Film Review: Permissive

January 29, 2010

I’ve recently gained possession of three DVDs from the BFIs Flipside series. Apparently the goal of Flipside is to rescue and restore unusual or cult British films from the cultural skip.

I’m a big fan of all things late sixties and groovy, and I can’t resist old footage of London so some of the films they’ve chosen have a lot of appeal to me. I’ll be reviewing the films over the next few days.

First up is Permissive. It’s a sexploitation movie from 1970 about groupies following a band who are on the bottom rung of the rock ladder.

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First let’s get the sexploitation aspect out of the way lest I be prevented from leaving the house without a grubby mac. This is a not an erotic movie. Certainly there is plenty of naked lady flesh but any frisson is quickly lost because a) they’re shagging ugly hairy hippies, b) all the scenes are liberally intercut with shots of dead people and c) everyone is utterly dead-eyed.

If, on the other hand, you can only reach a state of tumescence by seeing the naked, hairy arse of Alan from The Average White Band bobbing up and down: good news – I’ve found a film you’re going to love!

The excellent booklet that comes with the disc notes that the makers of sexploitation movies would often ensure that the sex scenes weren’t fun so they would be more likely to get past the censors. Nothing much has changed in this regard – every film in recent memory that has included explicit sex scenes has been an art house parade of misery. I’m not going to say that this is either a good or bad thing; after all if people want to see explicit sex scenes I understand that such things are available on the internet. However it’s hardly surprising that the British have such a dysfunctional attitude to sex when all on screen portrayals have to be served up with a heaping spoonful of bromide.

But I digress…

The movie begins with a brief flash forward and then we see our protagonist Suzy arrive in London wearing and carrying half of an army surplus store with her. Let’s just say she’s not dressed glamourously. We don’t know where she’s come from or why she’s there, only that she’s come to meet her old school friend. Suzy arrives in the bands hotel room only to find her friend shagging Alan from The Average White Band. A shock for any woman.

Predictably Suzy gets dragged into the bands orbit and becomes corrupted.

Permissive came out in 1970 and there’s no escape from the feeling that everyone in this film had partied through the psychedelic era only to end up the jaded and dislocated people in this movie. It’s as if everyone is tired and sleepwalking through their lives. The music is repetitive, the shots from the transit van are repetitive, the locations blur into one. Everything in this film portrays life on the road as monotonous.

Adding to the feeling of dislocation is the fact that every character in the film arrives with no back story and little in the way of personality. Have they always been this way or have years of touring turned them into this?

The film is unremittingly grimy, to the extent that it kind of clings to you after you watch it. It also contains an eye watering amount of cynicism.

In an odd way it feels like an extended version of those Public Information Films you used to see about not playing with electric pylons, or the importance of wearing a seat belt. Unlike those films, this is a warning on the dangers of being a groupie. PIFs don’t have a plot, back story or character development either. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Despite it’s numerous flaws, and there are many, Permissive is a single-minded film that perfectly captures a time and a atmosphere. Wether you want to be on the receiving end of such a grubby feeling is very much up to you. And if you don’t want to see the hairy arse of Alan from The Average White Band then you’d best avoid.

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