I saw a Film!
I started thinking about beats and wanted to delve into what the beatniks would have seen for movies, and especially films that would have represented or influenced them. The films kids would have dragged their parents too at the time.
One of the great things about movies is the preservation of style and culture, even if the stories might be insipid (on a secondary note, why do we seem to require stories at all? Can’t we enjoy visual and aural novelty without a familiar tale being told? Brakage and McLaren I suppose were pounding that path, but I’m sure most folks are unfamiliar with their work! Another thread to follow I guess.)
So here’s a film. A story of a frustrated young woman (youth is frustrating but nothing like old age!) in 1960 Britain (not sure exactly where) doing her best to impress a small crew of the era’s disenfranchised. Occupations are dancing to what we’d probably call “grind” music, the blues based, horn rich stuff we’re used to seeing strippers perform to, and sure enough, stripping is an engine of this film’s warnings. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful relief if instead of gun violence or hard drug use a big problem we faced as a society today was that young women would get sucked into the glamour of stripping! As it’s England, and these films were only willing to go so far in their replication of the Wild One, or Rebel Without A Cause which were no doubt perceived as templates for all that followed in troubled teen story-telling, this kind of raunch for the troubled young lady I suppose is expected. But compare this concern with something like the humor a few years later of Streisand as a cute and funny prostitute, or fast forward another decade and wonder at an adorbs Annie Potts literally trying to turn herself into a prostitute in her own shag van in Corvette Summer! Granted those were comedies and as such could “play” with sexy ideas without getting a pitchfork mob on their asses.
Our troubled teen is sixteen year old Jennifer (never enough Jennifers in the world) with a huge veil of blonde hair (right past her ass), and a determinedly sour disposition. We’re meant to feel for her a bit as her pop is a diplomat of some sort who is obsessed with a model city he’s designed, which, when unveiled, is the most hilariously OCD block thing you could imagine. Perfect symmetry and everything lined up like a Maria Kondo bookshelf. In other words, it’s incredibly square. However, young Jennifer’s troubles don’t end there, she’s soon introduced to a brand new step mom in the form of an Elke Sommers look-alike, a twenty-four year old Parisian who honestly does her best to befriend the young woman. Jennifer naturally has little use for the new step mom, and quite realistically hasn’t much in the way of any reasonable complaint (rebel without a cause?) and slips out at will and meets her companions. These are some very sweet rebels. The guitar bearing fellow who won’t even deign to get into a fight (even when some Teds wreck his guitar), or drink alcohol as these are the habits of squares. When he strums his guitar, true to Elvis movie style, a whole orchestra is born on the air and he sings sweetly but only somewhat to the pleasure of his gang of friends. Life seems like it wouldn’t be too bad except that Jennifer is angry that her new step mom is trying too hard to be her pal. Damn people trying to be pals! How dare they! Jennifer’s fragile territory starts to destabilize. What’s worse is that step mom could easily, at twenty-four, be a viable rival in her little clique of buddies as the Parisian beauty shows up and sets about making friends with her gang! Jennifer, is of course, quite put out, and soon manages, through her underground contacts (basements, music, cigarettes), to find out that new step mom has had a bit of a nefarious past as – you guessed it – a stripper! Cue the grind music! Sexy, steamy saxophone spelling trouble. Again, this is a world that ignores the invention of actual rock and roll, for some reason, these kids aren’t Buddy Holly, Vincent, Berry, Elvis, or Cochran fans somehow. Instead they gather for the generic grind (obviously much cheaper for the film).
Jennifer finds her way to the strip joint she’s heard a former stripping compatriot of new step-mom works at and talks her way in. Incidentally, the stripper sequence begins with a stunningly lovely woman putting on a very lurid show (including plenty of “flossing”) that so surprised me being in this goofy little film that I laughed out loud. Jennifer is nothing if not courageous, and she confronts the former pal of her step mom and mostly gets warnings about staying away from the crew who run this club. And here’s the second shock of the film, the club owner is none other than the towering Christopher Lee!
Lee make’s our Jennifer an offer, wants her to learn the trade. Her lovely figure is going to waste. Jennifer seems skeptical, though happy to dance like Pig Pen with her cronies, she’s on the fence about actually showing herself off. So she leaves and soon enough she’s off with her buddies in a Deuce trying to show that she can be just as tough if not tougher than them as they play chicken at high speed, and lay their heads on train tracks when trains are coming. She “wins” these courage contests by not screaming or pulling her head away too soon. You go girl! But soon enough she’s back at the stripper joint looking for more information to undermine her new mom. It seems there may have been more than stripping, possibly friendly relations, special favors for the well-paying clientel.
Step mom’s defense when confronted by Dad is that there’s no difference between cash or roses! Revealing that in terms of love and commerce we’ve still never quite solved the equation. This film is sixty years old and generation after generation seem to have to relearn these same silly “revelations” all on their own. But hell, this is 1960. At one point, the guitar fellow (whose name never got through to me) is leaning on one of the sofas with his instrument and talking about how he’s comfortable in the basement as it reminds him of the underground his mom took him to when the bombings occurred. I knew what he was talking about, but it still surprised me a bit—my Mom talks of being dragged into the underground during the air raids too! She grew up in Exeter, in Southern England and was forced to wear a Mickey Mouse gas mask that she desperately hated. Well crap, these folks were directly my parent’s age. It’s not such a big deal to have that preserved in a film, but the detail of adding the Nazi bombs to the upbringing provided a kind of excuse that was possibly bandied about at the time. What did bombs do to our children? Did we ever find out? My British Mom seems well-adjusted enough!
One of my favorite lines comes from Jennifer’s Dad who after being ridiculed by his daughter about the model city being more important to him than she is, suddenly barks back, “and how do you get your kicks? Sitting in basements listening to gramophone records?” Gramophone records?? I’d never heard anyone say that. But yup, I guess so. Thank the good gods for gramophone records! I’m so lucky I can get my kicks out of so easily acquired a commodity. Gramophone records!
Does love prevail? Oh, I won’t spoil the ending, but let’s just say Jennifer never has to strip. And since she’s meant to only be 16, thank you for that too. Well daddy-o I wasn’t Over and Out about this one. Walk the Angry Beach (1961) with a lovely young Rue McLanahan! (Yep, later of Golden Girls fame), also lured into stripping, was basically the same movie with less teenager angst.
Too bad our worries in life aren’t as simple as overt payment for sexy dancing, because honestly they never really were, but at least we’ve not got the bombs dropping on us!
HEY gratis on prime!
But they don’t have I Am Curious Yellow! Dammit.