Monday, 1 February 2010
ROOM 4 - Plaisir à GLC
I've been doing some research recently into the British theatrical exhibition of Jess Franco's films, and came across this telling glimpse into life in 1970s Britain.
Franco's 1973 erotic horror film Plaisir à trois was one of the highlights of his sojourn with French porno producer Robert De Nesle, whose company Comptoir Français du Film Production bankrolled over twenty of his movies in the 1970s. When the film was submitted to the British Board of Film Censors on 8th May 1974, however, it was rejected outright.
Attempting to release the film were Cinecenta, a theatre chain specializing in the newly emergent sex films from America and the Continent. Many of their acquisitions suffered terribly at the hands of the censor, either banned outright or subjected to massive cuts before being grudgingly allowed an 'X' certificate (running times of 'X' prints often dipped below sixty minutes).
While the sexual revolution of the 1960s had swept through youth culture, parts of the intelligentsia and various exotic social groupings, it was yet to loosen the Establishment's grip on popular entertainment. Sex films, as seen in British cinemas, were splicy, frustrating affairs, with the 'meat' of the matter forever nipped in the bud. However, Cinecenta and companies like them were unwilling to admit defeat. One further legal avenue was open: if a film had been banned by the BBFC it was still possible to ask for a 'local X' from individual councils. Thus, in 1975 Plaisir à trois was submitted to London's then governing body, the Greater London Council (GLC) for consideration.
The 'Compton's' cinema chain had already succeeded in this endeavour with another Jess Franco film The Demons, which was rejected by the BBFC outright on the 23rd of March 1972, but which entered selective distribution to the country's sex cinemas in 1973, following successful applications for local licences in cities such as London and Birmingham. Plaisir à trois, now retitled How To Seduce a Virgin, was thus granted a number of local certificates and entered distribution in the summer of 1975...
Below is an article I discovered in the long-defunct British film trade magazine Cinema & TV Today, dated the 26th of April 1975, which outlines the controversy stirred up by Franco's film - a controversy that has not been remarked upon, to my knowledge, since the mid-seventies:
GLC ignores anti-porn protestors
by Quentin Falk
The GLC refused to be seduced this week by the members of the Festival of Light and the Salvation Army.
For despite the extra-mural influence of some 100 anti-porn campaigners, including Lord Longford, who went down on their knees as the council met, the GLC endorsed its viewing board's decision to give a certificate to "How To Seduce a Virgin."
The French sex film, which has been variously described as a "tale of murder and sex in a mental hospital" and telling "how a husband procures a woman for his lesbian wife to seduce and murder" was refused a certificate by the British Board of Film Censors.
The film was eventually passed by 44 votes to 36, much to the chagrin of the praying campaigners.
Cinecenta, who are handling the film, originally sought a GLC certificate in January and then withdrew the film when the big censorship debate came up in council at the end of that month.
After the GLC voted to retain censorship for adults, Cinecenta then offered the film again for consideration.
Commented viewing board chairman, Phil Bassett: "It's a rather sordid, seedy film."
Some context here:
Lord Longford was a Labour peer and campaigner on moral issues, best known, and deeply infamous, for his Christian forgiveness of 'Moors Murderer' Myra Hindley and his subsequent campaigning for her release. He earned himself the sobriquet 'Lord Porn' after he toured European sex cinemas on a 'fact-finding' mission to support his abhorrence of the sex industry. He was also a bitter opponent of gay rights and backed Margaret Thatcher's anti-gay 'Section 28' legislation to the end.
The Festival of Light was a conservative movement formed in the late 1960s by British Christians opposed to the so-called permissive society. Its most tenacious media campaigners were Mary Whitehouse and Malcolm Muggeridge, both of whom regularly appeared on television (Muggeridge famously calling for Monty Python's Life of Brian to be banned).
How to Seduce a Virgin did not set the box office alight, nor, as far as I can tell, did it spend a huge amount of time on the circuit. What's interesting today is to see the furore surrounding such a relatively obscure Franco title, with Christians picketing and praying their way into the news. Sadly, no British company picked up the film for distribution in the heyday of the 'video-nasty' so we have no way of knowing how it would have fared in that feverish moral climate. It seems unlikely that it would have been so controversial again, when films such as Cannibal Holocaust and I Spit On Your Grave were in circulation, but you never know - Jess Franco's name was infamous within the BBFC, and by the time the video revolution occurred a great many of his films between 1970 and 1980 had been banned outright.
Hopefully, Pete Tombs' company Mondo Macabro will consider this movie for release if and when they can secure the rights for a DVD release. Because, behind the controversy, and despite the obscurity, there's a terrific Sadean horror film just waiting to pounce!