Saturday, March 8, 2008

21st March 2008: Schlock Treatment's War on Drugspolitation special!

Back in the Seventies, Anita Bryant was a popular if milktoast chanteuse who doubled as a poster girl for Florida’s orange juice industry. Her fall from grace happened after Florida passed its anti-discrimination laws against homosexuals; being violently and fundamentally Baptist, she launched a hate campaign called “Save Our Children”, declaring in a hysterical tone that all homosexuals are potential pedophiles. Naturally she lost much of her liberal audience and the backing of the Florida Citrus Commission. But that same hysterical tone can be found in an ealier scare film aimed at Florida’s primary school population: in Drugs Are Like That (c.1970), we could almost believe drugs are a greater threat to the nation’s children than homosexuals. The film opens with a pair of pre-teens making a working windmill out of Lego; take one piece out of place, and the whole edifice collapses in a plume of smoke. “Drugs are like that,” frowns Anita’s voiceover. In a series of infantile analogies, Anita hammers the point home with the subtlety of a Swedish wrestler: a toddler with a pacifier, a crying girl with her hand in the biscuit jar (“She’s not supposed to go after the cookies!”).

It’s often been said this film encouraged an entire decade of Florida kids to take up drugs. Let’s look at the facts: the film opens with a shower of Lego blocks that turn into a pharmacopeia of multicoloured pills. Mmmm…psychemedelic! The jaunty singalong theme song “Drugs Are Like That” is pure sugary candy, sticky and infectious – and shall we say addictive? And the inane dialogue between the two kids actually sounds like the rot that passes for most drug-laced conversations. Not content hooking a lost generation on Vitamin C, Anita, YOU are the pusher. J’ACCUSE!

The Terrible Truth (1951) is an early and deliriously and sensationalist film on pot (“that’s jazz talk for marijuana”) as the slippery slope to the Big H. from Sid Davis Productions, the man who gave us the Stranger Danger classics Girls Beware and Boys Beware. A disturbingly mannish Mrs Howard parades her wayward teenage daughter Phyllis like a junk monkey, fresh out of cold turkey in the county jail and a six month nightmare “even Edgar Allan Poe couldn’t have improved on!” Her tale is a strangely familiar one: she started out smoking reefers with the anti-social crowd – you know, “the ones with no backbone”. Soon she’s marrying her middle-aged boyfriend Chuck, the lovespawn of Danny Kaye and William S. Burroughs, who turns her onto dope, and she ends up dealing to support her $30 a day habit. By the grace of God she lives to tell the tale, warning against a possible Communist conspiracy to hook America’s youth. Sid uses a similar “confessional” framework using a young actress to play Phyllis – but not that great an actress, judging from her eye-rolling and troll hair pulling. Never has anti-drug hysteria been so… well, hysterical.

LSD 25 comes from that magical moment in the history of the War On Drugs: 1967, the height of the Acid Scare. A befuddled population of non-hipsters were convinced the Russians were trying to put LSD in the country’s water supply, and Timothy Leary was a psychedelic Pied Piper leading the acid-soaked rat children out of Haigh-Ashbury to their doom. LSD 25 adopts a Devil’s Advocate disguise by letting the drug itself narrate the film (“everyone knows I’m called LSD for short…”), but clearly its deceptively benign commentary hides its true purpose. “It’s high time for the facts”, LSD says, and here they are: insanity and premature death, and a freakshow of gibbering hippies on heavy bummers. “Trip or trap?” it poses over a pounding soundtrack of anti-psychedelia, the Sixties equivalent of Christian metal. LSD simply shrugs. “That’s his problem, not mine.”

Narcotics: Pit Of Despair (1967) is from the same proto-hippy period, a catch-all hysterical tome for its complicated times. From beer to a pot party and then straight into heroin hell, it’s the story of John Scott, a self-absorbed jock and born shirker who, failing exams and looking for kicks, goes to what pusher Pete tells him is a beer party. Before you can say “frathouse freakout” he’s seduced by Pete’s junky girlfriend into having just one puff of reefer – to “take a trip from squaresville”. Soon Pete has his hooks into John – once his defences are down and his character has crumbled, he introduces him to horse. Soon it’s dirty backrooms and eyedropper syringes as the music suddenly turns sinister, and the drugs-as-snake poison references (with all the inherent serpent-as-Satan suggestions) become relentless, as does the hysterical narration from a jive-quoting square. The barrage of clichés - “the trippers, the grass hoppers, the hip ones” – rolls endlessly off his NBC-trained silver tongue and continues right to the bitter end. End? There is NO END.

Beat Girl

UK 1960 b&w

aka Wild For Kicks

Director Edmond T. Gréville Writer Dail Ambler

Cast Gillian Hills (Jennifer), Noëlle Adam (Nichole), Adam Faith (Dave), Christopher Lee (Kenny), Nigel Green (Simon), Shirley Anne Field (Dodo), Oliver Reed (Plaid Shirt)

It’s Youth Gone Wild – Anglo style – in a British charicature of the juvenile delinquent movie, with a voguish quasi-beatnik flavour.

The Beat Girl of the title is Jenny, absent art student and spoilt daughter of a distant father more interested in his model city than his new wife, a 24 year old French coquette named Nichole. Jenny spends all of her time looking for new kicks, shimmying to jazz and rock combos and hanging out with her “beat” friends at a Soho boho coffee shop. Much to Jenny’s horror, in walks Nichole, whom the hip crowd label the “Paris Poodle,” and who becomes the target for the unloved Jenny’s teenage rage. Nichole, meanwhile, is recognized by the jaded exotic dancers at “Les Girls”, the strip club across the road run by cold-blooded impresario Christopher Lee, who takes more than a professional interest in the still-innocent Jenny. Dark pasts and uncontrolled libidos naturally converge in a predictably downbeat and moralistic ending in the shadow-filled back streets of London’s Soho.

If it’s kicks you’re after, Beat Girl’s are of the restrained kind, thanks to its immovable British-ness, where barely a stiff upper lip moves let alone any other part of the anatomy. It’s a foreign culture, even it’s from America, that’s been transplanted and sits uneasily; we’re used to seeing jive-spouting coffee shop crawlers in juvenile delinquent movies, but not when they have plums in their mouths. England’s answer to Elvis, Adam Faith, sounds convincing with a guitar in his hand, but give him a page of dialogue and he sounds like Michael Caine in Alfie.

Unlike American JD films of the period, there’s depth in the film’s characters and the cast is uniformly good, even Faith, and the ever-pouting Bardot-esque Gillian Hills as Jennifer. Most memorable is the soundtrack, a mod concoction of jazz, rock and big band orchestrals from the John Barry Seven, the future composer of the James Bond theme, whose hypnotic Beat Girl title track could be one his greatest compositions.

Whether it’s Wild For Kicks (its American title) or Mild For Kicks, it’s still a fascinating trans-Atlantic hybrid of Marlon Brando and BBC Play of the Month: the1960 Beat Girl.


Futuristics said...

NICE Blog :)

diane said...

We didn't get "She Shoulda Said No"
last Friday night. I was looking
forward to it. We received "Beat
Girl" which I really enjoyed. I
hadn't seen it for years. I could
remember Hills as being ravishing
(well I was only a teenager). She
was in a few shots (very few) but
now she just looked trashy to me.
I looked her up on IMDb and it said
she was born in Egypt - that would
explain her irritating accent. Boy,
her stepmother looked really trashy
too!! It was nice to see Oliver
Reed looking young and beautiful
and undebauched!!!

Gargantuan Media said...

Great Review. I'm looking forward to screening this flick.

FYI: IMDB lists Beat Girl (aka Wild For Kicks!) as being released in 1959.