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June 20, 2006

Edmond Greville 100th Birthday!


My first encounters with the films of Edmond Greville were in reading about two of his films. I was aware of The Hands of Orlac through that not uncommon introduction into film scholarship, "Famous Monsters of Filmland". Beat Girl was one of the films mentioned in a famed "Rolling Stone" magazine article on "rock and roll movies". For a guy who was a one-time assistant to Abel Gance, and a one-time actor for Rene Clair, Greville's career as a film-maker has inspired little inquiry. His only directorial effort to get much exposure lately is Princess Tam-Tam, a film best known as a starring vehicle for Josephine Baker.

Is it coincidental that two of the most iconic films about British youth culture both feature Gillian Hills? Both Greville and Antonioni are examining alienated characters in search of meaning and some sense of community in a Britain where tradition is challenged and often overturned. The main difference is that Antonioni is attempting to make much larger artistic statement, while Greville's aims are more modest. Recently at other blogsites, there has been a discussion of Manny Farber's termites versus elephants. Based on my understanding of Farber's theories, Greville may have been among the tiniest of termites.

I am hoping to see Beat Girl in a new DVD made from the "European version", currently only available on tape. The version I do have is a fair tape version that, like most versions available, has the scenes taking place in a strip club cut to bits. The shots of the strippers in action would now seem harmless at a time when there are televised fashion shows from Victoria's Secret. The narrative would not be advanced by a single iota. Still one would prefer to see as intact a film as possible, even one as deliriously silly as Beat Girl.

The main reasons why Beat Girl remains compulsively watchable has to do with several elements. Probably brought on to score the film due to his connection with Adam Faith, the music by John Barry might not be pure rock and roll, but it remains more inspired than the score for Dances with Wolves. Consider this, Fatboy Slim never sampled the music from Out of Africa. Beat Girl also features several up and coming British actors who would be better known in the early sixties. One whose star took somewhat longer to rise, was Oliver Reed, in this film a minor supporting character known as Plaid Shirt. Reed's performance is comprised of his glowering at the rest of the cast. Christopher Lee, not yet reconciled to a life playing Dracula, has a small role as the owner of the strip club where Gillian Hills seeks employment. Having Walter Lassally photograph the film gives Beat Girl status as a connecting link with the "Free Cinema" of Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz and Lindsay Anderson. How much responsibility for the film should be given Edmond Greville is hard to say from this vantage point. What is clear is that by virtue of the various talents involved, Beat Girl should not be considered throwaway work in the history of British film.

Posted by peter at June 20, 2006 12:07 AM