Archive for Tony Tenser

Primitive London Taxi Driver

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 1, 2008 by dcairns

Thanks to film academic and author Benjamin Halligan for sending me the British “Mondo” movie PRIMITIVE LONDON. Made in 1965, what’s jaw-dropping about this film, “directed” by Arnold L. Miller (SEX FARM) and produced by Michael Klinger and Tony Tenser, is how decidedly un-shocking it is. From childbirth to chicken-packing, the grab-bag of sinsational subjects is lame, tame and bewilderingly scatter-shot. SEE — the mods! SEE — the kendo school! SEE — The hatter’s head-measuring instrument!


But some of the desperate measures deployed to liven it up / tie it together are pretty interesting. Here’s the best example of postmodern deconstruction you’re likely to find in a British film of the era:

And what about that music? Esteemed Jazz-man Basil (DR PHIBES) Kirchin and John A. Coleman (apparently still working today, on KUNG FU PANDA no less, if the IMDb hasn’t gene-spliced him with a namesake) seem to have hit upon the main theme of TAXI DRIVER eleven years early. Here’s another, clearer instance:

Can’t you just feel all hope and life ebbing from your body as that sequence goes on? It’s the PRIMITIVE LONDON effect. All British “sex” films were really part of a secret government plan to combat overpopulation by mentally sterilising the populace with desultory erotica. The pornography of despair. And it worked. Anyone who saw THE AMOROUS MILKMAN would be unable to have a sexual thought for months without wanting to run out for a free N.H.S. penectomy. 

Operation Prole-Wipe was so successful that by the 1980s, British cinema was producing non-sex films actively designed to promote a desire for early, childless death. How else to explain REVOLUTION?

Meanwhile, here’s the moral of the story from PRIMITIVE LONDON:

It’s easy to see what happened. Bernard Herrmann was living in England at the time he was approached to do TAXI DRIVER, and must have encountered the P.L. theme during an elicit trip to a Soho sex cinema, or possibly the Eros in Leicester Square (immortalised in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON). As the great composer of CITIZEN KANE and PSYCHO, hidden in the darkest recesses of the smoky auditorium, reached a shivering climax at his own hands, the music oozing from the cinema speakers crept into the similarly shady recesses of his mind, forming an unconscious association, just as it does to Alex in CLOCKWORK ORANGE. When Herrmann was asked, eleven years later, to score a film about a character who frequents porno houses, it all clicked into place.

Dirty Bernard!

Press for Time

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2008 by dcairns

ancient wisdom

PRESS FOR TIME is the name of a Norman Wisdom comedy from 1966 in which he’s a journalist. “Press”, you see. I always remember that because the title has to be the lamest non-pun in the history of English-speaking cinema. The only comparably lousy title is the ’90s thriller OUT OF DEPTH, which vanished without a trace. While the Wisdom flick attempts to be a sort of innocent double entendre but doesn’t actually achieve a singly functioning entendre, the crime movie is only trying to mean one thing, and fails. Did nobody point out, “You know, that isn’t actually a phrase…“?

I mention all this irrelevance because I’m apparently getting a press pass to the Edinburgh Film Festival in its new June incarnation, so I will be live-blogging the fest like a man possessed, during the run-up, when they start the press shows, then all through the event proper, until I drop to the ground, exhausted, spasming and barking with pain. It’ll be great.

I did offer to be their Official Blogger, saying only nice things (integrity is my middle name — I never use it), but they’re quite happy to have me as a rogue element saying whatever the hell I feel like. Which is even better.


Back to Sir Norman. He was HUGE in the UK through the ’50s and ’60s. A sort of sub-Jerry Lewis gump-clown. His stuff hasn’t worn that well, I find, but he still has loyal fans. Animator Nick Park (WALLACE AND GROMMIT) loves those tatty movies. Norm made a stab at a Hollywood career, appearing in THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED MINSKY’S for William Friedkin (makes a great trivia question: what film has Jason Robards, Britt Ekland, Norman Wisdom and Bert Lahr?) and when that didn’t work out, came back to the UK and appeared in WHAT’S GOOD FOR THE GOOSE? a sex comedy that shows Norman romping naked with a rather young Sally Geeson (19). Directed by Z-list hack Menahem Golem, who became a serious movie mogul before falling from “grace” and winding up a Z-list hack again, produced by Tony Tenser’s Tigon pictures, a low point for everybody — even Golan, and that’s LOW. Actor Stevie McNicoll watched the film and was appalled. I asked if it was worse than NOT NOW DARLING, for me the low-water-mark in awful British sex farce. “It makes NOT NOW DARLING look like the fucking Mahabharata,” he replied.

19 kinds of wrongness

But Norman had a strange renaissance in the ’90s, when it emerged that old prints of his films were doing the rounds in Albania, and he was a major star there. I guess the Wisdom-Albania thing is equivalent to the Jerry Lewis-France paradigm, only this one is true, and it’s rather lovely. And anyway, those French critics who admire Lewis are RIGHT.

Our Norm is now 93 and afflicted with Altzheimer’s, which has had the rather strange effect of turning him into his own movie persona. He seems fantastically lively and fit, but with a childlike intellect and sense of mischief. In a recent TV profile, he turned to the documentary camera and attempted a greeting which seems to encapsulate the essence of all actors:

“Thanks… awfully… for looking at me.”

Now about these Women…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2007 by dcairns

 A Representative Woman

Odd — isn’t it? — how many title like these there are:






Whereas titles concerning numbers of men tend to be about specific KINDS of men: angry men, men in a boat, horsemen of the apocalypse. It’s as if men alone, of any number, are not enough to constitute a catchpenny attraction: there must be a modifier to imply some enticing dramatic situation. The Hollywood model: narrative is all.

Whereas women belong to the European tradition: the image is all. A title implying images of women is allure enough: “Psst! Wanna see some women?” “Why yes, now you mention it, I believe I do!”

All these women...

Be that as it may, TWO THOUSAND WOMEN is a female P.O.W. movie by Frank Launder, of the Launder-Gilliat writing team that scripted Hitchcock’s THE LADY VANISHES (What kind of lady? Doesn’t matter) and later brought us the ST TRINIANS FILM, rather more often than was strictly required.

Launder, the more comic of the team, had heard stories from British women who had been interned in occupied France and thought the subject ripe for a propaganda piece but, feeling the public might be tired of grim reality, decided to keep the film jaunty. In later years he regretted this a bit, and the light tone does seem to rob the film of some of its potential appeal, slackening suspense and softening agreeably hard edges the moment they appear. STALAG 17 in skirts, in other words.

Launder was limbering up for the St Trinians films’ all-female environments, which seem to have had some attraction for him. His first feature, MILLIONS LIKE US, co-directed with Gilliat, spends plenty of time in a factory staffed by “mobile women” drafted and relocated to help the war effort. Patricia Roc, pudgy-faced and doe-eyed and with the delivery of Stan Laurel, stars in both films, effective as a placid working girl in MLU (her initial response to a proposal of marriage is “I don’t mind,”), rather incredible as a showgirl-with-a-shady-past turned nun. She nails the nun, the hoochie defeats her.

Come in, Houston

But really, Renée Houston is the whole show. Entering showbiz as a jazz singer with her sister Billie, and later typed as a harridan in Carry On films and the like, here she’s a force of nature as a former girls’ school teacher (obviously at St Trin’s) whose educational experience enables her to organise escape attempts and floor nazi agents with a powerful right hook. Her Scots accent tinged with a little American twang, she’s never more than a notch away from the archetypal Mad Auntie, that spectre at the banquet haunting all Scottish gatherings, but she hoists the film up by its collar and old school tie and shakes it until it puffs and splutters like Erskine Sanford in CITIZEN KANE.

Harridan Stanton.

Renée’s capacity to instill terror is well used in Polanski’s REPULSION, produced by the late Tony Tenser, where we find her, prone, at Vidal Sassoon’s salon, playing Miss Balch, presumably named after Anthony Balch, the William Burroughs associate and later director of HORROR HOSPITAL, who was moving in Tenser’s sex-film circles at around this time…

Good poster!