Retro Film Report #30: Primitive London (1965)

Primitive London (1965) is a dirty movie disguised as a documentary - and that's what makes it so damn adorable.

The early sixties were chock full of so-called documentaries on nudist colonies pretending to be edifying, when in fact they were just looking for a loophole to show bobbies. I understand it.  They simply couldn't get away with this level of epidermal exposure without pretending to be some sort of scholarly work.  Plus, men could rationalize going to see a documentary, and would feel like hopeless perverts without the academic veneer.

On the other hand, it's all so damn hypocritical.  The narrator in Primitive London is pompous and judgmental, looking at everything through Limbaugh tinted glasses.  We all know this a ruse so male audiences can see some T&A. So, can we skip the virtuous jibba-jabba?

And for God's sake, "primitive"? Really? We're not talking about New Guinea.  I mean, London in 1965 may have been swingin', but it wasn't anything close to primitive.  "Moderately Debased on Occasion" maybe... but Moderately Debased London on Occasion doesn't have the same ring to it.

The director is Arnold L. Miller, who made several of these psuedo-documentaries in order to show a little skin on the big screen.  Among his many classic works: Nudist Memories (1961), Nudes of All Nations (1962) and London in the Raw (1965).

So, the question you're asking is why are we even talking about this movie if it's such a joke? Well, if you can look past the despicable narration, it's a pretty fascinating walk through London in '65. It was filmed in crystal clear color at a time when Beatles for Sale was still on turntables  - what a great time capsule!

The mod look was in, and the film takes tour of a men's clothing store.  The narrator mocks this prancing dandy, but I was highly interested in the clothes on the rack.

Another segment analyzes the "rockers" and the beatniks.  The beatnik portion was rather intriguing in that a bunch of hipster youths were interviewed, and you could tell it was completely unscripted.

In another segment, the "documentary" takes us to a beauty parlor.  Although interesting, it was anything but primitive.  I'm guessing this was filler.

Please Note: The Guardian has an excellent article on Primitive London - far better than my little post, thrown together in about 45 minutes.  If you want a well-written, erudite look at this film, I highly recommend it.  If you're satisfied with lots of eye candy and the ramblings of man on his third Pabst Blue Ribbon, then stay put.

Of course, the London strip club is explored.... for sociological reasons, of course.  Several routines are presented, all incomprehensibly bizarre.  Take note of the mustachioed chefs in the background.  What in the ever lovin' hell?

As if to bolster their ridiculous premise that London is primitive, the film wanders from the strip clubs to the street corner, where a modern day Jack the Ripper is loose.  Of course, this is complete and utter bullshit, but it furthers the argument that London is a "bad, bad place".

In another segment, we get to see a concert by The Zephyrs. They were a good band that should've gone on to more success, but got lost in the British Invasion stampede.  Primitive London would have been helped greatly if Jimmy Paige, their session musician and stand-in guitarist, was up their with them.  Still, a mighty fine Merseybeat group that I'd love to hear more from, but alas they are not on Spotify.

I won't show you an image from the next segment: a tour through a poultry factory farm.  Yes, decades before Faces of Death and the numerous anti-industrial farming documentaries that are being churned out these days, there was Primitive London.

Of course, this begs the question - in what way does a factory farm make London primitive? Indeed, it was even more commonplace in the States.  Yet, somehow, this is shown as further proof that London is a cesspool of decadence and filth.

Of particular awkwardness are scenes where the director interjects into the narration and "argues" with another off-screen voice named Henry.  The two fight over whether topless scenes should be allowed in the picture - one claiming it's in poor taste, the other saying it's just fine.  It is poorly delivered and horribly contrived.  I suppose it was a comedic element inserted to lessen the shock of on-screen titties.  A good idea, but horrifically executed.

The films ends with an insiders look at a Key Party.  These parties have been the stuff of legend since I was a lad, but one wonders how often they actually took place.  The Ice Storm (1997) perfectly captures the guilt and regret that underlies the infamous key party.

There's a whole bunch of other stuff that I skipped over: a live birth, a topless model show, a swimsuit pageant, an overworked stripper, screaming groupies, etc.  You get the idea.  All in all, 1965 London is anything but primitive, but still a fascinating place to visit.  Recommended.


  1. When I first saw this post, I was thinking of "London in the Raw", which I saw a few months back. Then you mentioned that film and realized this was a different mondo-type film that I've got to see. Thanks!

  2. This, London in the Raw, and a lot of similar things are available for free streaming if you're an Amazon Prime member.

  3. They're on Netflix also.

    The Zephyrs may not be on Spotify, but they are on YouTube. Pretty cool stuff. Speaking of Spotify, Pink Floyd is finally on there! Including the early stuff.

  4. The virtuous jibba-jabba was part of the faux-documentary veneer, in the style of the old instructional videos of the 40's and 50's... part of the joke, so to speak.

  5. My understanding is that key parties, as in truly random partner swapping, are a misunderstanding grown into a myth. The term originally meant swinging parties in which you had to be a member of a club, i.e. have a key, to get in. Somewhere along the line it morphed into this car-keys-in-a-bowl fantasy. I'm not saying they never happened, but they were probably pretty rare.

  6. AnonymousJune 22, 2013

    "a loophole to show bobbies"

    Well, if that's what you're into, I guess London would be the place.