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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Groupie scene- a headline making 'problem' in the late Sixties- seems to have inspired a fairly nasty and mean-spirited reaction from British filmmaking, at least if this and Derek Ford's Groupie Girl are anything to go by. In spite of baring as much teenage flesh as possible, both Groupie Girl and Permissive adopt the stance of sad, downbeat, would be morality tales of runaways who come to London looking for adventure as groupies but only end up being used, abused and 'damaged'. Even Val Guest's Au Pair Girls (1972), essentially a mini-skirt wiggling 'swinging comedy' stops the fun dead when a naïve star-struck virgin is deflowered then cruelly tossed aside by a famous rock star. For an audience of middle-aged men these sexploiters also probably carried the too close-to-home realisation that that girl on screen with no clothes on messing around with rock stars- could be your daughter.
Permissive, under the direction of Canadian Lindsay Shonteff, eschews a straightforward narrative in favour of an almost documentary approach. There's unique flash forward editing, proto-music video sections and scenes of rockers and groupies huddled into cramp, dingy rooms that are shot in a 'fly on the wall' fashion. Into this world comes Suzy (Maggie Stride), a non-descript ugly duckling who trades in her country life and duffle-coat for becoming a groupie and being sleazed after by rock group hangers-on and bands like Forever More whose lead singer wouldn't be out of place sitting at the end of someone's garden with a fishing rod. But the London rock scene is no place to make friends- it's the sort of world where the wrong word to the wrong man can have you kicked out onto the streets by an irate girlfriend, where a prune faced road manager (Shonteff regular Gilbert Wynne) sleeps with girls then violently ejects them from the digs the next morning, and where the groupies themselves are always ready to dispense to each other a slap in the face or a knife in the back ('If I had tits like yours I wouldn't flash em about' snipes one girl wearing junkie dark glasses).
Suzy is temporally taken under the wing of Fiona (Gay Singleton), an old school-friend who's shacked up with Forever More's lead singer. But when the band hits the road, Suzy gets left behind to fend for herself. As in the Ford film solace comes in the form of a folk singer who Suzy first meets at a backstage party and then runs into begging in Piccadilly Circus, but 'Pogo' (Robert Daubigny) turns out to be an unbalanced individual prone to dragging Suzy into churches and delivering his own screaming sermons until the police show up. Later Pogo and Suzy are making their way across town when out of the blue he's hit and killed by a car. His death though coincides with Forever More rolling back into town, Suzy rejoins the groupie scene a more hard and manipulating character. After enduring more than her fair share of miserable luck, Suzy finally beds Forever More's lead singer and a neglected Fiona reacts to the situation by slitting her wrists in the bathroom. Discovering her one time friend drenched in blood and slowly expiring in the bath, Suzy takes one last emotionless stare into her predecessor's eyes before leaving her to die, providing the film with its characteristically bleak and tragic parting shot.
Permissive is partly a vehicle for Forever More, who play the band in the film and whose songs ('Beautiful Afternoon' 'Good to Me' 'We Sing') provide a running commentary on the action. A real life band who cut two LPs for RCA, the reasons for Forever More's involvement in Permissive remain a question mark. However it's fair to say their reputations as musicians (or actors) probably wasn't greatly enhanced by their appearance here. Lets face it have you ever heard of Forever More? Maybe the idea of being in close proximity to sexploitation novelty act the Collinson twins and top models of the day like Nicola Austine and (in her last known role) Maria Frost, was too much of a temptation for these hairy individuals. Coming across in the film as having limited talent and equally limited money its unlikely Forever More would have been much of a desirable prospect to any of these women in real life!
Shonteff, a Jack-of-all-Genres who began his career with cut-price chillers like Devil Doll and The Curse of Simba, shot Permissive very much as a hired gun. Tigon were looking for the second feature to their ménage-a-trois drama 'Monique' to be based around the groupie scene. Duly Shonteff typed off a script (known at various stages as Suzy Superscrew, The Now Generation and The 'X' Project) and brought the film in for less than £20,000. In a far cry from the sight gags that litter his silly spy spoofs like Licensed to Love and Kill, Shonteff maintains a deliberately squalid tone throughout the film. Shots of people having sex on toilets and cruelly funny lines like `I thought he was marvellous till he left me lying on the floor' pretty much sum the proceedings up. In the world of Permissive the groupie scene is as cold and miserable an experience as wandering around London streets at night or sitting on park benches- two of the film's most reoccurring images. Three decades later, Forever More's warblings and an absence of likeable characters have left a film without much appeal outside of period authenticity. A less glamorous view of life on the road, though, is hard to imagine.
I just watched this as a restored BFI DVD and I'm glad someone took the
trouble to bring this film back to public attention.
It has the look of being docu-drama, with nothing glossy, as it tracks a young woman coming to London to join her friend in the big smoke. Dressed in duffel coat and thoroughly unschooled in life, she finds her friend not the perfect protector, though friendly and helpful.
Her friend holds, and guards, the coveted position of band-leader's girlfriend amongst a gaggle of groupies and is well ensconced in the life of swinging London.
There are drugs and sex, all of it mundane and unglamourous. People use the drugs to check their feelings and avoid the hurt and fears they all want to be too cool to have.
There is living on the streets and the drudgery of a band constantly packing up its Ford Transit and moving from one cheap hotel to the next.
But the director uses a great device to imbue scenes with tension and momentum, sneaking us little flash-forwards in the lives of the characters, silent clips of where they will soon be - whether it's having sex on a toilet or dead.
Along the way we see the band playing, and have their music on the soundtrack giving a great authentic feel.
The film isn't about the band though, it's about the women who follow them. What looks like it is starting out as a moralistic tale about women getting abused by callous men in their naiveté, develops into something much more powerful.
The men are pushed into the background and hardly show any initiative. They are pretty much 2-dimensional, unobtrusive and show little in the way of being predators. One guy is painted that way, but is not ruthless and far from the centre of focus and actually does display more to his character.
I have a friend who went to an all-girls school and assures me that, as a man, I would never know how brutal a female pecking order can be. In films, we see it all the time with the core cliché of the beautiful girls who get usurped by the plainer girl who wins the heart of the hero. But it's usually there to show the underdog winning through despite the machinations of the beautiful stereotypes.
I feel this film does something quite rare. It makes women and their relationships the subject of the film, and attempts to make it authentic as well - even rarer.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Being extremely impressed by the care that the BFI had displayed in
bringing Stanley Long's Bread to be included as a bonus feature on
their "Flipside" DVD,I felt that it was a the perfect time to take a
look at the DVD's main feature ,and discover how permissive director
Lindsay Shonteff could really be.
Having recently moved to London,Suzy decides to pay her old friend Fiona a visit.Expecting to find Fiona on her own,relaxing in her apartment,Suzy instead almost rushes out of the building when she catches Fiona getting "hot & heavy" with a man in bed.Quickly pausing the "bedroom activates" and telling Suzy not to run off,Fiona gives her friend the wonderful news that she has recently become a groupie for an up and coming band called Forever More.Initially trying to distance herself from entering Fiona's world,Suzy begins to find the temptation impossible to resist,and soon joins her friend in entering the world of the groupie,which holds deadly consequence's for both of them
View on the film:
From the opening of the movie featuring a women's reflection behind the credits,director Lindsay Shonteff cleverly features a reflective object in the background or foreground of every scene,to show how despite their future staring right back at them,Fiona and Suzy stay focus on the fun they are currently having in the groupie world,and completely ignore all of the future trouble that is right in front of their very eyes.
Keeping the movies "music scene" in smoke filled pubs and clubs,screenwriter Jeremy Craig Dryden gives a terrific mix of surprisingly tender moments, (such as Suzy and Fiona's heartfelt relationship) with a wicked sense of humour and truly macabre plot twists of jumping to the future a number of times to show the tragic deaths that the two friends meet!Along with the giving the film its smooth folk Rock soundtrack,Forever More unexpectedly play themselves as a real bunch of creeps,with the moments when the two friends attempt to breakaway from being groupies,always having a member of Forever More ready and willing to temp them back for more dangerous fun.
As the relationship between Fiona and Suzy starts to deepen into an ahead of its time Lesbian love affair,actresses Maggie Stride and Gay Singleton do amazingly well at changing the mood of the scenes,from director Shonteff showing off,their admittedly beautiful bodies,to instead make the mood of the scenes a lot more emotional and tender.
These early 70's groupie films were one of the most uber-depressing
cycle of films I've ever seen, and really make you wonder why ANY girl
at any time would ever want to be a groupie since it inevitably leads
to heartbreak, squalor, venereal disease, and a tragic end--the only
apparent upside being getting to sexually service talentless hair-ball
rock musicians like the real-life band Forever More. The bleak ending
of this is SO bleak, it makes you lose sympathy even for the
protagonist herself, which is one reason why I think the similar UK
film "Groupie Girl" is definitely superior to this one (the girl in
that is also serving as a sperm dumpster to slightly more talented
My personal favorite film in this cycle though is the German film "I, a Groupie", which features the incredibly sexy Ingrid Steeger and at least provides a lot of eroticism along with the downbeat degradation. The girl in this, Maggie Stride, is not unattractive, but definitely pretty ordinary-looking compared to the smoking-hot Steeger. And speaking of smoking-hot, apparently the famous Collinson twins, stars of Hammer's "Twins of Evil" have a small part in this film, but I'm not sure where exactly (they also appear, much more prominently, in "Groupie Girl").
Lindsay Shontieff is an interesting director, mostly for his rather black-hearted view of humanity--even his outright sex comedies like "The Big Zapper" contain some memorably nasty, misanthropic turns. He does use some interesting devices here like flash-forwards that give glimpses at the ultimate fates of many doomed characters. The band Forever More meanwhile comes off like such a collection of untalented and unlikeable douchebags,you have to wonder why they agreed to be in this (or why they didn't subsequently sue Shontieff). Still, while this movie is definitely inferior to "Groupie Girl" and "I, a Groupie", it isn't totally bad (like the aptly-named American groupie flick "Bummer!"). But definitely don't expect to be uplifted here.
Made in 1972 and relatively forgotten about since the BFI recently
restored it onto Blu-Ray and DVD, Permissive follows the fortunes of a
young girl who enters the world of the rock star groupie, back when
Britannia was cool and was at the forefront of fashion and music. Suzy
(Maggie Stride) arrives in London and meets up with her friend Fiona
(the unfortunately named Gay Singleton), who is in a relationship with
the hairy-faced Lee (Alan Gorrie), bass player and lead singer of rock
band Forever More. She adopts the lifestyle and offers herself for sex
to the bands various sleazy members before she is left behind as the
group go on tour. On their return, she is eventually accepted and
begins to fall into a moral downward spiral.
Perhaps quite shocking in its day, showing plenty of full frontal nudity, drug abuse and generally questionable behaviour, the film now seems extremely mild and somewhat tedious. The acting is especially dubious, mainly from the band members of real-life group Forever More, who although not given much to do, look noticeably uncomfortable delivering their lines. It isn't without good points however Suzy's decline from wide-eyed innocent into full-blown slut who seems to have no goal other than to have sex with as many people as possible without a second thought of the effect it will have on her friends, is very interesting, and is performed reasonably well by Stride.
Interesting to view as a time-capsule of a time when extreme facial hair was cool and free-love was frowned upon, but as a piece of filmmaking it cannot hide from its low-budget limitations, and the years have had its effect on the film's power.
In the development stage the title for this truly dispiriting film was
Suzy Superscrew. Better had it been kept for at least it gives you an
idea of where the action is heading. Suzy is a duffle-coated runaway,
arriving in London to join the groupie scene. Unable to score with the
band her groupie friend introduces her to, she hooks up with Pogo an
itinerant musician and mad preacher. "Where do you live?' she enquires
of him. "Under the stars, the world is my scene, man", he responds.
Unfortunately the world isn't listening as he gets mown down by a car
shortly afterwards. The subsequent narrative is reduced to what band
member or groupie Suzy will wake up with next.
The film, shot in a quasi documentary style and was partly intended as a promotional vehicle for heavy rock band Forever More, which accounts for their music being way up in the mix and sometimes drowning out the dialogue. This same logic explains footage of the band performing being inserted whenever the director runs out of ideas, which is often. On the plus side the relentlessly downbeat tone does provides a telling snapshot of the fag-end of the sixties and a particular sub-culture, while at the same time maintaining a grim synergy: hairy men and ugly women having bad sex together in cheap hotels to a Forever More soundtrack. Just desserts are sometimes delicious.
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