|Earlier this year wipednews.com covered psychedelic music lover PETER PRENTICE’s quest to rediscover lost ’60s underground film, Popdown. Here, in an exclusive feature he updates readers to the progress made so far…
THINGS have moved on considerably since Easter, with the most significant event being the hastily arranged summer screening of two reels of Popdown material salvaged by Eric Liknaitzky at Contemporary Films in London.
The screening was attended by as many of the Popdown crowd as I could muster at such short notice, and was principally organised in order to check the print of what was expected to be a full-length version of the film; possibly the selfsame 46m print that was screened at the Scala in September 1984.
Sadly, this wasn’t the case. It transpired that what we had were two virtually identical 25m edits, both severely truncated yet containing sequences omitted from the Scala print. Quite what the purpose of these edits was, nobody in the production can recall; but after analysing the better quality of the two prints, it appears they DO contain elements of the version released theatrically in 1970 (according to my calculations, they contain around 17m 47s of the 46m 42s print screened at the Scala, plus an additional 7m 15s of ‘new’ material).
Amongst this new footage were two important sequences for some reason left out of the Scala print altogether: Andy Ellison’s performance of ‘Another Lucky Lie’, and a memorable busking sequence involving Jumping Jack Norris and the legendary London street singer Meg Aikman.
Unfortunately, despite their surprise inclusion and the retention of the Kevin Westlake & Gary Farr, Dantalian’s Chariot and Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity sequences, the edits lacked all trace of the film’s other key musical sequences; in particular those featuring Blossom Toes, Nanette Workman, Luiz Bonfa and the Speck of Dust – a children’s act put together especially for the film.
Furthermore, Popdown was far more international in scope than many people realise – with an unusually cosmopolitan cast list and sequences filmed on location in Cannes, Paris, St. Moritz and Miami – but apart from a few scattered glimpses of the sequences shot in Cannes, this aspect of the film was almost entirely absent.As you might imagine, I left the screening feeling profoundly deflated.
This sense of despondency was to prove short-lived, however, as a week later came news that twelve reels of 35mm negative had been found in a box marked “Popdown (1970)” at the Hong Kong warehouse storing Fred Marshall’s film library. In addition, another reel was found amongst the negative of one of the filmmaker’s later productions. These I had shipped directly to Kaleidoscope in the West Midlands for storage purposes and eventual restoration/transfer.
Their discovery was the result of an enquiry I had made into a large trunk of 1/4 inch soundtapes listed amongst the inventory, the contents of which I would dearly like to have shipped over at some stage because I believe they may contain some of the recordings used in Popdown.
Funding remains my biggest problem. I had to borrow another substantial sum to get the 35mm negative material sent over, and there is still no sign of a benefactor on the horizon. Bizarrely, Middlesex University expressed an interest in the library at one point, but that interest quickly evaporated once they learnt of the kind of sums involved.
In August it looked as though a white knight had arrived in the shape of the BFI. The team behind their excellent Flipside DVD arm was shown the better of the two Contemporary edits and immediately invited me up to their Stephen St. HQ for a meeting.
Sadly, despite expressing initial enthusiasm for my proposal of a single DVD release comprising a specially reconstructed Popdown, Chelsea Bird and The Free Life (Fred Marshall’s most ambitious film, shot on location in various south-east Asian and Australasian countries in the early seventies), Fred’s post-London productions fell (unsurprisingly) outside of their remit.
My most pressing concern, therefore, is finding the capital required for the restoration/ transfer of the Popdown 35mm negative and the transportation costs of The Free Life material – both of which are going to be expensive undertakings.
Compared to Popdown, there is almost a surplus of Free Life material in Hong Kong. The inventory contains not only the 35mm negative, but a 16mm print, 35mm work prints and even three reels of 1 inch videotape; a measure of the importance Fred Marshall attached to the film. Similarly, the vast majority of the 1/4 inch soundtapes belong to its soundtrack.
Described by the filmmaker as a modern adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey, The Free Life starred Nancy Kwan and took several years to complete, eventually surfacing in the mid- to late seventies as Asian Odyssey. Just as with Fred Marshall’s earlier films, distribution appears to have been practically non-existent, with screenings limited to the occasional film festival – a fate that was to befall many of Marshall’s subsequent productions, and one of the primary reasons why his films are today almost universally unknown.
The search goes on, both for a full-length print of Popdown and for all those with the slightest connection to Fred Marshall or the film. Many key personnel have been located or have come forward since April; perhaps the most noteworthy being editor Michael Foale, a central figure in the making of the film and a man pivotal to any attempted reconstruction. I’m delighted to report that Michael has already volunteered to help out should a reconstruction prove feasible.
Thanks to wipednews.com, the wonderful Hernán Rubin has also been able to contact me. Hernán helped Michael edit the film and has been a marvellous fillip to the project, rounding up his friends Erich Juhacsz (who played Ulysses in The Free Life), John Ruiz Poleo and Juan Carlos Golik, all of whom were part of Fred Marshall’s inner circle in London. Together, with the help of Erich’s son, Harun, and Hernan’s poet friend Jósbel (who have been unstinting in their efforts to help with project), they have helped to shed important new light on the filmmaker’s activities during the early seventies – an area that has gone largely uncharted up till now. Hernán also possesses precious colour frames of Popdown‘s famous ‘Lady Godiva’ sequence: another of those scenes frustratingly missing from the Contemporary edits.
Mention must also be made of the continued support I have received from all those ‘in the loop’; in particular Popdown‘s Executive Producer, Richard de Clare – someone I’ve always been able to turn to for advice and encouragement.
I can’t let this opportunity pass without acknowledging the sterling efforts of Chris Perry and his team at Kaleidoscope. Along with his colleagues Simon Coward and Gordon Hendry, who has completed the restoration of the 16mm excerpts, Chris more than anyone has had to bear the brunt of the constant changes of plan that seem to have dogged the project over the past few months. I’m sure Chris’s heart must sink every time he receives an e-mail headed ‘Popdown’!
Where do we go from here? In the short-term, it’s all about finding the money for the restoration/transfer of the 35mm material and the transport of as much of the library as possible. Long-term, my objectives remain much as they were in April. Whether those objectives are achievable, only time will tell; but one thing I CAN promise, and that is no matter how many obstacles are put in my way, I won’t rest until not just Popdown, but each and every one of Fred Marshall’s films has seen the light of day.
7 responses to “Popdown Progress”
Thanks, Peter Prentice!
You have been doing well here with Popdown XXI Century Renewal: very professionally indeed, I am sure. I am also sure you´ll reach honour at the end of the project, because it´s important, and dignifying of a moment in the time of London when it was a center, as a reference, in the Global Village Marshall Mac Luhan had been envisioning at the same time, no doubt! You have developed the project in a way you involve so many people as from BFI officials to us, ordinary people who accompany Fred Marshall´s dreams, hopes, expectances, worries, and son on. Thanks, Peter Prentice, I am with you, as I know Michael, Juan Carlos, Erich, John, Harun, Josbel also are. May Fred from his land of reward, bless you as well as we all.
Peter, I really appreciate your enduring efforts in rediscovering the Popdown movie. Since I have never seen any part of it (so far) I would really like to know if the musical performances contained in it are unique to the movie, i.e. have they been filmed exclusively for the movie?
Thanks and keep on the great work.
As far as I’m aware, Joerg, yes, the performances ARE exclusive to the film. Whether all the performance footage used was actually SHOT for Popdown is less clear cut, but the sequences involving Kevin Westlake & Gary Farr, the Idle Race, Andy Ellison, Luiz Bonfa and Dantalian’s Chariot WERE definitely filmed with the picture in mind. The Dantalian’s sequence is accompanied by an edited version of “The Madman Running Through the Fields” and a 38-second excerpt of “Soliloquy” (as Fred Marshall remembered it in 2000) – an unreleased experimental piece by the band.
Reading the CD booklet to Wooden Hill’s 1996 CD (re)issue Chariot’s Rising by Dantalian’s Chariot it mentions the bands looning around my home town of Chelmsford Essex with a film camera if not film crew when gigging at The Corn Exchange in 1967. Since February 67 footage has been identified (only in 2009) of The Jimi Hendrix Experience at The Corn Exchange Chelmsford from a source in Italy. I was thinking there was a close friendship between the two bands were they on the same bill maybe. Secondly since Chelmsford And Essex Museum used The Hendrix performance footage of both Fire and Stone Free in their Social history galleries display on popular entertainment since the first radio broadcasts by Marconi in Chelmsford. If the footage of Dantalian’s Chariot was also of Chelmsford then some contribution to its restoration might be forthcoming from Essex County Records Office. This would probably be true of any location footage to the London or British Borough in which it was filmed , as it is after 45 years historic archive film images of their locality.
Best Wishes in your endevour,
(No not that one the other one)
I´m happy you , Peter Prentice, and the WIPED people, have been around there on POPDOWN! I´m so sorry I could not attend you anymore, since June last, as I had to attend very dfficult university matters, at the place I work. I´m back again, to thank you, and let you know I´m to help too.
In response to Keith Allen’s post, of which I’ve just received notification:
The Dantalian’s sequence was shot between February and April 1968, when the band were in their death throes and playing out time. Long gone was the Summer of Love and matching white outfits witnessed at the Corn Exchange in August 1967.
For the record, Fred Marshall remembered the location as Wembley (presumably Bluesville in Manor House) when asked in the year 2000. This shouldn’t be taken as gospel, however. Freddy also believed he made the film with Zoot in 1971 or 1972.
Any publicly funded body would, I think, struggle to justify forking out for the restoration of a film like Popdown. The incessant flash-cutting, along with the general air of amateurishness, negates much of its value as a social document (in other words, forget any sweeping panoramas of the King’s Road). The film’s sexual content has to be taken into consideration as well. Popdown was conceived as an “erotic-poperetta” and filmed as such, even if many of the more dubious scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.
Many but not all, for the truncated 54-minute version submitted to the BBFC in 1970 still contained nudity,
I was at the Scala screening and thought it was 1982. I initially approached Steve Woolley to organise this psych evening when they (Scala) were at Charlotte St suggesting this film as a worthy inclusion. The track listing omits The Idle Race singing On With the Show. Also worth metioning is the appearance of a youn Diane Keene (Cuckoo’s Nest). I wish you well with your quest to find the original Scala print.