Sunday, 10 April 2016

Psychedelic spice… The Touchables (1968)

They say that if you can remember the Sixties then you probably weren’t there in which case the participants in this film may have a gap in their recall for 1968 at least… As the country wrestles with the ins and outs of the EU you find yourself searching for the exact point in time when Britain actually was Great: the world wars undoubtedly but it’s harder when you really look elsewhere. The Victorian Empire may have seen our global domination at its peak but there were long depressions in the domestic economy and society was hardly egalitarian at home let alone in the colonies.

No. Let me put it to you that our greatest moment of being Great was indeed the Sixties – a glorious filling of tie-dyed liberation sandwiched between the austerity of the fifties and the strife of the seventies. So, is that’s what the “leavers” want to return to? Probably not as I’d guess most of them are far too square.

The Touchables is far from the greatest film of that decade but it does retain some power as an evocation of the endless possibilities of those hazed days. And it looks simply smashing!

Any film that has Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive sound-tracking a speed boat ride in a lake, can’t fail to gain psychedelic points in my book and to cap that we also have Nirvana (UK version) performing All of Us over the closing credits. So, big tick for the groovy sounds man.

It’s also very hard to think of another film with such an abundance of sublimely groovy women… it’s like Candy to the power of four with Esther Anderson, Marilyn Rickard, Kathy Simmonds and the impossibly-lovely Judy Huxtable playing the central quartet in mod-skirts and liberated foot-wear. They are four characters in search of a plot though and no amount of razzle-dazzle can hide that.

Esther Anderson
The screenplay was written by Ian La Frenais who, along with Dick Clements did so much film work before their seventies hay day with The Likely Lads and Auf Wedersein Pet. It’s based on a book by David and Donald Cammell the legendary director of Performance, based on an idea from by its director, Robert Freeman (who photographed the covers for With The Beatles, Beatles For Sale and Rubber Soul) and they’re all definitely trying to say something.

Judy Huxtable
But I’m not sure what. As with other films of the period, the style of revolt was sometimes more important than the substance: just the freedom to express free sexuality and alternative culture was a major step forward and we only look back judgementally now because we still don’t have any answers – just more cycles of reaction and action under our belt.

Kathy Simmonds
After an extended display of sexualised hair throwing, sensuous back arching and luscious looks at the camera; the girls kidnap Michael Caine or at least his waxwork dummy. Sexy Sadie (Judy Huxtable) makes off with him in her white sports car and after the gang of four reconvene at their pad it’s clear that this was a dry run for the acquisition of a more animated figure.

Marilyn Rickard
Her partners in this gentile crime are the quirky Busbee (Marilyn Rickard) – the baby of the group – and the more sexually knowing Samson (Kathy Simmonds) who’s a little bit scary.

Melanie (Esther Anderson) “Dancing Spice” who throws some superbly-impressive go-go manoeuvres throughout the film is dating a pro-wrestler Lilywhite (Harry Baird with dubbed American accent) who keeps writing artistic cheques his intellect can’t quite cash. His house is full of “genuine replicas” of classic Greco-Roman art and he comes up with almost-wise comments such as “remember who leaps last always loses…” or some-such.

Ricky Star and Harry Baird share a moment
Lillywhite fights in ballet shoes and outwits his opponents with dancing style; it’s a funny concept and very La Frenais even if it wears out quickly.  His main enemy is Ricki (Ricki Star) who is a more typically animalistic fighter. Ricki has other cultural ambitions and is in league with a posh gangster called Twyning (James Villiers). As luck would have it, he targets the same pop star as the girls for his protection racket partly because he fancies him - another shock twist from the time which lands with less force now… in these enlightened times (mostly).

David Anthony on TV
The object of their affections is a pop star called Christian (David Anthony) who they watch on television being interviewed by a young Joan Bakewell: he has lots of confident, content free easy answers and does a passable impression of George Harrison.

Ricky takes Christian's manager for a ride
The girls swing an invite to a wrestling match where they know Christian will be present and kidnap him dressed, of course, as nuns. The chloroformed singer is taken far away into the countryside to an incredible looking inflatable dome, which is highlighted against the setting Sun from various angles by Freeman – it is a superb image.

Inside the dome, Christian is bound and informed of his unusual fate. The girls have no specific agenda other than making sure that they all sleep with him and Christian, being a star from 1968 is ultimately all too happy to support this strategy in what becomes something like elective abduction.

Approaching the dome...
As their relationship heats up, Christian slips in to an easy routine as the girls play games to win their turn whilst in the outside world his manager (John Ronane) is under pressure from Ricki and Twyning to find their missing asset.

Things only turn serious when Christian tries to escape back to commitments he’s sure he has. He is chased by the girls and Sadie on horseback and shot in the head as he tries to escape by motorboat.  This shocking moment of selfish violence is soon forgotten when he emerges unscathed… Don’t worry, we’re not in that kind of film seems to be the message.

A roundabout of affections...
But, when Melanie returns home to change her wig, she is followed and before you can say “Granny Takes a Trip” the bubble has been taken over by Starr’s armed henchmen… all looks bad until Bisbee escapes through the toilet window and runs back to London for help…

Dusty verdict: Just as a more urgent narrative breaks out we realise that there hasn’t really been one for much of the film. The Touchables is bubble-gum, easy watching but it doesn’t really have any point to make other than to reinforce the benefits of being young, lovely and free.

If there are any serious points on the contemporary social situation they were lost on me with the film taking broad swipes at social normality with a more tolerant eye than many would expect from 1968.

Judy in the sky with diamonds
The female cast are all beautiful and this is an undeniably good thing, but they don’t have a huge amount of real acting to do. Still, along with the fab clothes, Nirvana and Syd’s Floyd they make the trip to ’68 more than bearable and it goes without saying that Robert Freeman's direction is highly-visual and stunningly lovely (just like the girls).

The Touchables is pretty rare so I’m stuck with my old VHS but I’m sure that a  DVD can’t be that far away given the enduring appeal of the style if not the substance.

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