Directed, produced, photographed and edited by Peter Whitehead. A Lorrimer Film production. British. Colour. Cert A. 78 mins.
With JULIE CHRISTIE; MICHAEL CAINE; LEE MARVIN; THE ROLLING STONES; THE ANIMALS; EDNA O'BRIEN; ALAN ALDRIDGE and DAVID HOCKNEY.
Marx denounced religion as the opium of the people. But more and more it's less the pulpit than the mass media that stupefy us with myths which we don't really believe but which colour our thinking and dim our sense of our own reality. In every myth there's a grain of truth- the bigger the better; exaggeration is always more plausible than invention. If the old myths stressed eternity, austerity, duty, pain and gloom, the new ones stress ephemerality, indulgence, liberty, plea sure and optimism.
Swinging London, by now, is such a myth- a welcome, disturbing minority way of life falsifi ed into a city's brand- image by journalists, advertisers and everyone's daydreams. The economic trampoline beneath it is probably that for the fi rst time working- class adolescents had money and freedom; the upper classes had no empire to be sent out to; the middle classes had lost their dynamism and their self- confi dence. But such shifts have left most people, and institutions, untouched, so far. As Michael Caine tells his interviewer here, a capital city whose pubs shut at eleven is about as swinging as Highgate Cemetery, and, as David Hockney observes, London is to New York as Bradford is to London.
Near the beginning of Peter Whitehead's reportage his characteristically nimble camera roams over magazine covers and headlines- as if to stress that "Swinging London" is as much an image as a reality. (A friend of mine always calls it "Swingling London," to suggest "swindling.") The camera catches Donyale Luna off guard, and, as she ner vous ly laughs, "looking like a rag" (but a fascinating rag) in the Portobello Road- the myth comes to earth, and there's still no contact.1 At a light show a girl dances with her own shadow; beatnik buskers avert their faces. Lee Marvin, in his Dirty Dozen outfi t, represents the typical, amiable American tourist, obliging with a few vapid remarks about mini- skirts. The inevitable Playboy smoothie is, sickeningly, there (it's surely the Playboy club that David Hockney describes as "a sort of rhythm- and- blues Angus Steak House, where the seats are so small it's like a children's tea- party").
The camera watches, as smooth, as critical, as a cat, waiting for the people to give themselves away, to come alive. The criticism is carried out on a moral plane also. Eric Burdon rec ords "When I Was Young," whose words are cut in with stockshots of the 1939- 45 air war, and the gruelling purpose dominating the older generation's youth.2 A dollygirl, on a Big Wheel, talks about her freedom, and the camera zooms back to show her, high, alone and perilous, in her lofty cage, while the soundtrack twice repeats the last two words of her last sentence: "You can do what ever you like and no- one cares." David Hockney emerges from behind his "Zoom" spectacles to discuss the way we live now with a blend of Bradford accents, Oxford high table mannerisms, and fl ip thoughts which in itself is a splendid commentary on our new social mobility. Some of the other interviewers are less enlightening (Andrew Oldham, Mick Jagger, Julie Christie) not because their thought isn't sensible, but because the easy En glish use of words is rooted in social and moral outlooks which no longer apply. Thus Alan Aldridge, shown painting fl ower and butterfl y patterns on a girl's nude body, is asked if he doesn't think it's "psychic masturbation," and can respond only with a sceptical shrug.3 The best accounts of themselves are given by the artists. David Hockney is almost the star of the fi lm- apart, of course, from the camera- and Edna O'Brien is quite interesting- though not more so than the anonymous Cockney dollygirl who, having no image to bother about, just declares she doesn't believe in love, and draws all the common sense conclusions as to how a girl ought to behave. …