The latest ‘Slap & Tickle’ double-bill from Odeon…
Odeon’s latest ‘Slap & Tickle’ release takes us back to the early days of British saucy cinema and three of the cycle’s key players. 1961’s Naked – As Nature Intended was written and directed by the famous glamour photographer George Harrison Marks, who would later go on to direct one British cinema’s most successful sex comedies, namely 1976’s Come Play With Me. Secrets of a Windmill Girl, released in 1966, was the handiwork of Arnold Louis Miller and Stanley Long, here making the move from various sex-based documentaries (Nudes in Paradise, West End Jungle, London in the Raw, etc.) into slightly more straightforward fiction. Miller subsequently moved into horror production (most notably with Witchfinder General) and sponsored documentaries, only occasionally returning to erotica with the likes of 1973’s Sex Farm. Long, on the other hand, remained a prolific contributor to the British sex comedy variously producing and/or directing a long line of such features: The Wife Swappers, Groupie Girl, Bread, On the Game, Eskimo Nell and the entire Adventures series.
In other words this particular double-bill offers up a fascinating glimpse into the British nudie film during its early stages and the influence this pair of features would have. Naked – As Nature Intended wasn’t the first nudist ‘documentary’ having been beaten to the punch by 1959’s Nudist Parade (the film Sid James and Joan Sims go to see at the start of Carry on Camping), Miller and Long’s short Nudist Memories and Michael Winner’s second feature Some Like It Cool. But given the presence of George Harrison Marks behind the camera, and the UK’s most famous glamour model Pamela Green in front of it, the film remains arguably the most famous of these early releases thus opening up the floodgates for the assortment of British sex films to come. It’s certainly had the longest afterlife – of all the nudist films it’s the only one to have seen both VHS and DVD releases – and the greater cult appeal thanks to Marks and Green.
Of course, cinematic and cult significance don’t always translate into quality filmmaking, and so it is for Naked – As Nature Intended. The film is set up as a documentary detailing five girls as they head down to Cornwall for the weekend and indulge in/discover the pleasures of the nudist lifestyle. Bridget and Angela work in a garage and are already members of a colony; Katrina (the “nice girl”), Jackie (the “outdoor girl”) and Pat (the nightclub dancer) are yet to experience the much extolled delights. Despite the film having a running time of barely an hour, it nonetheless takes some travelling to reach Cornwall and the general frolicking in the sunshine. The trio of novices have, for some reason, hired a massive Buick for their trip, although this prompts Naked – As Nature Intended to become more travelogue than it does a road movie. They take in Stonehenge, an open-air theatre built into the coastline, a quay of moderate historical significance – all of which have our commentator relating the various sight-seeing facts whilst maintaining the cheekiness through various saucy (and awful) puns; Stonehenge, for example, is introduced via its “measurements”.
Furthering the padding of the scant running is the presence of Stuart Samuels, donning various guises and providing the slapstick: there he is falling into a swimming pool, there he is falling of a boat, and so on. Samuels would enact similar roles in Marks’ subsequent features The Naked World of Harrison Marks and The Nine Ages of Nakedness, but it’s to little discernible effect. Indeed, it becomes immediately clear that Marks is making Naked – As Nature Intended solely as an excuse for the coy nudity of the final scenes; everything that comes beforehand is merely a means of appeasing the censor and ensuring that feature-length is (barely) achieved. Just as the slapstick is unremittingly dire, so too the travelogue elements come across as bored and uninterested. Admittedly, Marks’ photography skills do come through a little, and he has Eastmancolor at his disposal too, but you’re hardly going to compare the first two-thirds of Naked – As Nature Intended with the poetic, cinematic travelogues the British Transport Film Unit were putting out at the same time; it was made to show bottoms and breasts and that’s all it cares about.
These bottoms and breasts clearly did the trick, however, and Naked – As Nature Intended was followed by a glut of similarly coy features and featurettes, most of which are now forgotten: My Bare Lady, It’s a Bare, Bare World, The Reluctant Nudist, Eves on Skis, Take Your Clothes Off and Live!. The most significant came out mere weeks after Marks’ effort, the Valerie Singleton-narrated Nudes of the World, written and directed by Arnold Louis Miller and photographed by Stanley Long. This was their first feature and one that set the template for the next few years. Shortly afterwards they headed to the massage parlours and members clubs of London for West End Jungle (which ended up getting banned by the BBFC and didn’t see the light of day until 2008 when it received a near-simultaneous screening on BBC4 and DVD release) and then expanded such subject matters further for their ‘mondo’-esque docs London in the Raw and Primitive London. Here the strippers, belly dancers and life models shared screen time with a graphic hair transplant operation, a slaughterhouse and scientific experiments all rendered in garish close-up. Secrets of a Windmill Girl was to continue in this strict documentary vein, the intention being to record the last ever nude revue at the famous Soho club (later the subject of Stephen Frears’ Mrs Henderson Presents) and nothing more. But a decision was made in pre-production that the revue should be mere part of a larger tale and so Miller and Long embarked on their first steps into narrative cinema…
Secrets of a Windmill Girl is, despite the title, the story of two girls, friends since childhood who become dancers at the Windmill Club. Pat (played by a young Pauline Collins) is the wild one, whereas Linda (April Wilding) is by far the more sensible. We know this because we witness Pat’s death in the opening scenes – a drunken passenger in a speeding car – and have Linda relate their tale in flashback for the rest of the film. As is typical of these moralistic yarns relating the downfall of a young woman everything starts out rosy at first: a world populated by swinging young things, scored by the beat music of Ray Anton and the Pro Form, and where Pat’s confidence can transform these two shoe shop assistants into Windmill Girls with dreams of the West End and instant fame and fortune. As Linda prompts the various flashbacks to Inspector Thomas (played by Derek Bond) we learn that she did indeed make it to the West End; Pat, however, encountered predatory men, predatory lesbians, seedy producers and ultimately found herself dancing on tables in seedy London pubs.
The interest in Secrets of a Windmill is twofold. From a narrative standpoint it goes someway to prefiguring the darker side of the British sex film. The popular view is that of cheeky chappies, sitcom stars doing a little bit of downmarket big screen work and a comic innocence best exemplified by the Confessions series. Yet whilst this may be true for the vast majority, the sixties and seventies did see a handful of less chirpy entries into the cycle. Thanks to its appearance in the BFI’s Flipside strand of DVD releases, Lindsay Shonteff’s Permissive is arguably the most visible nowadays, a splendidly downbeat look at the life of groupie. To this we can also add Norman J. Warren’s Her Private Hell (an innocent blackmailed by sleazy types over her ‘artistic’ nude shots), Alastair Reid’s Baby Love (imagine Pasolini’s Theorem with a teenage temptress), Clinic Xclusive (aka Sex Clinic, with its suicide and revenge plot intermingled with the standard saucy fare) and the rather nasty Take an Easy Ride. Mention could also be made of more serious minded films such as John Bown’s Monique which similarly strayed from the cheeky norm.
Many, although not all of these films share with Secrets of a Windmill a rise-and-fall narrative, with the initial excitement soon giving way to cynicism and sleaze. It helps in this instance that we have Pauline Collins occupying the central role, admittedly right at the start of her career (her only previous film was a short by the name of The Contact opposite John Hurt and Wendy Richard) but demonstrating some of the presence that saw her through Upstairs Downstairs, say, or Shirley Valentine (in which, ironically, she bared more flesh). Of course, the tale is pure melodrama, with Pat getting her comeuppance for all that confidence and bragging in the Windmill dressing rooms, yet it could have been far worse. Plus Miller is able to deliver some cinematic savvy to proceedings, as is the case with a particularly disturbing POV gang rape sequence.
The slightness of the narrative isn’t too big an issue, however, thanks to the more pronounced documentary elements. The middle third of Secrets of a Windmill Girl is occupied almost entirely by a record of the theatre’s final revue complete with entire dance routines, comic interludes, the occasional tune and even a bit of magic. It is here where that element of social history – so fascinating in Miller and Long’s earlier docs – comes through. Indeed, we even get sight of various offstage Windmill employees and with it a real sense of what the theatre was like towards the end of its existence. (It would become a cinema and casino shortly afterwards.) Moreover, thanks to the voice-over led flashback structure, Miller is even able to add a bit of commentary to sequences of a genuine Windmill Girl during her off-duty hours, thus bringing shades of John Irvin’s 1965 doc Carousella to proceedings. Although, as Simon Sheridan notes in the booklet, “will they really help with the investigation of her friend’s untimely death?” – the interconnect between the fiction and non-fiction elements having not been especially well thought out.
Nevertheless Secrets of a Windmill Girls ultimately serves as a better document of its time than Naked – As Nature Intended ever could and is undoubtedly the superior film. However, it’s pleasing to see these two films combined as a double-bill as they effectively work as mirror images of each other. Naked – As Nature Intended shows the early signs of the cheeky British sex film, demonstrating that coy innocence which would become so prevalent over the next two decades, whereas Secrets of a Windmill Girl hints at the darker side. Meanwhile, Naked – As Nature Intended, though ostensibly framed as non-fiction in order to secure a pass from the sensors, actually has less documentary interest or significance than Secrets of a Windmill Girl despite the latter being the one that sets out, primarily, to tell a story. And yet both have a certain intrigue, for their places within British sex comedy cycle, perhaps within British cinema itself, and for those who were involved: George Harrison Marks, Pamela Green, Arnold Louis Miller, Stanley Long, and Pauline Collins. Look close enough and you’ll also find Martin Jarvis in there too, not to mention future EastEnder Derek Martin looking on disapprovingly at Collins’ strip act. Okay, so neither are great works of art – nor do they have any aspirations to be – but an appeal and an interest is there, and for that alone this double-bill proves worthwhile.
Odeon are releasing Naked – As Nature Intended and Secrets of a Windmill Girl onto a single dual-layered disc, encoded for Region 0 PAL. Admittedly, the films aren’t in the greatest of shape but do remain watchable. The first suffers from intermittent tramlining and looks a little boosted in the brightness department prompting some edge enhancement and a lack of genuine detail. The second is a little dirty in places, also has the occasional tramline running through the picture and has faded with age during certain sequences. However, the detail is very good in this case and is arguably the better of the two, despite their respective flaws. Both films come in full-frame 1.33:1 with a little extra space at the top and bottom of the image suggesting that they would have been masked for theatrical projection. The soundtracks are in their original mono and come across pretty well: crisp, clear and clean for the most part and ably handling both score and dialogue. Naked – As Nature Intended was filmed without recourse to live sound and as such some of the flaws would appear to be the result of its post-production work as opposed to age or this particular transfer. As for extras, here we find a four-page booklet with notes for both films by Simon Sheridan, the author of Keeping the British End Up. In fact, they’ve come straight from that book which is, incidentally, a terrifically thorough account of this particular period of British cinema and well worth a read.
Of the titles mentioned in this review the following are also available on disc. The BFI have issued Miller and Long’s London in the Raw [review] and Primitive London [review] onto Blu-ray and DVD, as is the case with Lindsay Shonteff’s Permissive [Blu review / DVD review], which also contains Long’s Bread. John Irvin’s Carousella was amongst the extras on Primitive London and can also be found on Kim Newman’s Guide to Flipside of British Cinema [review]. Strike Force Entertainment, meanwhile, have released West End Jungle [review]. Amongst Odeon’s various ‘Slap & Tickle’ releases you will find Come Play With, On the Game, Sex Clinic, Take an Easy Ride [review] and the Adventures compilation film Best of the Adventures. The individual Adventures films are available as a boxed-set from Icon, whilst the Confessions series received similar treatment from UCA. Monique is also on disc courtesy of Salvation Films.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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