Set in 1962 MANDELAS GUN is a political thriller, based on Mandelas African Odyssey. As Commander-in-Chief of the Liberation Army Umkhonto we Sizwe (the MK) he undergoes military training ... See full synopsis »
Two generations of men find themselves haunted by the presence of a spectral woman. When the son of one of the elderly men returns to his hometown after his brother's mysterious death, they attempt to unravel her story.
This comes packaged with "Kim Newman's Guide to the Flipside of British Cinema", an entertaining promotional disc for the BFI's strand of forgotten British cinema on DVD. So you might expect it to be one of those luridly exploitative Mondo Cane-style Soho exposés. Instead, it's a sympathetic documentary about the lives of three strippers - Tina, Julie and Katy - working in the Carousel club in London (which evidently produced the film).
We do get some footage of them doing their acts - mostly consisting of removing clothing to music until their nipples are visible, which now seems exceedingly tame but wasn't then - but far more time is given to their offstage lives. Tina goes out with US sailors to Cambridge; Julie, who's married, plays with her two young children; Katy plans a holiday in Italy with her croupier boyfriend Romano.
Directed by John Irvin - who's still working more than 40 years later and best known for TV's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - it's shot in high-contrast black and white; some of its dialogue is recorded live, but there are voice-overs from the women as well. The Cambridge sequence looks staged, but the rest looks like an authentic record of the rather dodgy Soho of the 1960s, the markets, the alleys, the shops and clubs and gambling establishments. (There's even a seven-second clip of The Who playing "It's All Over Now".)
What's unusual about all this is that it takes the women seriously, gives them their own voice, and doesn't impose the usual moral judgment implying that they're headed for prostitution or worse. On the contrary, they're all in the job because they like the money and they like the work. (Only Julie ponders how she'll have to tell the kids some day.) As a result, the censor banned the film for years, fearful that it would act as a recruiting poster for other young women. It might have, too, because the three are shown as competent and autonomous and entirely normal.
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