Tuesday, 16 June 2009

X-RATED: Adventures of an Exploitation Filmmaker

By Stanley Long (with Simon Sheridan)
Foreword by Robert Lindsay
Reynolds & Hearn Ltd.
256 pages, B&W plus Colour Inserts
Dimensions: H=23.8cm W=16cm D=2.4cm
SRP £17.99 (UK)

Time to get away from horror-related book reviews (yet not entirely, as I will go on to explain) and instead tackle a genre that is near and dear to every red-blooded male's heart...sexploitation!

Have you ever experienced that strange phenomena, when you've just sat down with a book or film and something occurs to make you say to yourself 'You know what? I think I'm going to like this...'? There is some sentiment or opinion expressed that mirrors your own exactly, and you know that you are about to enjoy a work by someone who is singing from the same hymn sheet.

Prior to cracking open this book, the last time I can recall such a phenomenon was when I began to watch the no-budget French movie 'I Am The Ripper' and two party guests are discussing the relative merits of Alien and Predator (before the advent of the AVP franchise), leading one to exclaim that 'Alien is nothing! It's just a thing with a big head!'.

Well, I made it no further than than Mr. Long's prologue until I got that exact same feeling again when he trots out the following line:

"I see ITV filming episodes of Midsomer Murders in my village every year and there are bloody hundreds of people scurrying about with clipboards like blue-arsed flies."

Clipboard-bearers are the bane of my existence, I tell you. If you ever watch a Premier League game on the TV, have a good look at the shots where they show the players lining up in the tunnel, and I guarantee you that there will be at least one functionary with the obligatory clipboard standing there doing nothing (I actually saw two at a recent Blackburn game, which is probably about half the average home attendance at Ewood Park!). What do they do? What are they there for?

From what I can gather, the book is mostly a transcription of lengthy audio interviews which I assume co-author Simon Sheridan has then tidied up and pared down into book form. What's great about this is that there are a number of passages in the book where it is evident that they haven't been cleaned up much at all, and you get a real sense of Stanley Long in his own inimitable vernacular. I appreciate it when people shoot from the hip and tell it like it is instead of trying to sugar-coat it, and suffice to say Mr. Long is not one to mince words, which makes this book all the more entertaining.

Stanley Long's name is synonymous with the sexploitation genre (with movies such as 'The Adventures Of A...' series and Eskimo Nell), especially in the UK, and that is probably what he will forever be best known for (indeed, the cover image of the book, lifted from 'Adventures of a Taxi Driver' should make that abundantly clear).

However, it is not until you read the book that you gain a full appreciation of what a diverse and varied career he has actually had. In addition to the sexy romps he is best known for, he has also worked with the likes of Roman Polanski, Peter Cushing, and Boris Karloff...see, I told you we weren't getting away from horror entirely, didn't I?

(I should add at this point that the listing for this book on Amazon.com mentions an afterword by Roman Polanski. My UK version does not have this, so buyer beware!)

What we have here then is the archetypal tale of working class boy makes good (only he's done a lot better than just 'good'), and it makes for a fascinating read from a variety of perspectives. On the one hand, purely as a biography, it's a very interesting read as this is a guy who was clearly moving in all the right circles in Swinging Sixties London. From a film historian's viewpoint, particularly one also interested in the history of censorship in the UK, it is a similarly invaluable document, as many of his contemporaries mentioned therein are also important names in the field, like Harrison Marks and John Lindsay. Anybody with even the remotest fondness or recollection of the films and stars of that era will be well pleased with the amount of behind-the-scenes anecdotes Long serves up, but I would also recommend this book as a useful primer to anyone contemplating chancing their arm at producing their own low budget genre movies. The author has added an appendix entitled 'Ten Tips For Making A Successful Low-Budget Movie', but if the truth is to be told, you'll glean just as much (if not more) simply from reading the book. Again, that predilection for telling it like it is makes this a real eye-opener for the aspiring producers amongst us.

For me personally, I was surprised at the amount of overlap with my own interests. Aside from the mutual disdain of clipboard-bearers, there are recollections of the likes of Tony Tenser, Maureen Flanagan, and Golan-Globus, all of which I have got books on. He also shot footage for Circlorama, which I remember enjoying at a theme park or possibly a zoo or safari park as a child...you know, the film projected onto a dome and you watch a rollercoaster ride and start swaying about and falling over? IMAX has nothing on it. Ah, the heady whiff of childhood nostalgia!

Also, as I used to distribute R18 rated videos in the UK, I too know the inimitable joys of dealing with BBFC, a subject which Stanley is more than qualified to expound on, and which he duly does in some style. He takes great pleasure in exposing the blatant hypocrisies of the censorship regime in the UK, even going so far as to recount a couple of amusing anecdotes about winding up Mary Whitehouse. Anybody who is a foe of Mary Whitehouse is a friend of mine.

I could go on, but I feel as though I'd be giving too many of the best bits away (and I haven't even mentioned the dramatic emergency landing incident, or his penchant for famous next door neighbours either...or the BBC-sanctioned hardcore porn shoot, for that matter! Oh, and he apparently invented the highly collectable VistaScreen viewer too!). Oh, and as it was the (literally) Swinging Sixties, everybody was shagging everybody else at the drop of a hat too. Not that I'm envious or anything, you understand.

Oh, and if that's not enough, he then went on to establish a highly successful editing and post-production rental facilty too...I told you he'd done better than just 'good', didn't I?

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I enjoyed this book immensely, indeed possibly a little bit too much in fact...I tore through the thing in the space of two days, it was that engrossing. Still, I can happily envisage re-reading it sometime in the near future and making some copious notes on low-budget filmmaking philosophy from a man who has worn many hats in the industry (cinematographer, director, producer, distributor) and seemingly had a damned good time doing it.

It's certainly good value for money (indeed, a veritable snip at the price Amazon.co.uk currently have it going for), and is a well produced and well-laid out book. I tend to notice little things like that, and this is very well done in that respect, right down to the fonts used. I know Simon Sheridan has done a couple of other books on this genre, so I definitely wouldn't be adverse to checking them out now. Whether they would be anywhere near as interesting as this book remains to be seen...had X-Rated been solely about the heyday of the Sexploitation era, it would still have been a very interesting read, but as it stands, it is so very, very much more than that, and I can most happily recommend it.

Stanley Long's Official Website


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