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.
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).
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.)
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.)
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.