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Producing BFI Flipside’s ‘Her Private Hell’

A low budget exploiter shot in three weeks may not seem to have much to offer the discerning viewer …

A low budget exploiter shot in three weeks may not seem to have much to offer the discerning viewer but Warren’s first feature has a lot to recommend it. Far from the ‘nudge nudge, wink wink’ attitude to sex which characterises 1970s comedies, it’s a well-acted, tightly scripted drama with effective montage sequences, both narrative and expressionistic, backed by a fantastic original jazz score by John Scott. Very much of the Swinging Sixties, it actually presents quite a dark view of the time, exploring the downside of sexual freedom and the confusing roles women are expected to fulfil in the burgeoning world of commerce and exploitation. Far from pandering to male fantasies, the script contains strong female characters more than capable of playing the men at their own game.

Her Private Hell was released in different versions here and in the US – the export cut containing more nudity – and a decision had to be made about how the additional material would appear. While we expected the US version to be longer, it turned out that it was in fact shorter than the British release print since a couple of other sequences had been cut, presumably to speed up the arrival of the first sex scene. The US version contained two extra topless sequences not seen in the UK and it was decided to include these as extras rather than integrate them into the feature. Watched now, the film seems incredibly innocent and the BBFC awarded the video release a 15 certificate.

Once the project was decided on, we set about trying to track down some of those who’d been involved in it. Screenwriter Glynn Christian was easy to find – he was celebrity chef on BBC Breakfast throughout 80s and has published several books. The star of the film, Italian actress Lucia Modugno, was not as much in evidence but was eventually located in Rome via Facebook and she shared her memories of coming to London to make the film. Actors Pearl Catlin and Jeannette Wild were also contacted and joined Christian and Warren at the BFI for a special screening of the film. Afterwards, we filmed their reminiscences about the film and these appear as an extra on the disc.

Other extras include Warren’s first short film – well, in fact, his first and last, since it was shot in 1959 but not completed until 2007. Incident was made with fellow film enthusiast Brian Tufano (director of photography on Quadrophenia (1979) and Trainspotting (1996), the teenagers becoming friends through a local West London cineclub. Shot at Battersea funfair it tells, without words, a simple story of boy meets girl. Warren had got the film to cutting copy stage but then both he and Tufano got jobs in the industry and it languished for 48 years until they got together to finish it. It had its ‘premiere’ at BFI Southbank in 2008 and it appears here for the first time on DVD. Warren’s second film, Fragment, is also included, as well as screen tests (featuring Udo Kier) and the trailer for Her Private Hell.

Her Private Hell’s fictional expose of the glamour modelling industry is complemented by a ‘documentary’ view of the topic provided by another of the extras. The Anatomy of a Pin-Up focuses on the work of the ‘Penthouse Pets’ and includes plenty of shots of the girls on the job while also striving for a balanced view by interviewing women such as Barbara Cartland and Lynn Barber, who was a journalist on the magazine at the time.

Working with Warren on the release was a real pleasure as he has an infectious enthusiasm as well as a comprehensive archive of his own work. All the stills and many of the extras came from his personal collection and he gave his time to the project very generously. Her Private Hell may never make it into the cinematic canon but, like the other Flipside titles, its release will help to fill some of the more obscure gaps in British film history.

Josephine Botting

 

To read Jonathan Rigby’s review of the DVD, click here.

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