Arriving in London, Suzy (Maggie Stride) is introduced to the excesses of groupie life via former school pal, Fiona (Gay Singleton), who is dating Lee (Allan Gorrie) lead singer in rock band, Forever More. Initially, the victim of cruel jibes concerning her figure (“If I had tits like yours I wouldn’t flash them about”) and dress sense by the girls who flout themselves backstage, Suzy is rapidly transformed from nervous innocent to predatory slut as she sleeps her way through the tour bus. Befriending Pogo (Robert Daubigny), Suzy freeloads her way through various London landscapes, sleeping in parks, whilst listening to Pogo’s disillusionment with a world that has turned its back on God. Following Pogo’s arrest for an impromptu sermon preaching of poverty and the dangers of war delivered from the pulpit of near-empty church, he is killed in a road accident. Reasoning that there is no God, a cynical Suzy returns to the misogynistic world of Forever More, where further doom lurks round the corner.
Despite being labelled as sexploitation due to its numerous sex scenes that include fellatio and lesbianism, director Lindsay Shonteff infuses his movie with a degree of lugubriousness rather than painting a picture of swinging London hippies as happy, philosophical exponents of free love. Shot in a detached manner, the characters are disillusioned backbiters, dressed in drab browns, greys, and black against grubby walls and drab London locales that include bombsites, squats and empty churches. Virtually all the action takes place in claustrophobic places: corridors, underground stations, alleys, train carriages, crowded nightclubs and smoky hotel rooms. Skies are grey, and the sun obscured by clouds.
Shonteff utilises flashcutting to skip back and forth through events and foreshadow death in the same way that Nicolas Roeg used the technique in PERFORMANCE (1970) and DON’T LOOK NOW (1973). The dark, pessimistic mood of PERMISSIVE is heightened by the stilted performances of the cast; especially effective is Stride’s somnambulistic delivery that manages to convey both ruthlessness and a sense of vulnerability.
Sex scenes are brief and nudity filmed at a distance, with the exception of a softcore lesbian encounter between Suzy and a woman that eschews any attempt at titillation by having Suzy’s nose bloodied by a previous corridor cat-fight, and flashcutting. By having the camera in a static position, often behind the people making love, or reflecting nudity off mirrors the sleaze factor of the scene is further enhanced as the audience is made to feel like a Peeping Tom.
Whilst the film exploits the freedoms that the counterculture offered, unlike the majority of 70s British softcore sexploitation that promoted sexual abandon, PERMISSIVE has more in common with the likes of Derek Ford’s GROUPIE GIRL (1970), Pete Walker’s COOL IT CAROL (1970), and Kenneth F. Rowles’ TAKE AN EASY RIDE (1976) and serves as a warning of the dangers of permissiveness.
Despite restoring cuts to all five reels that include expletives, shots of pubic hair and references to blow-jobs, there’s nothing here for those searching for sexual excitement, but for those wishing to see a darker side of swinging London, I recommend the film wholeheartedly.
Shonteff went on to direct a further sexploitation piece entitled THE YES GIRLS (1971) that whilst ostensibly a comedy, again works against type with its world populated by unsavoury characters and a downbeat tone more reminiscent of his London slasher NIGHT AFTER NIGHT, AFTER NIGHT (1969). Sadly, Shonteff never again displayed quite the same skills in his future works, though he has retained an enthusiastic cult following for the likes of the James Bond rip-off, NO.1 OF THE SECRET SERVICE (1977), and the ultra-low budget Vietnam war effort HOW SLEEP THE BRAVE (1981).
This newly restored and digitally enhanced print from the BFI comes with an array of extras, and 32 page booklet that gives details pertaining to the soundtrack supplied by real progressive acid-folk bands Forever More, Comus, and Titus Groan
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Lindsay Shonteff
English Language / UK / 1970 / 86 minutes / Colour
Region 2 / PAL
A BFI Flipside DVD release
All Region Pal (UK)
Released on DVD (£17.99) and Blu-ray (£19.99) on 25th Jaunuary, 2010.