Thursday, 9 May 2013

Tonite! Lets All Make Love in London.

It was a real shame that there was some empty seats at the Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre Film Club for an ultra rare screening of Peter Whitehead’s Tonite! Lets All Make Love in London (1967) because those that were stuck out in the sticks missed a real treat. Tom Benson one of Dumfries and Galloway Film Officers introduced the film and fortunately for the attentive audience Tom had an extensive knowledge of this not particularly well-known British director.

Peter Whitehead.
Tom started by telling us that Peter Lorrimer Whitehead was born of solid working class stock in Liverpool in 1937. How he won a scholarship to Cambridge University to study science and became a moving figure in the counter-culture of the sixties. His first foray into filmmaking was as an apprentice for nine months, working with a news cameraman for an Italian TV station formulating euro trash type reports from London.  But it was when Bob Dylan did his last solo/acoustic tour which ended at the Royal Albert Hall on May 9th and 10th 1965 in front of sell out audiences that he decided to film an evening at the same venue in June 1965 consisting of modern beat poets including Allen Ginsburg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti giving live and taped readings. This 33-minute film called Wholly Communion (1965) was shot with only 44 minutes of film stock on a 16mm camera. His next film opportunity came when Andrew Loog Oldham, the Simon Cowell of his day and the manager of the then virtually unknown white blues band called The Rolling Stones, contacted him to make a quick film about the bands weekend tour of Ireland on the 3rd and 4th September 1965. Charlie is My Darling (1966) was the first documentary film about the band. Tom told us that for the first time a restored and extended version of the film has been finally been released on DVD. In the 1970’s Whitehead all but abandoned cinema and embraced falconry, moving to the Middle East to rear falcons under the patronage of the Saudi Arabian Royal Family, returning to the UK in the 1990’s to write novels.
Allen Ginsburg at the Royal Albert Hall 1965.
A Pop Concerto for Film is how Whitehead described tonight’s movie and Tom informed us that the documentary was structured, and that it was influenced by the pre British New Wave Free Cinema documentaries.  The title track Interstellar Overdrive was by, a then, unknown band called Pink Floyd, it was the director who financed its recording to the tune of £80 and it was this longer version that appeared in the film and not the one to be found on their 1967 debut album Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

Before the main feature we were shown some pop-related film that Whitehead had made prior to putting together Tonite! Lets All Make Love in London. These included Jimmy James and the Vagabonds appearing live at various venue’s including one near Windsor Castle, an interview with the unrecognisable Move who had just arrived in London from Birmingham, pop promo’s from the Small Faces and the Irish traditional band The Dubliners, a great live rendition of Hey Joe from Jimi Hendrix and Eric Burdon with the second incarnation of the Animal’s singing When I was Young in a pop promo that remains influential to this day.
Painting Pop.
The documentary it self is spit into sections. The first being based on Michael Caine’s words ‘The Loss of the British Empire.’ We see the guards parading at Buckingham Palace watched by men in bowler hats and three-piece suits. We observe a guard collapsing under the weight of his stiff upper lip and Whitehead is stopped from filming by the good old British bobby. All of which is meant to satirise the decline of the British class based aristocracy.[1]. Other sections are titled Dollies, Protest[2], Pop Music, Movie Stars, and Painting Pop whose titles are self-explanatory. The final section however is entitled A Scene from the USA where we get to see Hugh Heffner’s Playboy Bunnies open in London and American visitors like Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate arriving at the premiere of Cul De Sac, Lee Marvin in London to film The Dirty Dozen, model and actress Donyale Luna filmed at Portobello Road market. In 1966 she became the first African American to appear on the cover of British Vogue.

Donyale Luna.

The camera films various talking heads, some talk a load of middle class drivel about free love and fashion while other’s like London School of Economics educated Mick Jagger and artist David Hockney talk some semblance of sense. Hockney discusses the difference between nightlife in California and a city like London where if you want to go out after 10.30 in the evening you will need a large amount of money to pay an exorbitant entrance fee to get into some over rated club where a drink will cost you a £1 but in a local pub for the same amount of money you would get 8 pints of beer! Meanwhile Jagger implies his support for the use of violence against the authorities to get your point across when more legitimate avenue’s has been exhausted. He reveals that there’s no secret to song writing, either people like your work or they don’t but its important they know you exist. But more interestingly he opines that if your hungry you don’t have a lot of time to worry about moral things like fighting wars or what’s happening in society you obviously have got more important things to concern you, if your not hungry you can start worrying about these things. He also said that he thinks that as the years go by there will less and less work for people to do as machines will do it for you. And that people will end up working for no more than 4 hours a day (little did he imagine part time working with 2 or 3 jobs!!). He went on to question what people would do with their time? He obviously would never have foreseen the amount of mind numbing TV that is now on offer.

Whitehead with Mick Jagger.
David Hockney

An interesting and in-depth discussion took place after the screening mainly concerning the music and politics of the late sixties or what has been described as ‘the swinging London scene’. For me, it’s subject matter reinforced my long held view that the swinging sixties only happened for certain people, generally the sons and daughters of the upper class or wealthy middle classes. It does goes some way in disseminating the myth of the sixties, as most young people during this period were too busy working for a living, paying the rent, saving up for a car or like me saving to get married (well it was the Summer of Love!). The documentary had a rough and ready experimental feel to it, like the observational or verite cinema of people like Dziga Vertov or Jean-Luc Godard. But like Jagger’s statement about song writing one gets the impression that Whitehouse’s filmmaking is made to please himself and if others like it then all well and good, if they don’t hard luck. I think that is can safely said that Monday nights film club audience appreciated the work of Peter Lorrimer Whitehead.

[1] A decline that never materialized!
[2] Vanessa Redgrave salutes Fidel Castro's Cuba against the Western capitalist model.

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