London 1967-72…On a summer Saturday in 1967, Portobello market is a gathering place for London's hippies, freaks, heads, and anyone who needs potatoes or a rare Delft tureen. Past the blocks of food-stalls, and antiques, past the prime spots for vintage clothing, Roger and I set up a temporary stall. Our posters of Shiva, Kali, Ganesh, and Buraq the Flying Horse, our small array of peacock-feather fans, gossamer Indian shirts, beads, bangles, and our superb Afghan hash all attract keen customers. The Beatles are in Rishikesh, George Harrison has been taking sitar lessons with Ravi Shankar, and the whole world is growing hair and burning incense.
We were talking - about the love we all could share
When we find it - to try our best to hold it there - with our love
With our love we could save the world
If they only knew
(Within You, Without You. George Harrison)
So much talk of Love! Heart warming and also head softening. But what's the alternative, the Red Brigades? Some of us are born to vex the dour by laughing too much, and Portobello Road is full of ex-Trots wearing beads and finding their funny-bone. Roger and I fall in love with this neighbourhood of cheap housing, eccentric mini-businesses, engaged residents, international students, alternative schools, music clubs, Caribbean Carnivals, head-shops. Our stall on Portobello lasts about three weekends and introduces us to many long-time locals, and some of the newer residents who agree on drugs and Indian shirts if nothing else. Then I'm off to begin film school, and Roger is welcomed back to the London Playboy Club as Top Floor Manager in charge of restaurant, bar, gambling, and of course Bunnies. I'm in a summer of love haze about our Roger, so I think, what a good job!
The London School of Film Technique in Covent Garden is an eccentric operation, a dozen years old, barely certified and rather a bargain. A new cohort of British and international students starts the course every four months and continues for two years. In each semester we attend lectures, watch great films, practice with equipment, and either write, direct, shoot, record or edit a short film, moving from silent B/W 16mm to colour 35mm with sound. The school's founder is Robert Dunbar a former writer and film producer, and his plan is great on paper. But class sizes fluctuate, and professional film people get called away for serious paying gigs, so there are few permanent staffers. Dunbar juggles fast; when there are too many cancellations, he twists an old pal's arm and Albert Finney shows up to be delightful and fatherly and humble, letting us know with every rueful smile that fame is fickle and all castles built on sand. I make no special memories with Albert, but his eyes were very blue.
My traveling pal Patricia Barnes visits the film school and notes about a hundred ravenous people with no bevvies or snacks. By the next day, Pat and her friend Sandy are setting out cuppas and passing out sarnies fast as they can make them. Sandy is a petite woman of great charm and punky butch-ness. They are a natural comedy duo who run a cool tea shop for a cool crowd. Students tend to keep to their cohort and have little contact with the others except at Pat's tea-shop. There's a stylish Cambridge group: Robert Dunbar's son, John is an alumnus and founder of the Indica Gallery where John meets Yoko; witty Aubrey Powell and Mick Rock in their velvet-jackets and flowing scarves are stars of Pat's Tea Shop and clearly on their way to immortality. Some students are more film-wise than others; this one can talk about Bergman shot for shot, that one can enact every blow of De Sica's The Bicycle Thieves, another can talk film stock, colour processing, special effects. Though raised in tv-land and hip to some of the narrative technique of cameras, I'm playing catch-up in film history, with pleasure.
On the first day of the Christmas holiday, an American from my class knocks at our apartment door, on his way to the Paris train and thinks it best to leave us with his bottle of clinical LSD from Switzerland, 1000 mg a drop, just a couple of drops on your tongue or in your eyeball, and enjoy!
We drop acid. Several drops. Roger and I close the curtains, put Satanic Majesty's Request on the turntable, get comfortable, enjoy!
She comes in colours everywhere
she combs her hair
she's like a rainbow
(She’s a Rainbow. Jagger /Richards)
Do you feel anything? I don't feel anything. Maybe have a joint. Yes. Oh yes. Oh my god... During the first immeasurable hours, I enjoy lying on the rug and watching the molecular pulse of the walls and the ceiling and the air and the light and the shadows, watching the tracing of images when I move my arm, seeing the million cells of my fingers... By the time Roger and I feel like being vertical our clothes seem burdensome, and they come off. I see my false eyelashes -- hey, it's 1967 in swinging London -- and they come off and stay off forever because they look hilarious... is that the word? Words, my special friends, have abandoned me, become useless, so clumsy, crude, incapable of capturing reality at all, not like Jimi's pulsing bubbling guitar.
Well she's walking through the clouds, With a circus mind that's running round.
Butterflies and zebras
And moonbeams and fairtytales...
(Little Wing. Jimi Hendrix)
We become committed acid trippers but it isn't all moonbeams and fairytales for London's young rebels. We are also called upon to pick up the torch from Ban The Bomb, reinvent communism to atone for Stalin, and stop the war in Vietnam. In one of the many international demonstrations of 1968, famous actors and philosophers lead us to the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square to present a petition. The crowd surges forward against a line of ordinary Bobbies. In protest over a war fought by Americans in Vietnam, a crowd of young Britons and colonials shouts abuse at young British coppers. My brain goes spring, I go home. Stones are thrown, horses arrive, cops and civilians are injured. I cannot follow a political principle to the point where it's more important than someone's skull.
Every weekday I ride across the centre of this ancient city, sometimes by bus, more often by the high-speed Tube system, built seventy-five years ago by visionaries and a pharaonic work force. I take the Piccadilly Line -- Earls Court, Knightsbridge, Hyde Park Corner, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Covent Garden. I have time to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who shows me stories can be mythic even as TV and film are de-theatrical-ising; Marshall McLuhan who helps me understand the medium I grew up in; Albert Camus whose writing helps me find moral and political bearings.
At school I direct The Great Leap Sideways, a fifteen-minute documentary about the effect of 1960's feminism on men. Naively or prophetically I think feminism is over: women have been educated in public systems for decades; are visible on the heights of government and the professions; have many opportunities to be bad bosses and workaholics. All of the randomly chosen male interviewees in our documentary are unperturbed by sharing the scraps of capitalism with female colleagues.
It's 1968, the hippies have been buried in a symbolic coffin in San Francisco. The streets of Paris, Rome, Berlin are filled with militants. There are general strikes, there are students burning cars and stoning gendarmes, there are self-described revolutionary cells kidnaping and murdering politicians. In the America Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King are assassinated, students at University are killed by national guards, riots and protests escalate. In London, militant but peaceful demonstrations continue: against Apartheid and nuclear disarmament, for equal pay.
You say you want a revolution yeah
Well you know, we all want to save the world
(Revolution. Beatles. Lennon/McCartney)
Roger and I meet a young English fellow named John McWilliams, a smiling cajoling slow-hustle kind of guy. Together we make a deal with Tommy, the Cockney Troll King who manages the Imperial Cinema on Portobello Road. This once-lovely theatre is known locally as the Fleapit, and it's all ours on Saturdays for late-night screenings. We don't know how to run the 35mm projectors in the booth so we plan to rent with companies who distribute 16mm to university film clubs. We programme a few auteurs, we call ourselves The Electric Cinema Club after the name inlaid on the foyer floor in 1910, we plant a 16mm projector in the middle of the house and we're in show business. Audiences arrive and sit all around the projector, which makes a terrible racket, but they continue to show up anyway. A few weeks later we are rescued and upgraded by Martin Heath and Peter Howden, film nuts who work for a film distribution company. They move the 16mm projector to the booth with a lens to enlarge the image and hook it up to the sound system. They also have access to 35mm prints, and are true film connoisseurs.
The Electric Cinema Club is an instant hit, pulling in fifty to seventy pounds a week. We are tithing to the love-revolution, of course, so we, the staff, take five pounds each, same amount to the Troll King's pocket, the rest we give to the neediest cause -- bail funds, squatters' supplies, expenses for small publications facing obscenity charges. Because we donate the profit we're not hardline about ticket prices, and audience members are let in if they take a stack of flyers to hand out, if they say they'll pay later, if they match the right box office person to the right joint or tab of acid in their pocket. Roger and John and I put up posters, staff the ticket booth, run the 78rpm record player for house music, clean the washrooms, collaborate on programming with Martin and Peter who also handle projection. Patricia and Sandy run the stoned snack bar. There is a small stage in front of the screen and soon there are musicians playing pre-show music, and where there are musicians inevitably there are big, bubbling, beautiful, multi-coloured, shape-shifting light shows. If you bop into the Electric in 1968, you may hear the latest Cream LP, and then Crazy Peter live from Croydon with a lute and a wah-wah pedal. Like you, the other members of the audience may be psychedelically stimulated, enjoying the vibe, doing their bit to establish heaven on earth. Everyone is gathered to watch masterpieces and experimenters, it's a good place to be.
In the fall of 1968, Jean Luc Godard's One Plus One is to have a premiere screening at the National Film Theatre. One Plus One is a masterpiece of his early didactic period, infinitely sexed up by shots of the Rolling Stones recording various tracks of Sympathy for the Devil. When Godard finds out that producer Iain Quarrier has re-titled the film Sympathy for the Devil and re-cut it to include a full rendition of the Stones' song, Godard tries to stop the screening. Onstage he punches Quarrier, exhorting the audience to leave and demand refunds; Godard himself will project it outside on a wall! The audience stays put, and the outdoor projection doesn't work. So a few days later the Electric Cinema presents Godard's cut of One Plus One with Godard in attendance along with the local chapter of the Black Panthers. Their head is Michael X, also known as Michael Abdul Malik, an activist associated with the Notting Hill Riots, the Notting Hill Carnival, and a lot of pimping, drug dealing, extortion, and assault. Michael X receives support for his projects and lawyers from many liberal superstars, American, British, black and white. At the Electric Cinema, Michael X's date is a rich white New Yorker from my film school. A few years from this night he will murder two people and hang for it in Trinidad, events dramatised in V.S. Naipaul's novel The Guerillas. At the end of the evening, Jean Luc Godard and the Electric Cinema donate the night's ticket sales to Mister X.
Roger finally stops working at the Playboy Club, and I stop expecting a 2 am call saying, "Special guests in the penthouse, I have to work late". Sometimes he just has to work late, sometimes I don't know. Roger thinks of himself as a monogamous man, but he was raised in Mediterranean culture where it is conceivable to be monogamous plus a discreet philanderer. Roger shapes up when my mother Violet arrives for a fact-finding tour of my life. She's come to size up my sketchy school and my boyfriend with the sketchy job, but she charms and is charmed by everyone -- especially Roger, our Canadian friends Bob and Caroline, Michael Dean an artist from Manchester, my pal Patricia Barnes, and various orphans from film school. Vi is still a stylish and beautiful woman, classy-but-relaxed; she's a hit at the Electric, with the stall holders on Portobello, and she loves that everyone calls her 'Luv'. She sits without fuss on a stool or the floor, tries a few tokes, has many a laugh, and serves a roast beef dinner that postpones our vegan plans by a year or so. Mom and I tour galleries and teashops, and Harrods, and see a couple of plays. We know we have to have 'a talk' about my return to Canada, but we postpone and postpone; by the time she leaves she thinks I have a fine life, for the moment, and wouldn't think of spoiling it with dire speculation. Tacit agreement: eighteen more months at film school, home by 1970.
In the spring of 1969, Jean-Luc Godard's new film British Sounds is being shot in London for television broadcast, and producer , asks me to appear in it. British Sounds is a sister film to One Plus One -- talky, chunky, aggressively preachy -- and no doubt I'm invited because my Electric Cinema cred' is red enough. I'm to be filmed naked, walking around a house, up and down a staircase, talking on a phone, standing still, breathing. The day before the shoot Godard explains in a musical French accent: "In some films being naked is exploitation, titillation, the nakedness is there for no reason. This is not that. In some movies being naked advances the story or reveals character. This is not that. In this movie being naked is just.... being naked. We all have bodies." Good enough for me in my nubile years. On the day of filming, the soundtrack is created by Sheila Rowbottom reading her own feminist essay; Godard originally urged Rowbottom to be naked onscreen, but she was shyer about her body and objected to the exploitation, titillation, etc. Apparently Godard said to her "You don't think I can make a cunt boring?" I'm proud to say that, between us, Godard and I do make a cunt boring. I don't have the chops to be camera-sultry so I gladly take his note: I'm just naked. The crew makes it easy and we finish early, so Godard decides to shoot the last scene of the film in the back yard, and to play the part of a wounded revolutionary crawling in the snow and mud toward a fallen red flag, raising it a little with a trembling arm, fluttering flag..... Fin. ITV refuses to broadcast the final film because of the nakedness and perhaps the extreme tedium -- but Godard carries on with his new screed, "shorter films, less money, faster production" -- and takes British Sounds, now known as See You At Mao on a US tour.
Roger gears up for a series of concerts designed to raise money -- for the love-revolution of course. I suggest the name, Implosion. Roger gathers a great team, books the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, and pursues a relationship with the police that turn the concerts into a bust-free zone. The Roundhouse was originally designed to turn train engines; it's circular with a second floor balcony overlooking the main space. For the concerts people set up stalls under the balcony for food and pretty things, for bad-trip rooms and tables with brochures on venereal disease. A stage thrusts into the main space, around it people dance and pass the joints. Bands play for an honorarium; Roger makes sure the sound is great and the light show is blobbing edge! My dad Malcolm comes to visit and spends two months of Sundays smoking joints beside the light-show operator, floating around in the crowd below. Does he marvel at the difference between his twenties, when he taught in a one-room-schoolhouse in a land wracked by famine and poverty, and my generations' post-war feast? Or does he partly admire and partly mistrust the self-indulgent anarchy of it all? I rather hope the latter.
I direct my fifth-term film, an elegy on the mystery of aging, with Malcolm in the final shots. The Implosion Concerts at the Roundhouse are running well: full houses, no busts, no overdoses, no musicians dying in the dressing room. Jimi Hendrix dies across town, Noel Redding plays Implosion as Fat Mattress, looking very sad mattress. The Living Theatre, under the direction of Julian and X Beck, are invited to do their thing in the middle of a dreamy softly-imploding mass of 2000 stoned dancers and wafters; the Living Theatre's thing turns out to be stalking and mimicking the dancers, shouting over and over again "NAPALM, NAPALM, NAAAAAPAAAAAALM" nose to nose, mouth to ear, poisoning everyone daring to feel happy. Not my favorite show..........
© 2020 Deanne Taylor.