Some Like It Sexy: A Bleak, Experimental British Sex Film

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Sometimes, a film that you expect to be one thing turns out to be something rather different. Sometimes, that’s a deliberate bit of sleight of hand from a filmmaker, sometimes an accidental bit of inspiration that – without wanting to get into the academic-level critical pomposity of thinking I know what a film is about more than the people who actually made the damn thing – it is perhaps some sort of accidental osmosis. The British sex film is a prime, if not exactly fertile hunting ground for these rare gems – every so often, a film that ostensibly belongs to this most unloved of film genres (hated by mainstream critics and erotic film fans alike, it seems) turns out to be a real surprise that transcends the limitations of the genre, either through sheer outrageousness (Derek Ford’s jaw-dropping Diversions, at least in the hardcore edit, is one of the most extraordinary and outré films of the 1970s) or simply because it is unexpectedly well made, intelligent or emotionally affecting.

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Originally released as Come Back Peter (and then retitled to make it sound like a typical sex comedy of the era), Donovan Winter’s 1969 film is a pioneering sex film production, made at a time when the genre was still having to pretend to be social commentary (as with The Wife Swappers) or serious drama – sex for sex’s sake was still a difficult proposition for the British censors. As such, it doesn’t promise much, being stuck between the swinging cinema of the Sixties and the sex film explosion of the Seventies. And the opening scene seems to confirm all your fears – Christopher Matthews (of Scars of Dracula ‘fame’) driving around London in a sportscar, looking for a naïve young chick to pull like a poor man’s Alfie – though Matthews is no Michael Caine. In fact, he’s not even a Robin Askwith, coming across as thoroughly unlikeable. The prospects of watching him shag his way through a collection of dolly birds and bored housewives for 90 minutes is not an attractive one.

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But you should stick with it, because things start to slowly become a lot more interesting. There’s no plot as such – instead, we get a series of episodic sequences where Matthews visits a different woman and has some sort of sexual adventure. So far, then, typical of the British sex comedy. But this is rather different. For a start, it’s not a comedy. And there’s no real connection between the scenes, other than Matthews delivering a gift (that always stays wrapped) to each woman. But his clothes change from scene to scene (though they remain, for the most part, some of the most heinous fashion faux pas you’ll ever see), as does his personality – one moment he’s cocky and confident, the next nervous and unsure.

It’s after a few of these scenes that you begin to realise that this is something rather impressive. Matthews seems little more than a prop – a featureless, characterless figure who is little more than a mirror to the various female characters. His partners include Twins of Evil stars Mary and Madeline Collinson (who have a surprising and somewhat tasteless incestuous lesbian scene), feisty black singer Valerie St Helene, hippy stoner Annabel Leventon), man-hungry MILF Yolande Turner (and, by implication, her daughter played by a fully clothed Madeline Smith) and down to Earth Salvation Army officer Nicola Pagett. If it wasn’t for the shots of him selecting gifts from a briefcase full before several encounters, you could easily think that this was Matthews playing several different characters… and in a way, he is. I won’t spoil the final twist, but it does allow the preceding film to make sense (including the shots of chopping meat that had accompanied each scene in a none-too-subtle metaphor – or so it seems).

Writer / producer / director  Winter manages to make this film much more than it deserves to be. With a fascinating music score (a soundtrack album would be great) that mixes then-current pop hits, classical and original music into bizarre sound collages that are years ahead of their time and remarkable visual flourishes – the hippy sequence is both seductively and nightmarishly trippy, and edited so frenetically as to induce seizures – the film frequently transcends its sex film origins to become more like an experimental arthouse /underground film. The scene with the aggressive St Helene is strangely reminiscent in feel (if not explicitness) of Lasse Braun’s Sensations, while the closing sequence with Pagett is a classic slice of kitchen sink reality.

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As with many a British sex film, Some Like It Sexy exists in a ‘continental’ edit, which means more sex – this is the only cut currently available to view, ironically. You’ll spot the inserts easily, not only because they are more explicit (though still softcore) but also because the bodies frequently don’t match. You can also tell where non-insert sex scenes were extended, as they scenes in question often have a closing shot where the original edit would be before carrying on with the rudeness. Given that British sex films of this period tended to have most of the nudity removed, let alone any sexual activity, it’s hardly surprising that these ‘continental’ edits were essential. Now, the extended sex scenes actually seem to get in the way, and are about as sexy as a steak and kidney pie – though I’d still rather have them included than missing.

Saddled with it’s dreadful and misleading retitle, Some Like It Sexy has been doomed to be ignored and reviled by critics, most of whom will doubtless dismiss it out of hand even if they lower themselves to actually watch it. Many fans of the British sex film will also find it a bit disappointing – it won’t do much for you if you’re expecting a Confessions… style romp. But if you want to see a fascinating and unique late Sixties artefact, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

DAVID FLINT

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