Archive for Anthony Balch

The Sexy Sex Secrets of Sexy Sex

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2008 by dcairns


Not, it’s not Sexy Week again, but it IS Antony Balch’s lamentable masterpiece SECRETS OF SEX, which I received through the generosity of cartoonist Douglas Noble. I am forever indebted!

Balch, a William Burroughs associate and cinema owner, collaborated with Burroughs on THE CUT-UPS and later made HORROR HOSPITAL, a deranged Brit-horror comedy thing, which has to be seen to be belittled/bemoaned/befouled. “Starring” Robin Askwith and Michael Gough and a dwarf, with a magnificently inebriated guest appearance by Dennis Price (one might call it a “walk-on” except he doesn’t walk and probably couldn’t) as a talent agent who leers at Askwith’s denim-swathed bulge, and featuring a Rolls Royce with DEATH RACE blades for decapitating fugitives from the titular place of healing, it’s not exactly good but it’s far far more imaginative than most British horror films, bearing comparison with the likes of SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (whose writer, Christopher Wicking, just died, all too prematurely).

But SECRETS OF SEX is something else again. A little closer to Balch’s Burroughsian side, it’s a scrapbook of ideas strung together by the narration of Valentine Dyall as an Egyptian mummy. Because naturally, when you make a sex film, you want it narrated by an animate corpse, don’t you?

It may be time to re-alert Shadowplayers to Operation Prole-Wipe, the initiative put in place by the Heath government to reverse the postwar population explosion by putting the British public off sex. While America and Europe bathed in a fountain of hardcore filth, some of which, by virtue of it’s sheer gynaecological explicitness, could be seen as vaguely instructional, plebeian Britain was subjected to an endless and debilitating stream of softcore “comedies”, designed to make sexual activity of any kind seem off-puttingly ridiculous, undignified and ugly. While the ruling classes continued to yank their planks to yellow-sleeved volumes or erotica with Aubrey Beardsley illustrations, the proletariat were suddenly exposed to the sight of Robin Askwith’s heaving bum working away like an oil derrick amid the soap-spew of a malfunctioning washing machine, Liz Fraser as a character called Miss Slenderpants, and graphic shots of the face of Bill Maynard, a gifted comic whose “distinctive” appearance radiates anti-orgone, the sex-destroying energy, causing him to spend his life within a force field of celibacy, a walking bubble of not-getting-any.

Britain’s acting establishment threw themselves into the proud task of sterilising the nation’s manhood, and renowned thespians such as John LeMesurier, James Robertson Justice, Irene Handl and future prime minister Tony Blair’s father-in-law Tony Booth, rushed to wallow in the steaming tide of buttock-thrusting pantomime. While low-grade pornographers like Derek Ford found themselves elevated to near-mainstream status, with actual budgets and actors to contend with, respected filmmakers like Val Guest enthusiastically mutilated their own reputations with tosh like CONFESSIONS OF A WINDOW CLEANER and AU PAIR GIRLS, films whose existence can only be accounted for by their makers’ fierce dedication to the production of widespread erectile dysfunction.


Into this realm of conspiracy comes Antony Balch, with a project boldly conceived to rip the lid off this covert sex/class war. SECRETS OF SEX renders the anti-erotic propaganda overt, so that it can no longer be hidden. What other excuse for the repeated ECUs of an eye with a loose contact lens; the man terrifying a Hill’s Angel with his pet lizard; the male homosexuality, which in 1970 would have struck terror into hetero wankers; the glove puppet deformed baby; the closeups of puckered and wrinkled derrieres; the castration/disembowelment by guillotine blade; and that damned mummy?

Just as Goebbels reckoned Leni Riefenstahl’s TRIUMPH OF THE WILL was too overtly propagandistic to be effective, Balch’s overseers in Whitehall blanched at his deliberate flaunting of their anti-erotic mission, and effectively blacklisted him from their 1984-like plan to pacify the masses with porn. But what remains is a truly demented Odyssey through the sick, the strange and the transweirdening. The only thing that really gets fucked is your head.


Like Jerry Lewis’s SMORGASBORD/CRACKING UP, Balch conceives his film in the loosest terms, then violates those terms wantonly. A highly colour-coordinated spy spoof starring Maria Frost (Lindsay Shonteff’s PERMISSIVE, but she’s — incredibly — not good enough for a starring part there) stops dead while the characters watch a silent porno where everybody is in drag and nearly everybody is a violent rapist. Storylines are introduced (by the nodding mummy) to illustrate some philosophical point, but never do. The battle of the sexes is introduced as a theme, and Balch seems to take this VERY seriously, seemingly longing for the day when it becomes a shooting war, but no theme could truly account for the souls reincarnated as flowers skit, the bit with the lizard, or the grand fireworks display at the end.



SECRETS OF SEX may actually be the weirdest film I’ve reviewed here — the weirdest thing about it being that it’s seemingly intended to fulfill some sort of commercial purpose. Antony Balch is hereby inducted posthumously into Shadowplay’s LEGION OF UBER-HEROES.

Cut And Paste Job

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on July 25, 2008 by dcairns

“The Film They Tried To Stop!” Sequel to “The Film They Tried To Pause, Then Rewind.”

Douglas Noble kindly sent me these pages of info AGES back and I’ve been meaning to post them ever since. Great movie ephemera — notes from a screening of Antony Balch’s work. I think the smeary photocopies have just the right ambience to accompany the films and the man.

Page 1. Page 2. Page 3. Page 4. Page 5. Page 6. Page 7. Page 8. Page 9. Page 10. Page 11. Page 12. Page 13. Page 14.

And here is an extract of Balchian wizardry. It might be nice to have the soundtrack playing as you try to read the notes. Or it might drive you to insanity. But that might be nice too.

The Amazing Adventures of Dwarf

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2008 by dcairns


I can’t, somehow, quite love this film. It’s maybe too cold and nasty. But I definitely admire it. When you consider how lacklustre and free of imagination most British horror movies always were (I still dig them though), this movie offers a real plethora of tawdry delights. It’s made by Anthony Balch, an associate of Kenneth Anger and William Burroughs, and while it’s mild fayre compared to the mind-bending squalor found within the pages of The Naked Lunch, there’s still much in the way of weirdness and unpleasantries.

I love the anecdote from Hammer scribe Christopher Wicking, quoted on Wikipedia: “I had a crazy meeting with him, when he wanted to do some picture or other. He spent most of the time walking across the furniture. Languorously, he would walk across three or four chairs. He went into another little world. He was a sad figure in a way, because he was well before his time.”

After a bizarro softcore sex film, SECRETS OF SEX, Balch launched his assault on the mainstream with HORROR HOSPITAL, in which Robin Askwith, the enthusiastically pumping buttocks in nine billion soft-porn comedies of depressing aspect (he redeems himself with a spirited turn in BRITANNIA HOSPITAL, which is almost a sequel to this one) plays, well, himself, a jobbing young actor, sent by his deeply queer agent (a dissipated Dennis Price, phoning it in via three camera set-ups stretched out to last five minutes of screen-time) to a country house clinic where mutilated nazi Michael Gough is attempting to create a lobotomised sex army for reasons we needn’t go into. Seriously, I’m refusing to go into his reasons. Don’t push me. I don’t want to talk about it.

And All That Gough

He also rides the countryside in a swank Roller with DEATH RACE 2000 modifications — blades shoot out to decapitate stray ramblers. I bet if Rolls Royce manufactured those they’d sell like hot cakes. The limo plus motorcycle outriders (the guys in this clip) are a nod to Cocteau’s ORPHEE.

The great scene above comes near the end, where tradition and reason dictate that horror thrillers should accelerate their pace and head for some kind of climax. The generous Mr. Balch offers us an alternative to that trusted formula, paralysing his film for minutes on end while a small man tries to open a door.