London In The Raw
Mondo Movie enthusiasts will find little to be enamored of as they dive down to the bottom of the barrel with this documentary. Purporting to show the seamy underbelly of London in the swinging sixties, this 80-minutes of mostly recreated flotsam might have been somewhat shocking to yokels from way back when, but said yokels would have to be pretty damn sheltered to get their kicks watching zippy dorks singing songs of political satire in nightclubs.
With dour narration, we delve into those unsavory places (or: unsavoury, if you will) where adults like to have fun. But first, we must contend with pointed commentary on life in contemporary London, involving such outré incidents as kids in uniforms going to school. Further explaining the vagaries of life in the big city, video of a weird old bum playing a pennywhistle on a street corner will assault your eyes, as well as the ears of passers by. As my notes mention, the pennywhistle man is really asking for trouble.
Other items of interest, most of which boast production values that reflect a budget suitable only for decking out your basement as a cheap bar, (which is what pretty much every location used for this movie looks like anyway) take you on a mad journey to places like a health club. This club is full of slightly doughy women looking extremely uncomfortable as they strap into machines designed to melt cellulite away with a vigorous wiggle. If that doesn't give you the vapors, how about gawking at some beatniks eating cat food.
Surely, this is a document from a time when old-guard English adults hadn't the slightest clue what was going on, while youngsters learned how to party and advance their culture. Yet in amongst these staged scenes of revelry and rebellion, lies one scene so far out there in the land of cringe-inducing disgust, so misguided and questionable, that it has to be seen (but shouldn't be) to be believed. Yes, shot in the same dodgy way as fake scenes of beatniks eating cat food, is what can only be understood as an authentic hair-plug implantation surgery. Why this scene had to be included, and why it's shot as if it were a back alley abortion, is anyone's guess. But let me tell you, if you've ever wondered how tightly you can clench your buttocks, just enjoy these scenes of a surreptitious doctor/nurse team jabbing razor-sharp straw-like things into the numbed scalp of some poor sap, only so they can pop out little plugs of scalp and hair, and you'll begin to realize that Kegel exercises are a thing of the past.
Wife swapping, health routines, and other aspects of daily life, or, I mean, the seedy underground, or both, are trotted out for our amusement and scorn. Ultimately, if it involved skin or human bodies, it was likely to be perceived as naughty by the Brits, or something, and thus, when expedient, was shoehorned into movies like this. Brits too cautious to go straight for the hard stuff could gawk at mondo movies like Primitive London under the auspices of education, albeit prurient education. Endless burlesque dance sequences butt up against scenes from a slaughterhouse. Topless swimsuit models share space with judo lessons, and so on. It's like a Master's Degree in random exploitation.
While paying lip-service to notions of narrative cohesion, even a theme or moral here and there, it's clear these documentaries existed simply to show sights you wouldn't have been able to see back then. If the narration is able to sneak in a chiding tone, all the better. But other than that horrific hair-plug procedure, there's nothing here that would shock today's viewers. There's much to provide shameful, nostalgia-laced chuckles, however, and Anglophiles should be extra pleased.