Suzy (Maggie Stride) arrives in London to visit old school friend Fiona (Gay Singleton). Fiona is a groupie to prog-rock band Forever More – hanger-on, chief cook and bottle-washer, and provider of sexual favours to one or more of the band and their cynical manager Jimi (Gilbert Wynne). Previously an innocent, Suzy finds herself drawn into this dark and seedy world.
Permissive inhabits the fag-end of the Swinging Sixties, a decade which thought and hoped that rock music could change the world and that love can be free. In Permissive neither the words “free” and “love” apply. As a groupie, you may be close to, indeed sleep with, the rock star of your choice, but don’t expect to be thanked for it – you’re valued in as much as you can keep your hands in a sink and your legs apart. While it would be a stretch to call Permissive a feminist film – any ideals of female solidarity are absent – it does bear out the anxieties about a male-defined sexual revolution which gave impetus to the feminist movement. Sexual liberation meant more sex available, and women were expected to put out and put up with it.
The plot of Permissive is a variation on All About Eve: Suzy’s journey from naïve new girl in town to hardened groupie who’s top of the heap (an ending prefigured in a flashforward during the opening credits). Much of the film involves Suzy and Fiona’s days and nights on the road with the band, a round of gigs in venues around England and stays in cheap hotels. It’s a hard-eyed cynical film, with the most idealistic, if eccentric, character killed off suddenly and arbitrarily halfway through the film. Forever More, by the way, were a real, Scottish, band and are in effect playing themselves as fictional characters. Vocalist/bassist Allan Gorrie (whose character is called Lee in the film) and guitarist Onnie Mair (aka Onnie McIntyre) went on to become founder members of the Average White Band.
Lindsay Shonteff films this in a detached manner, his use of jagged cuts in time – reminiscent of Performance amongst others – adding to the sense of anomie and ennui. The acting is frequently wooden – especially from the non-actor rock musicians in the cast – but in a way that’s the point: these characters have been drained of life as much as the humans in the then very recent 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unlike the softcore sex comedies that seemed to take up semi-permanent residence in local cinemas later in the decade, this is a sexploitation piece (working title Suzy Superscrew) that has very little intentional humour and is more depressing than erotic. The BBFC in 1970 seems to have taken particular exception to Permissive: according to the enclosed booklet they removed as much as fifteen minutes before passing it with an X certificate. It played on a double bill with another Tigon production, the lesbian-themed Monique. Permissive is still over-eighteens-only but is now uncut, and what has been restored is nowadays fairly mild. Cult-film fans should notice Madeleine and Mary Collinson (identical twin former Playboy playmates and stars of Hammer's Twins of Evil) in a party scene, the latter credited as “Mary Collins”.
Permissive has a further attraction to fans of late 60s/early 70s prog rock. Not only do we have Forever More, playing several songs on stage and on the soundtrack, we also have Comus providing incidental music and Titus Groan playing “Can't Find the Words to Say”, a track apparently unavailable outside this film.
Also on this DVD, as an extra, is Bread, originally released in 1971, directed by Stanley A. Long. That’s “bread” as in money, and in keeping with the theme the director is credited as $tanley £ong. The storyline features five young people - Mick (Nigel Anthony), Jeff (Peter Marinker), Trev (Dick Hayden), Cathy (Noelle Rimmington) and Marty (Liz White) - who are on their way back from a festival on the Isle of Wight. Noting how much prices are marked up, they decide to hold their own festival and make a lot of money. Camping out in the garden owned by Rafe (Michael McStay), they come to a deal to paint and decorate his house – but they don’t tell him that they’ll use the garden as their festival stage…
Just over an hour long in its current version (see discussion of extras below), Bread is a scattershot but engaging mix of mild titillation (female nudity, a scene in a porn shop and another concerning an amateur porn shoot), broad comedy and several live performances. Lead amongst those is cult band of the time Juicy Lucy who boast along with the usual vocalist, guitarist, bassist and drummer a saxophonist (who was married to Suzanne Greaves, a former groupie and the film’s scriptwriter) and a pedal-steel player. We also see one number from Crazy Mabel; a third band, Web, have been cut out of this version and their contribution survives only in the mute outtakes on this DVD. As critic Marjorie Bilbow said at the time (quoted in the DVD booklet), this is pretty much like a Cliff Richard putting-on-a-show pop music movie with the addition of nudity and swearwords that Sir Cliff would have never countenanced in one of his own films.
Permissive and Bread are released as number 009 in the BFI’s Flipside series, as a dual-layered DVD encoded for all regions.
The transfers of both films are in a ratio of 1.33:1. In my review of That Kind of Girl I expressed surprise that a 35mm dramatic feature from 1963 would be in Academy Ratio. I’m even more surprised that two 35mm non-documentary features from 1970 and 1971 are in that ratio, as by then commercial UK cinemas outside repertory screens and arthouses were not able to show films in this by then obsolescent ratio. Shooting 35mm open-matte is one thing – that’s something that continues to this day – but with a very few exceptions (One from the Heart, Ghosts…of the Civil Dead and Fish Tank are three that I am aware of) a wider ratio is intended. Permissive looks to me as if it could be shown quite happily as wide as 1.85:1, and I’m willing to bet that it spent its cinema release being shown in 1.66:1 or 1.75:1. While the directors of That Kind of Girl and Bread are still with us and may have specified a preference for a 4:3 DVD transfer, though the respective DVD booklets don’t say this, Lindsay Shonteff died in 2006. I’d be interested to know of a source for 1.33:1 being this film’s correct ratio.
That aside, both DVD transfers are excellent.. Permissive is darker and grainier than Bread, though I don't doubt that's intentional. Skintones tend to be on the warm side, but again that's how many films from this time do look. There's minor damage but nothing overly distracting.
The soundtracks for both films are mono, as they would have been in the cinema, here rendered as Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. English hard-of-hearing subtitles are available for the feature and all the extras except, obviously, the mute outtakes.
Bread is an extra on this disc, and is counted as such in my scores below. Shortly after its release, it was cut from the 79 minutes passed by the BBFC for a X certificate (now a 15) to 62 minutes, presumably to be reissued on a double bill. Long later re-edited the film to the present version (running 65:36 with PAL speed-up), which he retitled Festival, though this version was never commercially released. The BFI had the complete negative available but the soundtrack for the deleted scenes could not be found. These are presented, mute, on the DVD and run 15:56. They include, as mentioned above, the entire performance by The Web, who do not appear in the version of the feature presented here, although their name remains in the end credits. No subtitles here obviously, though given that the script still exists, it would have been good to have them for what were dialogue scenes – lipreaders have an advantage here.
Also on the disc is another short film reused from the BFI's Joy of Sex Education DVD - 'Ave You Got a Male Assistant Please Miss? (4:16), made in 1973 at Oxford Polytechnic and aiming to educate students in the use of contraception. Much facial hair is on display. This is transferred from a 16mm print and is in a ratio of 1.33:1.
The remaining on-disc extra is the trailer for Permissive, which runs 2:04.
The booklet begins with a detailed piece on Permissive by I.Q. Hunter, who has clearly also seen the film's double-bill partner Monique and also the same year's Groupie Girl. (They sound interesting enough to merit DVD releases of their own some day.) This is followed by a piece on the film's music by an inside source – Lee Dorrian, formerly of Napalm Death and now of Cathedral. In a similar vein is an interview (writer uncredited) with members of Comus concerning their music score. Finally, Vic Pratt discusses Bread and there is a page detailing the various versions of the film. The booklet is rounded out by credits for both films, biographies of Lindsay Shonteff and Stanley A. Long, credits and notes on 'Ave You Got a Male Assistant..., DVD credits and transfer notes.
7 out of 10
8 out of 10
8 out of 10
8 out of 10