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Primitive London
SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • English PCM Mono
  • French PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • English and French language versions of feature and trailer
  • Carousella (John Irvin, 1965, 23 mins): a dramatised documentary on the lives of a group of striptease artistes
  • Stuart McCabe (strip club manager) interview (1968,15 mins)
  • Shirley (stripper) interview (1968, 6 mins)
  • Al Burnett (nightclub owner) interview (1967,17 mins)
  • Original trailer (English and French language options)
  • Illustrated booklet with essays by Iain Sinclair, Vic Pratt (BFI Curator) and William Fowler (BFI Curator); original review and promotional material

Primitive London

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Arnold L. Miller
1965 | 86 Minutes

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: £22.99 | Series: BFI Flipside | Edition: #3
BFI Video

Release Date: May 25, 2009
Review Date: July 26, 2009

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SYNOPSIS

The sensational follow-up to London in the Raw sets out to reflect society's decay through a sideshow spectacle of 1960s London depravity - and manages to outdo its predecessor. Here, we confront mods, rockers and beatniks at the Ace Cafe, cut some rug with obscure beat band The Zephyrs, witness a seedy Jack the Ripper re-enactment, smirk at flabby men in the sauna and goggle at sordid wife-swapping parties as we discover a pre-permissive Britain still trying to move on from the post-war depression of the 1950s.

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

For their third title in their Flipside series, BFI Video presents another Arnold L. Miller film, Primitive London, in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (despite the back packaging stating 1.85:1) on this dual-layer disc. The high-def transfer is presented in 1080p. While a UK release the disc is not region encoded and should play on all Blu-ray players (it plays fine in my PS3.)

Again those at BFI have done an outstanding job with this transfer, though I wasn’t as blown away by it when compared with the companion disc to this release, London in the Raw. Damage is more prominent in this release and the colours don’t jump out in the same fashion, though this may have been intentional to the look of the film.

The high-def transfer is again very sharp presenting a high level of detail. It’s very clean and very film like with noticeable grain (that varies in heaviness at times.) Again I am rather impressed at the effort that went into the film. What I say next is not to be taken as a judgment against the film (I found both this film and London in the Raw bizarre but incredibly fun) but it just seems again to be one of those that is destined to fall into obscurity and fall into the hands of some small production company that would never put the same level of care into it. It looks fantastic, far better than one would ever suspect.

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The lossless English mono track found here is actually a bit of an improvement over the track found on London in the Raw. Overall quality is a little better and it’s a little more robust with the narrator not coming off as hollow. There are some issues with some of the “interviews” found in the film (I’ll be honest I had a hard time figuring what was staged and what wasn’t, but I suspect a lot of it was staged) where I had to turn on the subs because the overall audio quality of the source materials were a little rough. Other than this fact there is nothing in the way of noise or damage.

A lossless French dub has also been included (with English subs) and while it is added here more as a curiosity the audio quality of it is about the same as what is found on the English track.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Again BFI has rounded up some wonderful supplements to compliment the main feature and all add value to this disc. All supplements are also presented in 1080p with lossless audio.

The most interesting feature is the French audio dub presented in lossless mono with its own English subtitles. It’s actually an interesting comparison piece as it does stay mostly true to what is spoken on the English version but it can veer off in interesting, almost bizarre ways. While the film displays a seedy underside to London the dead-serious, monotone English narrator does usually condemn what is going on throughout (which is actually quite amusing) but the French track seems to go a step further. The booklet has some notes that point out some instances such as name changes, joke changes, and added or altered dialogue, but there are other instances where it actually seems to try to make things look worse. One small section of the film focuses on the murder of prostitutes where the English track states that six were murdered over a period of 12 months and the French track states six were murdered over six months, shortening the time period. There’s also a word change in a meat packing plant describing the butchering of chickens where the French narrator calls it “serial killing.” There’s also added narrating to the key party sequence. I rather liked the addition of this track, the changes are subtle but they do really change the feeling of the film.

A theatrical trailer is also included, which is about what you would expect. There’s also a French track (with subtitles) but it’s not as different from the English track as the French track is with the main feature.

Next is a 26-minute short film by John Irvin called Carousella about a group of striptease artists in 1965. I was actually rather surprised by this short as I was expecting a somewhat exploitive piece but it really does take its subject seriously (and there’s actually very little in the way of nudity.) It follows three performers (and also fits in a costume designer/choreographer) and offers a glimpse at their personal/family lives and a bit of behind-the-scenes stuff. There are interviews and also some footage of their performances. It’s actually a decent piece and certainly worth viewing.

The next three features are interviews taken by Bernard Braden for an intended show called “Now and Then”. According to the notes in the booklet the intention was for Braden to interview a group of professionals at one point in their life and then a few years later interview the same subjects again to see how things have gone. The show apparently never took off and it doesn’t sound like follow up interviews were done but here are the original interviews in un-edited form covering people who work or run in businesses in the Soho area of the City of Westminster. Included here are interviews with club owner Al Burnett (17-minutes), strip club owner Stuart McCabe (15-minutes), and a stripper known only as Shirley (6-minutes). These are great representations of a time period as the three talk about their work and what they expect for the future. Shirley talks about how she got into the business and what she’d like to do career wise (become a cabaret dancer) while the other two talk about what their businesses provide and what they expect in the future, and Burnett offers some interesting ways they were able to get around liquor laws over the years. They’re all quite fascinating though it’s a shame follow-up interviews were not done, especially since Soho has apparently changed so much in recent years (I’m a Canadian living in the States and have never been to Europe so I only know Soho by reputation.)

Finally we get a 37-page booklet loaded with material. First is an essay on the film and period it represents by Iain Sinclair and another by Vic Pratt. A third essay by William Fowler offers a sort of comparison to the first feature, London in the Raw even offering that this one was actually supposed to be a straight-up sequel called London in the Raw 2. There’s a reprinting of a short, unflattering review of the film that appeared in Monthly Film Bulletin in 1965 and then the same biographies for Arthur L. Miller and Stanley A.Long that appeared in the booklet for BFI’s Blu-ray London in the Raw are reprinted here. Stanley Long has also included some amusing notes on the film, one of which questions the appearance of a Jack the Ripper sequence midway through the film (included to get an X rating) and then questions most everything else in the film. There is a reflection on Carousella by John Irvin and Tim Miller followed by a short, rather favourable review reprinted from a 1965 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin. There’s also notes on the Bernard Braden interviews that appear on the disc, with some added information about the businesses mentioned in them. And then it concludes with a brief description on the alternate French track with footnotes on some of the differences.

While again there’s very little in the way of supplements on the main feature (sort of disappointing) the features are none the less still fascinating, adding real value to the release in offering a representation of one aspect of London during this period.

9/10

CLOSING

Primitive London is certainly a little darker than London in the Raw but it is still a blast in its own way. Both of these Blu-ray releases are my introduction to BFI’s Flipside series (I have not seen the Blu-ray for their first title, The Bed Sitting Room, since it’s region locked and I do not have a multiregion Blu-ray player just yet) and I’m so far very pleased with them in all ways. The films themselves are certainly unique and admittedly quite fun, the transfers go well and beyond what one would expect for films of this nature, and the supplements offer a great amount of value, further documenting certain aspects of the time period (mid 60’s) in London. Both come highly recommended.




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