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Primitive London 
Written by: on June 4th, 2009

Theatrical Release Date: UK, April, 1965
Director: Arnold Louis Miller
Writer: Arnold Louis Miller
Cast: David Gell (narrator), MacDonald Hobley, Billy J. Kramer, Diana Noble, Bobby Chandler

DVD released: May 25th, 2009
Approximate running time: 84 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1:33:1 Fullscreen
Rating: 15 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
Subtitles: English (Hard of Hearing)
DVD Release: BFI Flipside
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £17.99

Following in the success of LONDON IN THE RAW, PRIMITIVE LONDON sets out to expose “the jungle behind the bright lights” of London in an even more sensational fashion than its predecessor. Again following the MONDO CANE format, the film explores a variety of unusual and ‘depraved’ activities taking place in the British capital: Mods get outfitted in the latest outrageous designer fashion, while their arch enemies the rockers wear leather and hang out at the Ace Café; graphic footage of a woman giving birth to a baby which may or may not live; promising young dancers train to be striptease artists and dash from one West End venue to another earning their keep; a bloody re-enactment of the Jack The Ripper murders foreshadows a similar series of killings which are taking place in the city; a young husband is introduced to the decadent party game of wife-swapping; and the no-holds-barred depiction of what happens in a chicken processing plant, all presented in a sharp newsreel style and ridiculed by a sarcastic American voice-over.

Having scored a hit with their last ‘Mondo’ venture, Arnold Louis Miller and Stanley Long immediately set to work on another feature which went even further than LONDON IN THE RAW. Funded by Tony Tenser and Michael Klinger of Compton-Cameo Films, PRIMITIVE LONDON emulates the shock-documentary formula even more so than the previous picture, and in many ways provides richer results. While one could never mistake either film as being anything other than pure exploitation cinema, this element is more obvious in this follow-up, since much of what occurs is more apparently staged. The Jack The Ripper segment seems awkward when compared with the rest of the picture (included since Tenser and Klinger stated that an ‘X’ certificate from the British censors was essential) yet within the ramshackle structure it doesn’t necessarily feel out of place. Many of the performed sequences – involving a suburban orgy and the manipulated recording of a commercial in a radio studio – are continued throughout, giving PRIMITIVE LONDON a reoccurring narrative thread that makes the film overall engaging than the earlier entry. On a factual, non-staged level, the picture is also fascinating for its vox-pop interviews with a group of young beatniks and rockers, whose responses are particularly revealing to anyone interesting in 1960s Britain. The beatnik footage is the more intriguing of the two, since the filmmakers also speak to the female members of the group, while the young woman seen in the rocker’s presence stay mute: Such direct to-camera moments were absent from LONDON IN THE RAW, making PRIMITIVE LONDON more involving. It should also be noted that are is some playful humour in a handful of scenes, where two actors (in voice-over) pretend to be the filmmakers arguing over various cuts, when in fact these sequences were merely masking the damage done by the British Board of Film Censors.

The DVD:

Flipside is the British Film Institute’s alternative DVD label that specializes in “rescuing weird and wonderful British films from obscurity and presenting them in new high-quality editions”. Framed at its correct 1:33:1 ratio, PRIMITIVE LONDON has been mastered in high definition from the original 35mm inter-positive elements. The picture has been restored to the highest possible standard, with most instances of damage repaired and a healthy amount of film grain. No expense has been spared in this presentation and the image quality is simply a delight.

Likewise, the audio is equally pleasing. Presented in Mono, there are no noticeable instances of damage or hiss and the sound is overall excellent.

The disc also includes a fine selection of extra features. Relating specifically to the main film is an alternative French edition of PRIMITIVE LONDON, which often offers a compelling re-interpretation of the events from the English-language version. Along with the film’s original theatrical trailer (French and English options) also included on the DVD is CAROUSELLA (25 minutes, director John Irvin), a fascinating dramatization illustrating the lives of several striptease artistes. As with THE BED SITTING ROOM disc, three segments from Bernard Braden’s uncompleted NOW AND THEN television series are also present, and comprise of interviews with Soho nightclub owner Al Burnett (17 minutes), strip club manager Stuart McCabe (15 minutes) and a stripper identified simply as ‘Shirley’ (6 minutes). Finally, but certainly not least, there is a 34 page booklet extensively illustrated and featuring a variety of liner notes including three essays on the main film by novelist and filmmaker Iain Sinclair and BFI curators Vic Pratt and William Fowler, a reprint of the Monthly Film Bulletin review, biographies on Arnold Louis Miller and Stanley Long, 13 notes that Long made about the film, comments on the French version, notes on CAROUSELLA by John Irvin (plus a reprint of its Monthly Film Bulletin review) and some background information on the NOW AND THEN footage.

This reviewer cannot praise the BFI enough for the work that they have put into this disc and along with the other initial releases by Flipside – LONDON IN THE RAW and THE BED SITTING ROOM – this DVD must rank as one of the highlights of the year so far.

Note: PRIMITIVE LONDON has also been released in Blu-Ray (PAL Region 0).

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