Sunday, November 05, 2006

Various Artists, Tonite Let's All Make Love in London, See for Miles

"To me it's to do...with the loss of the British Empire as such."
-- Michael Caine, Tonite Let's All Make Love in London

Since 1968, the soundtrack has gotten more play than the film. Though a Peter Whitehead retrospective is making its way across the country, I don't think this is going to change anytime soon. It's still easier to pick up the record than to see the documentary or "pop concerto." And if your town lacks a savvy cinematheque like the Northwest Film Forum, your chances of catching it on the big screen are slim to none. Plus, a DVD release hasn't been announced, although one must surely be in the works.

While the album features a number of fine British acts, its enduring appeal derives from two Pink Floyd rarities, "Interstellar Overdrive" and "Nick's Boogie." The former plays a key part in the film, since Whitehead structures his whole narrative around it. Instead of letting the song play in its entirety, he cuts from this, that, and the other thing (interviews with actors, artists, etc.) to Floyd at the UFO Club. The good news is that Syd Barrett, who Whitehead met at Cambridge, and gang sound great. The bad news is that you can barely see them (I could only identify Roger Waters). Whitehead shoots the group so that they're nothing but a colorful, psychedelic blur. It's appropriate, of course. By contrast, the Stones materialize in slow-motion black and white.

According to Wikipedia, this version of "Interstellar Overdrive" (16:46) was "done in one take, and pre-dates the version on The Piper at the Gates of Dawn," while "Nick's Boogie" (11:50) is an "unreleased jam recorded...during the extra studio time afforded by doing track one in the first take." The LP also includes a 30-second "Interstellar Overdrive (Reprise)," followed by a 58-second reprise. Although I consider myself a Floyd fan (Barrett-era, in particular), I'm no expert. To my ears, Tonite's "Interstellar" sounds a lot like Piper's--although it is a whopping seven minutes longer. Richie Unterberger, in the All Music Guide, describes it as "superior and more kinetic in its early section, though more tedious and drawn-out as a whole."

Whitehead doesn't speak with every musician in the film, but then it's only around 70 minutes long. Some he simply captures on stage, like the Floyd, and some in the studio, like Twice as Nice, Vashti Bunyan, and the Animals. Mick Jagger has interesting things to say, which you can hear on the record, since interview snippets are part of the package (Whitehead would also direct a number of Stones promos). Other interviewees include author Edna O'Brien, actress Julie Christie [right], artists Alan Aldridge and David Hockney, actor Lee Marvin (working in London at the time), poet Allen Ginsberg (who provides the title), and manager Andrew Loog Oldham (the Stones, Bunyan, Twice as Nice). Unfortunately, the Animals track, "When I Was Young," is missing from the soundtrack. I would imagine that this is due to rights issues.

Other notes of interest: Bunyan, who contributes "Winter Is Blue," was known simply as Vashti in 1967. She would soon break with Oldham and strike off on her own. The version of "Paint It Black" is sung by Chris Farlowe, while the Small Faces perform "Here Comes the Nice." Somehow I don't remember seeing footage of Farlowe or the Faces in the film, but that doesn't mean they aren't there. I think there may have been a brief clip of the latter in the studio, but some sequences are so short that if you blink, you'll miss 'em.

And there you have it. If you can see the movie, I'd recommend it. As with the soundtrack, it's a provocative portrait of Swinging Sixties London in all its pop-mod glory. To Peter Whitehead, that means body painting, dolly birds, miniskirts, strobe lights, and glimpses of Terence Stamp, Bianca Jagger, and lost starlets like Donyale Luna. And music, lots and lots of glorious music.

Endnote: The series Let's All Make Love in London: The Films of Peter Whitehead continues at the NWFF through 11/12. Please click here for a review of the retrospective and here for Tonite. For show times, click here. Image from Wikipedia.

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