In 1963, two Italian filmmakers, Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi, released Mondo Cane (AKA A Dog’s Life) to sensational press and even more sensational controversy. It wasn’t long before every exploitation filmmaker in Europe was making a Mondo movie, or shockumentary, as they have come to be known. Arnold Miller, a British sleaze distributor who up until this time had mostly directed cheap nudies, also jumped into the mix, collaborating with cameraman Stanley Long to create Primitive London and London in the Raw, which purported to expose London’s seedy underground culture.
The first of the two films to be produced was London in the Raw which supposedly explored London’s underground strip clubs and bars as well as the alternative lifestyles of Londoners. Unfortunately, this description sounds much more exciting than the actual film. Mixing dubious "documentary" footage with obviously staged material, London in the Raw is actually extremely tame; in fact, with the exception of a handful of very short segments, the film contains nothing worthy of note or controversy. The viewer is treated to a group of "beatniks"–the British equivalent of the hippie–sketching a topless girl and snacking on cat food as well as a fairly sexy belly dance and a cabaret dancer, but that’s about as risqué as the film gets. The rest of the 77 minutes is padded with women performing silly exercises in a gym as well as various visits to "exotic" (read: ethnic) restaurants, bars, and nightclubs throughout London. The film was successful enough for a pseudo-sequel to be produced the following year, entitled Primitive London.
Though basically more of the same, Primitive London is by far the more entertaining of the two films. Instead of merely stitching together random–and mostly boring–segments as was done with London in the Raw, Primitive London weaves a comparison of different social groups into the overarching story. Viewers are introduced to various socially outcast groups such as beatniks and rockers (British 60’s slang for bikers) as well as the relatively new "mods". Even the social middle-class is explored and shown to be just as "perverted" as any of the social groups during a staged wife-swapping party.
There are plenty of cabaret and striptease acts to be shown–as well as a topless fashion show, but Primitive London is also the more violent of the two films. Along with a bloody live birth shown in real time, viewers also get to see the inner workings of a chicken processing plant from death to packaging for sale as well as a re-enactment of Jack the Ripper as the film attempts to draw a parallel between those infamous murders and the gruesome killings of young London women in the present. Other "fringe" activities like getting tattooed are interspersed with deadly dull material like ensuring the proper fit for a hat before purchase, contrasting haircuts between black and white women, and even the removal of a foot callous! But while London in the Raw was deadly serious, Miller and Long inserted a good bit of humor into Primitive London, including a sound "glitch" between director and cameraman arguing over footage of topless women versus shots of nature during the topless dress modeling sequence, an arrogant producer forcing a voiceover actor to repeat the same sentence nearly 60 times to get the right "flavor" of inflection, and some sardonic comments during the hat fitting.
Both films have been recently remastered by the BFI and look fantastic–probably as good as when they were first shown on the big screen. Unfortunately none of the original Mondo films have retained the impact they had when they were first released and much of the content–including the content of these two films–haven’t aged well, either. While filled with prurient material and quite controversial a half-century ago, these films are for shockumentary fans only, or for those interested in a purely historical context.
Kino Lorber has teamed with Jezebel Pictures to release these films on one disc. While the disc contains no extras, both films are high-quality curiosities that will fill a certain niche market. For more information, go to www.kino.com.