymes with nuddy which is childish slang for nudie, but I don’t know that explains anything. I don’t know how widespread the term was. More information required. What did YOU call porno mags when you were at school?

THE LOOK OF LOVE is Michael SpringbottomWinterbottom’s film of the life of British porn mogul Paul Raymond. While THE PEOPLE VERSUS LARRY FLYNT used the smut-peddlar bio form as a device to explore issues of free speech and censorship, Raymond’s career does not lend itself to such lofty matters — he mainly stayed safely within the UK’s notoriously vague obscenity laws (for which the word “draconian” could be applied except that it would be unfair to dragons) during his heydays in the sixties, seventies and eighties. He made a vast amount of money, lived the playboy lifestyle in his Bond villain penthouse, and ended up pretty sad, as do so many of us humans. If the film has a point, it’s a study of a failed father, I guess.

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Steve Coogan is the pillar around which the film is constructed — the master impersonator cast as the self-made man who transformed himself from, we are told, humble origins, changing his name, his accent, his persona. There are some funny bits — Coogan can’t let two hours go by without doing SOMETHING funny, but there’s also some tonal uncertainty about how snarky and kitsch the film can be when detailing the story of a man who, essentially, kills his own daughter with kindness.

I generally hate Summerbottom Winterbottom films but all his stuff with Coogan is very watchable. This one is interesting because he solves some of his usual problems. There’s a kind of childish desire to be EXPLICIT, showing pigs slaughtered (JUDE), childbirth (JUDE, A COCK AND BULL STORY) and sex (9 SONGS) and violence (THE KILLER INSIDE ME) in a slightly confrontational, slightly obnoxious, and slightly naff way — “This is what it’s REALLY LIKE, yeah?” I loathe this side of Autumnbottom Winterbottom. But here, despite the subject matter, it’s mainly kept in check. There’s quite a bit of tit and bum, but one’s face is not rubbed in it. I assumed, going in, that the auteur would find it artistically essential to fill the screen with beaver shots, but either Film4 cut them out, or he’s got all that out of his system. (One highly regarded makeup artist’s first “big job” was making a cast of Kate Winslet’s private genital parts so a special-effects childbirth could be staged for JUDE. Welcome to showbiz!)

Good supporting perfs. The piling on of comedians is distracting — Matt Lucas, David Walliams, Miles Jupp, Stephen Fry, Mark Williams and Dara O’Briain (playing what seems to be a sort of approximation of Alexei Sayle — I forgot that Raymond owned The Comedy Store, where alternative comedy was born). The one who is an unqualified success is Chris Addison, a brilliant, loose, natural performer (only ever not great in his recent Dr. Who guest spot — I blame the writing there). Addison is playing Men Only‘s editor, hilariously called Tony Power (but that’s nothing: another real-life Raymond associate is called Carl Snitcher. The comedy is inherent).

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I’m sure I had a kind of encounter with Tony Power. In the early days of video rental, our local shop gave us a free tape when we borrowed something else — it was a VHS compendium of clips and trailers, sort of suggestions for things you might want to rent (except of course your local shop probably didn’t have any of these titles). This thing had a presenter, a bloke in smoky shades with a Pink Panther cuddly toy as his sidekick, and he was very creepy. He definitely had a porno vibe, but he was trying to be family-friendly, despite sporting tobacco-smoke shades and a Yorkshire Ripper beard. But there he was, with his cuddly-toy co-host, showing you tits-out footage from Bert Gordon’s THE WITCHING. It was all very… inappropriate. Based on the excellent portrayal of Chris Addison, I am morally certain that strange, unsettling man was Tony Power.

I feel a little bit sorry for screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh — the film feels quite improvisatory in its dialogue, which is often quite amusing — Coogan does a few impressions (not sure if this is something Raymond ever did) — but it’s full of anachronisms. Many writers will work quite hard to get realistic period-sounding talk, but once the actors start making it up as they go along, how are you going to impose quality control on the authenticity? One quite inoffensive example is when Tamsin Egerton (as porn goddess “Fiona Richmond”) says “I did not know that,” a kind of catchphrase that seems to have come in in the late nineties. In fact, the earliest utterance of it I noticed was from John Goodman in THE BIG LEBOWSKI. Weirdly, by creating a late nineties catchphrase in a movie set in the early nineties, Goodman may have somehow originated an anachronism, inventing a phrase now associated with an era later than the one in which the movie takes place. But I’ll let him off with that.

(My memory is that CONTROL, also scripted by Greenhalgh, had a very sure sense of period in its dialogue as in everything else.)

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One thing about 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE, the first Coogan-Winterbottom joint, which is very good fun, is that Winterbottom seemed helpless to visualise or exploit the music, which was in a sense the film’s subject. Here, he arrays a medley of sixties and seventies hits across the soundtrack, including the titular Bacharach track, sung by Imogen Poots as Debbie Raymond with a touching, thin voice. Her big, hopeful eyes, grin of a thousand teeth, and projecting, mouselike ears make her a heartbreaking presence. She’s like an impossibly thin champagne glass lying fragile on the floor while porno elephants in jackboots dance a troika all around her. While the song selection isn’t exactly imaginative — there’s nothing that wouldn’t be on a greatest hits collection — it’s appropriate and each number gets a chance to make its impression. There’s a double use of Anyone Who Had a Heart that seemed wrong, though. Maybe because the song is so great you can’t use it except in a masterpiece, or maybe because the lyrics are too explicit to fit to a different situation, maybe because the montage it plays to is completely wrong — a flashback that wants to be about happy memories of one particular character but instead feels like an entire scene lifted out of an earlier point and dropped into the timeline later, full of irrelevant stuff of other characters who have no place in this sequence. (See PRIEST, which is no masterpiece, but finds an effective way to employ the song.)

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As far as I can tell, nobody went to see this movie, which is a shame because it’s not bad at all. Sex still sells, but maybe people don’t like the thought of seeing Steve Coogan doing it or selling it, and people prefer to consume it in private. Check the movie out if it comes your way: good Coogan, Poots, Addison, Egerton, and a revelatory hard-bitten Anna Friel.

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10 Responses to “Scuddy Mags”

  1. I went to see it, and I liked it a lot, and then I went to have a pastry and Madame Bertaux’s. I also thought it said something very interesting about London I hadn’t seen said before. The city really is a Monopoly board and any rotter can play. London is property. That’s what felt most sleazy.

  2. It would have been interesting to have learned more about his property tycooning, but I guess a film can’t tackle everything and this one was already a bit overstretched. But there’s something fascinating about PR’s career trajectory: most people work in porn to make money, then go legit, whereas he apparently made his fortune first THEN entered the skin trade, seemingly for pleasure.

  3. I loved this, and I’m glad he gave the women prominent roles and, to a degree, presented their points of view. Did anyone ever make The Mary Millington Story? That could be a terrific movie, and a guaranteed heartbreaker – but would have to be told from her point of view.

    Egerton, Poots, Arterton, Middleton, Lovibond, Temple et al – I think this is a really talented, quirky, interesting generation of actresses (school of St Trinian’s, mostly) and it’s a crying shame the British film industry isn’t falling over itself to give them juicy roles. Temple’s best stuff has all been Hollywood or American indie.

  4. Millington was the subject of at least one terrific documentary, and could make a good feature but after the box office non-performance of TLOL I don’t think that’s happening anytime soon. Sex no longer sells, on the big screen — except where Shifty Grades of Fey is concerned. That one can be chalked up to the need of audiences to feel switched-on to Current Happenings. As the logline for The Da Vinci Code put it, “Be a part of the phenomenon.” Which is something quite different from turning up to see an enjoyable film.

    British cinema generally is a crying shame. We just don’t have enough good work to reach the kind of critical mass that occurred after the war and again in the late sixties, where the best films were so inspiring that even the ordinary filmmakers took notice and started producing finer work in response. Although I liked this film, if it’s the best or most interesting British picture of its year, which it may be, the median standard is not going to be high. You need The Red Shoes or The Music Lovers for that to happen.

  5. Trivium: Over here “I did not know that” was a Johnny Carton catchphrase, a handy all-purpose reply or interjection. He was THE late night host from 1962 on; don’t know how far back the line goes but seems likely to have predated the 90s.

  6. Makes sense — also explains why it was unknown in the UK, so it’s still highly unlikely that Fiona Richmond would be saying it to Derek Raymond in the seventies. Also, we’re all saying it now without knowing where it comes from, like a bunch of British fools.

  7. Carson! Of course. Although it sounds like something Tony Hancock MIGHT have said.
    I’ve been feeling a little bit happier about British films lately when I realised I was beginning to see them without even knowing. Under the Skin and ’71 were both short and excellent and didn’t have much talking in. And I haven’t seen Pride, Frank, Paddington or A Field In England but I think I should. (I’m also surprisingly excited to learn that the Shaun The Sheep movie is completely wordless.)

  8. Loved Pride.. Paddington had me sobbing…

  9. Yes, I wasn’t that psyched about Shaun until (1) I saw The Pirates! and (2) the wordlessness revelation.

    Pride I’m sure is good. Paddington I am resistant to, because of my love of the TV incarnation, but I expect it’s nice. Agree re Under the Skin and A Field in England was agreeably ambitious… they just hadn’t put the work in to the story, I feel.

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