Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush Review
Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush, the 1967 film adaptation of Hunter Davies' novel, has a wind in your hair wispiness that grew on me as it progressed. The story of a New Town teenager named Jamie who wonders why sex has thus far eluded him is presented with an odd mixture of childlike curiosity and adult realizations that would probably be less endearing if director Clive Donner had any ambition beyond a trippy sex and music outing. Jamie wants one girl, a gal who gets around named Mary, but instead finds himself nestled against a variety of others. The question seems to persist as to whether one is just as good as the next or if maybe his pined-for Mary, who's with a different guy every time Jamie sees her, is worth the wait and effort. In the meantime, Donner inserts several songs by The Spencer Davis Group and Traffic, plays around with frame rates for the inventive fantasy sequences, and relies on pretty, available girls and parties when in doubt. Not a terrible strategy.
It was a little dismaying to read in the BFI's included booklet how Davies, who also adapted his book for the screen, was originally inspired to write Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush after reading Catcher in the Rye and thinking how easy it must be to create that style of free-flowing, plotless narrative. (Plus his wife had just completed her own book, Georgy Girl.) That's part of the beauty of great art - its deceptive simplicity. Davies' work, at least its film adaptation, ended up being a meandering tale of sex and hormones sprinkled with class allusions while his inspiration remains a definitive (and wisely unfilmed) landmark in depicting the unchecked angst of younger people. And yet, it's possible that Davies wrote something more easily accessible and identifiable. The film version seems to exist on some fringe as being well known to a certain set but also kind of an untested memory for its base of admiration. This is the first time the picture has been been made available on any home video format, and it's being presented without the cuts forced at the time of its original release by the BBFC.
As Jamie, Barry Evans is mostly wide grin and sensitive skirtchaser. The actor was unable to break out of the mold established here, ultimately resulting in a terrible, early end to his career and life, but he makes Jamie into a suitably distressed chap who's not so wanting as to be without accompaniment for any length of time. If anything, Evans is too charming in the role. Viewers, then and now, looking for someone to identify with can latch on to Jamie but the reality is that those in such need probably won't be fighting off the girls while flashing a movie star smile. Ah, the girls. You can't really mistake Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush for a serious piece of cinema when most all of the actresses pleasingly bounce around with their little pouts and faux coy invitations. Judy Geeson, as Mary, is the headliner and both Adrienne Posta and Vanessa Howard figure in prominently, but it's Angela Scoular as spaced-out rich girl Caroline Beauchamp who steals it. The sequence where Jamie spends the night at her parents' house is, aided by a hilarious supporting turn by Denholm Elliott as Caroline's boozy father, a comedic highlight.
The little buzz that comes from that portion of the film mostly carries over to the remainder despite an odd shift in tone and an out of place skinny dipping digression. Is the movie a sex comedy with music and extremely dated clothes or is it an attempted meditation on the morality of sexual promiscuity? Oftentimes, the answer seems clear only to abruptly waffle. What's a little unfortunate is that it hardly matters. Donner's picture does a magnificent job of feeling meaningless. Rarely has coming of age sexually seemed to impact less than it does with Jamie and his peers. Any angst is unabashedly manufactured and, yes, scored to something involving Steve Winwood. To be fair, you're warned right off. The opening titles give the impression that someone spilled different colors of paint over the negative image. It's a playful covering-up of insecurities.
As I've seen and reviewed nearly all of the releases so far, I want to provide a quick, randomly placed assessment, and endorsement, of the BFI Flipside strand that fits well with this particular inclusion. It can be difficult to assign number grades that reflect the enthusiasm and anticipation with which I meet wave after wave of these titles. They aren't great films, and no one has ever claimed that only great films are worthy of enjoying, but not a one has been anything less than fascinating. I can only imagine and hope that that trend continues as long as the BFI has the material available for release. Even if my opinions of the films' merits can be justifiably tempered, the editions themselves are digital miracles unparalleled by any other English language label. More than being great, they're fun and presented with extreme care in terms of technical quality and supplements.
Spine number 12 in the Flipside line, Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush is being released in a Dual Format edition containing both Blu-ray and DVD copies of the release. The Blu-ray is restricted to machines capable of playing Region B discs, clearly marked as such and tested in my multi-region player, while the DVD is PAL and R2. Both are dual-layered. The Blu-ray presents an uncensored version of the film through seamless branching technology, with an alternative censored version also the disc in full. The DVD has only the uncensored version but does include the alternative censored sequences (5:21) as a supplement.
Image quality for the Blu-ray is quite solid. It's in the widescreen television-friendly 1.78:1 aspect ratio, open matte from 1.85:1. Informative technical details found inside the booklet let us know that the film was transferred "from a 35mm low-contrast print representing the uncensored version, and 35mm combined print representing the censored version." Some mild specks of damage occur throughout the picture. The image looks bright, though colors appear more or less accurate when measuring skin tones and the like. Some might be disappointed in the lack of razor sharpness and detail. This isn't really a strong suit of the image but it does remain reasonably consistent and proves to be an overall pleasant viewing experience. Those who like their films to show grain, as they generally should, will be pleased.
Audio is unremarkable but fine, with dialogue always at a nice, consistent volume and easily understood. The English PCM mono track won't threaten the depths of anyone's speakers, and might have sounded a little edgier with more emphasis on the musical portions. As it is, the songs don't quite stand out to great effect, though perhaps that's faithful to the original audio. The booklet also cites the same elements used for the image as those being the source of the audio. Optional subtitles are offered in English for the hearing impaired, and are white in color.
A pair of short films highlight the supplemental materials. "Because That Road is Trodden" (23:31), made by the 17-year-old Tim King, concerns a schoolboy's struggle to not get caught up in conformism while "Stevenage" (21:17) is a documentary short about the first New Town (and the setting of the main feature) that celebrates the very essence of conforming. "Stevenage" is probably the more immediately interesting of the two because it's essentially a propaganda piece commissioned by the Stevenage Development Corporation that nonetheless has a weird, almost frightening quality to anyone weary of prefab zombies and their lifestyles. The town of Stevenage looks like the kind of place where mediocrity is cultivated with a smile. Both shorts are 1.33:1, with the former in black and white and the latter in color.
Then we come to the BFI's huggable little booklet found inside the transparent case. It includes a 6-page essay by Steve Chibnall that is rather personal, not surprising considering the subjective impact this film can extend to some viewers, though still general enough to add a layer of appreciation to those with zero existing relationship to the film. Writer Hunter Davies also contributes a nice essay about his experience authoring the book and the screenplay. I could've read a few more pages on his relationship with it. There's a quite depressing piece by Vic Pratt on actor Barry Evans that is nonetheless informative and well-written. A section on the just-deceased Clive Donner follows. Interesting write-ups on the short films finish up the 36-page booklet. You'll also be able to enjoy the typical collection of posters and stills in addition to all the necessary credits fit to print. These little treats never get old or tiresome to read.