Tuesday, July 9, 2013

London in the Raw - Theatrical Version vs Mystery Version

Originally, we had no plans to do a comparison of the theatrical and 'mystery' cuts of London in the Raw (1964), the middle entry in Arnold Louis Miller's Mondo London Trilogy (preceded by West End Jungle (1961) and succeeded by Primitive London (1965)), due to the fact that the booklet accompanying the British Film Institute's (BFI) 2009 DVD release thereof included a short essay by Vic Pratt, a fiction curator at the BFI National Archive, entitled "The Long and the short of it" allegedly detailing the differences betwixt the two versions of the film. Eventually, however, curiosity got the better of us and we did end up watching the two versions side-by-side. Our findings are that Pratt's analysis is woefully incomplete, completely ignoring several key differences between the two versions of the film.

Pratt's analysis chiefly focuses on two scenes found in the Mystery Version (MV) that are not in the Theatrical Version (TV):

The BFI National Archive holds two different versions of London in the Raw, both of which appear on this disc. The first of these, the full-length version, has a running time (just under 77 minutes) that corresponds to that which was released to cinemas in 1964. The other, which is substantially shorter, omits much of the former, but also contains material not in the long version: notably, an extended version of the scene with Trixie the prostitute (in which she undresses, while her client waits nervously); and a scene in which hollow-eyed voyeurs in a dingy club look on as a semi-naked girl strikes poses (whilst intermittently obscured by a curtain).

Whilst certainly not claiming that the aforementioned Trixie the prostitute and peepshow scenes are the only scenes in MV which are not in TV, Pratt nonetheless mentions no other such scenes (that is to say, scenes which are found in MV but not in TV). Perhaps these omissions are because Pratt doesn't find them "notable", or perhaps--owing to the fact that both of the aforementioned scenes just happen to occur within the first ten minutes of MV--it is because Pratt didn't watch the two versions in their entirety, who knows? Yet whatever the real reason, something only Pratt himself may know, the grim fact of the matter is that Pratt's grossly incomplete analysis does a disservice to film history by effectively wiping away existent differences between the two versions.

A more comprehensive list of differences between TV/MV than that compiled by Pratt can be found in Appendix 1. The general trend is that TV omits some of the more salacious material whilst MV omits the gorier, visceral content, preferring to prioritize the bawdy, fleshy aspects of the film instead. For instance, while MV has the aforementioned early added peepshow sequence, during that time TV includes vivid scenes of acupuncture and hair implantation and removal. Furthermore, during the beatnik photo shoot scene, the nude art restaurant scene, and the Venus Room club striptease scene, MV includes more lecherous shots exhibiting either more nudity or more showy close-ups shots as compared to TV's more reserved long shots. Meanwhile, TV includes a grim section on derelict alcoholism and prostitution as well as a fairly innocuous (in terms of being either 'sensational' or 'salacious', to use Pratt's terms) scene showcasing "London's only Jewish theatre". Granted, TV also includes a number of scenes in various nightclubs which are not to be found in MV, but when these do feature dancers, no nudity is to be found on display.

Despite showcasing a number of clubs not found in MV, however, TV nonetheless omits the striptease sequence shot at The Pink Elephant Club which is present in MV. The grand reveal of this striptease is that the performer turns out to be transgendered. This scene is entirely missing from TV, and its absence, lasting about two and a half minutes, is not particularly hard to spot. How curious then that Pratt makes no mention of it.

A final difference that we noted between TV/MV is the closing montage sequence which showcases rapid-fire snippets of scenes from the film*. The editor(s) obviously re-did the montage sequences to try to match the scenes in each respective version of the film, but their attempts are not always successful. For instance, MV includes a clip of the hair plug insertion scene, a scene which appears in TV but not in MV.

*The Monthly Film Bulletin, incidentally, didn't much care for this editorial technique, stating in their August 1964 review (which is reprinted in the booklet accompanying BFI's DVD release of the film) "the film is evidently nonplussed as to how to wind up, and resorts to the feeble device of presenting brief cuts from sequences which make up the film."

At times the clips also use different frame tinting, perhaps highlighting that these two versions were sourced by their editors from different prints although it could also be that the two film versions in the BFI vaults are simply in different condition; other scenes which are in both TV and MV generally look the same without any differentiation in tinting.

It should also be noted that while a shot of the beatnik photo shoot scene is used in the closing collage in MV, this shot is not the same as that which was used in either MV or TV. The comparable MV/TV shot can be seen on the left below, while the end collage shot used in MV can be seen on the right.

Whilst during the film it seems as if the camera pans away instead of going for a close-up shot of the model's chest, the existence of the additional shot in the end collage indicates that this was instead a cut, and that extended footage of the sequences exists.

Not only is there extended footage of an existing scene, however, but the very last clip of the collage sequence indicates that additional sequences were also shot. Said final clip shows alternate TV/MV shots of a striptease. What's fascinating is that this particular striptease is not actually found elsewhere in either TV or MV (aside from snippets of it also being included at the start of the closing collage). This incongruity thus points to the existence of yet more London in the Raw footage that did not make it into either version of the film!

This particular stripper sequence also appears in the trailer for the film (as do some of the other clips from the closing montage).

The red-curtain backdrop (complete with a gold side-curtain and a balding spectator) matches that seen during the Venus Room performance, thus indicating that this was another performer in that club during the same night.

Thus it can clearly be seen that despite being nearly half an hour (28 minutes and 48 seconds, to be exact) shorter than TV**, MV*** nonetheless includes several full scenes not in TV, as well as having longer and saucier versions of some of the scenes that are in TV.

**TV clocks in at 73 minutes 39 seconds (at a standard PAL framerate of 25 frames per second (fps)). Pratt claims that TV is "just under 77 minutes", which is true if the PAL speed-up isn't taken into account. The DVD back cover claims that the runtime is 75 minutes, which is, as is unfortunately often the case with runtimes listed on covers, incorrect.

***MV clocks in at 44 minutes 59 seconds (again, at a standard 25 fps). Pratt claims that MV is "just under 47 minutes", which is again true if the PAL speed-up isn't taken into account. The DVD back cover also once again gives an erroneous runtime of 46 minutes.

If the feature-length TV is the theatrical version of the film, what then was the shorter MV destined for? What's curious is that no one, not even the BFI or some of the principal fellows involved in the film's production, seems to know the answer. This historical floundering is perhaps best illustrated by looking at BFI's ever-changing descriptions of the mystery version.

Press release notices posted on fan forums and sites such as Blu-ray.com around April 3, 2009 describe the London in the Raw release as including "Original UK and continental versions of the feature". In talking about the Trixie the prostitute and peepshow scenes, Pratt enlightens us as to why MV was perhaps originally referred to by the BFI as the 'continental version':

These scenes -- and the fact that the nature of 'English law' is mentioned in the narration for both -- might suggest that this shorter cut was intended as an 'export version' for more liberal overseas markets.

Yet as Pratt goes on to point out, referring to MV as the 'continental version' may not be entirely correct:

However, this theory is problematic. The odd length of this short version (just under 47 minutes) would make it unsuitable as a feature presentation; additionally, some of the more sensational and salacious material from the long version is mysteriously absent. One wonders why a supposedly stronger 'export version' would not include the colourful gore of the hair-transplant sequence, for example.

One might think that this theory would also be rendered problematic by the fact that the English are referenced several times in the TV version as well, as is to be expected from a mondo about the English. "English law" is also only mentioned in the Trixie scene, not during the peepshow scene, which merely mentions "the English". For instance, the peepshow line "The English are notorious for taking their pleasures sadly" is not all that different from, say, "The Englishman's addiction to strong sauces is well-established" or "The English go a little mad when they see sunshine", lines which appear in both TV/MV. Thus the theory that MV was intended as an export version of the film based on the evidence of the 'English' being mentioned in both the Trixie and peepshow scenes can be dismissed not due to runtime or content, but due to inconsistencies within the narration argument itself (unless of course the export editor was as lazy and inconsistent in his editing out of occurrences of 'English' as Pratt was in his description of TV/MV differences).

Considering that the gorier segments of the film are excised in favor of more salacious segments, our guess would be that MV may have been intended as a softcore, more pornographic version of the film, for foreign or clandestine domestic adult theaters.

Going forward in time, an archived copy of the BFI Filmstore website from May 29, 2009 (the earliest available archived copy of the film being listed in the Filmstore we could find) describes MV as being an "Alternative, more explicit, version of the feature". An archived copy of the Filmstore page from March 4, 2012 (the latest available archived copy) once again describes the MV as being an "Alternative, more explicit, version of the feature". Yet, the current version of the Filmstore page, accessed on July 7, 2013, now describes MV as simply the "Alternative cut". No longer is MV seen by the BFI to be "more explicit" (perhaps owing to MV not including, say, the hair plug insertion scene, despite including more nudity overall).

As Pratt points out:

neither Arnold Miller [the film's writer and one of its directors and producers], nor Stanley Long [the film's cinematographer and another one of the film's producers] recall making an alternative version of the film. Long's technique on London in the Raw (and its sequel, Primitive London) was simply to shoot the footage he wanted to shoot, then cut later, according to the demands of the censor; neither he nor Arnold Miller remember shooting any separate material for an 'export version'.

When the film was submitted to the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) on July 3, 1964, it was snipped by the censors to receive X rating, "[t]his work was cut. To obtain this category cuts were required but the details are not available." What's curious though, is that the BBFC also states that "[w]hen submitted to the BBFC the work had a running time of 82m 7s." Given that MV has about 5 minutes and 17 seconds of footage not found in TV (excluding the few seconds of alternate shots), when those extra minutes are added up to TV's aforementioned runtime of 73 minutes 39 seconds, we arrive at 78 minutes 56 seconds total. When PAL speed-up is accounted for, we get 82 minutes and 13 seconds--a running time quite similar to that of the print submitted to the BBFC in 1964. While this could of course mean that the BBFC-submitted print includes 5, or for that matter 82, minutes of footage that is in neither TV/MV, it could also mean that the submitted film print was a sort of original composite version which included the scenes later reserved for MV, and that said scenes were subsequently removed from TV to accommodate the BBFC's cuts and were then placed into MV.

In summation, it can thus be said that both TV and MV make for essential watching for those seeking a comprehensive viewing of the film, and that it is a darn shame that Pratt didn't mention more of the existent differences betwixt the two versions.

Appendix 1: Scene Comparison between the BFI DVD Theatrical Version (TV) and the BFI DVD Mystery Version (MV) of London in the Raw.

Format: (Time in TV) [Time in MV] - Description

Nota bene: As always, timings may not be precise (assume a +/- two-second deviation at best), and are in the format: Start Time (Hours:Minutes:Seconds)-End Time (Hours:Minutes:Seconds).

  1. (00:05:45) [00:05:48-00:06:39] - TV has the scene with Trixie the prostitute abridged.

  2. (00:07:38-00:16:50) [00:08:31-00:09:45] - TV cuts out the peepshow scene that is in MV, but instead has an extended exercise scene, followed by a short lingerie shopping scene, then hair removal/addition scenes, and finally an acupuncture scene (all of which are not in MV).

  3. (00:24:34) [00:17:31-00:17:50] - MV has a more salacious photoshoot scene.

  4. (00:26:31-00:26:35) [00:19:47-00:19:51]; (00:26:46-00:26:48) [00:20:02-00:20:05]; (00:27:10-00:27:16) [00:20:26-00:20:32]; (00:27:55-00:28:10) [00:21:11-00:21:26] - There are alternate nude model shots between the two versions (more salacious close-ups in MV, versus long shots in TV).

  5. (00:34:31-00:59:26) [00:27:47] - MV missing the following scenes which are in TV, generally pivoting around London's seedy nightlife: London's only Jewish Theatre, the Rheingold Club, the Omar Khayyam Club, the L'Hirondelle Club, the New Churchills Club, the Watermans Arms Pub, prostitution & alcoholism, the Fifty Five Club.

  6. (01:01:11) [00:29:31-00:31:57] - TV is missing The Pink Elephant Club transgender striptease sequence found in MV.

  7. (01:07:41) [00:38:28-00:38:30]; (01:07:52) [00:38:41-00:38:48]; (01:07:54-01:07:57) [00:38:50-00:38:59]; (01:07:59) [00:39:01-00:39:07]; (01:08:06) [00:39:14-00:39:26] - TV missing more salacious Venus Room striptease segments.

  8. (01:11:43-01:11:45) [00:43:03-00:43:06]; (01:12:03-01:12:05) [00:43:23-00:43:26]; (01:12:07-01:12:08) [00:43:27-00:43:28]; (01:12:16-01:12:18) [00:43:37-00:43:39]; (01:12:18-01:12:20) [00:43:39-00:43:40]; (01:12:21-01:12:23) [00:43:42-00:43:43]; (01:12:23-01:12:24) [00:43:43-00:44:44]; (01:12:29-01:12:30) [00:43:49-00:43:50]; (01:12:35-01:12:37) [00:43:55-00:43:57]; (01:12:51-01:12:53) [00:44:12-00:44:14] - (catfood eaters) [stripper]; (nightclub dancer) [nude model]; (nightclub dancers) [transgender stripper]; (differently colored Jewish Theatre clip) [differently colored Jewish Theatre clip]; (differently tinted laughing woman) [differently tinted laughing woman]; (make-up application) [topless model]; (alternate shot of a band playing) [alternate shot of a band playing]; (prostitute) [photo model]; (club woman dancing) [stripper]; (alternate striptease shot) [alternate striptease shot]. The closing montage has some different sequences between TV/MV. Most notably (refer to the main post for a more comprehensive analysis), the final striptease shot is from a scene that is neither in TV nor in MV, indicating that there is yet more unseen footage to be unearthed!

No comments:

Post a Comment