I’m more than a little bit fond of the pop culture of the 1960s. But I always feel like the ’60s is one of my least-watched decades for cinema so I’m always seeking out more to watch. I am especially keen on seeing more British films of this era, and one that has been on my to-watch list for a few years now is Smashing Time from 1967.
Smashing Time stars Rita Tushingham and Lynn Redgrave, two of the finest acting talents to emerge from that decade, as Brenda and Yvonne, young women from the North of England who come to London to become famous. Yvonne is colourfully dressed, vain (which is a quality generally shown to be bad, but I don’t think it is necessarily so) and dreams of being a model or just famous in any way she can. Brenda is demurely dressed, pessimistic and equally as annoying as Yvonne. But Swinging London isn’t all that they’ve thought it would be and they go through a lot of ups and downs (and messy food/paint fights that result in some very silly, but charmingly so, scenes) and squabble a heck of a lot before the end of the film.
Much of the squabbling between the two comes from their personality clashes as well as Brenda’s attraction to and interest in Tom Wabe (Michael York), the photographer who embarrassed Yvonne by taking a photo of her for the paper only to make fun of her (as pictured below). But the plot isn’t necessarily that important as the film is episodic in nature…
As stated in the wikipedia article it is clearly a satire of the aforementioned Swinging London created/influenced by the media and pokes fun at models and photographers (like Michael York’s Tom Wabe who wears a wig for some inexplicable reason) and pop singers (as Yvonne records the hit song ‘I Can’t Sing But I’m Young’) and everything associated with that scene.
The two girls go through a number of jobs from nightclub hostesses (pictured below) to working in themed pie shops and secondhand clothing stores to rising to fame as a pop star (Yvonne) and model (Brenda). Yvonne buys her way into show business, Brenda makes her way into it due to her relationship with Tom Wabe.
Yvonne’s ever inflating ego can be seen reflected in her clothes such as the black, red and white striped dress she wears in the recording studio with her name written across it (I’d happily wear one with my name!) and her more outlandish outfits and wigs as money from her successful pop career (her singing is awful in the recording studio but the song played back sounds remarkably better, hinting already at fixing singer’s voices in-studio).
Brenda is a little more down to earth but seen as no less silly than Yvonne; I wonder if the development of her character’s storyline is a comment on how the ‘natural’ look of certain ’60s stars and models (and photo shoots, etc.) was just as constructed as the very obviously constructed ones.
One of my favourite features of the film is the number of songs inserted at various points, all sung by Redgrave and Tushingham. The first is the title song but my favourite is one in which Tushingham’s character, Brenda, sings about feeling great in her new (though secondhand) clothes. Unfortunately, I can’t find it on YouTube. The sequence that the song plays over shows Brenda passing a number of reflective surfaces and preening and staring at herself in each one.
While I feel like this is maybe making fun of her character I love the way it taps in to how new clothes, even if it’s a secondhand nightie and bed jacket, can make you walk differently, with more confidence. And this sequence tapped into my interest in self-portraits using mirrors. It’s also an interesting counterpart to her uncertainty looking at the mirror in the shop and her initial reluctance to wear a bed jacket and nightie on the street (it was hinted that the nightie belonged to royalty, which swayed her). The mirror scenes in the shop also show off Tushingham’s skill with physical comedy. Indeed, exaggerated facial expressions are used by her and Redgrave throughout the film (though Tushingham’s to more comic effect).
The opening titles, created by someone (or more than one person?) credited only as ‘Trog’ show a series of brilliantly drawn caricatures of the two main characters taken from different scenes throughout the film whilst the title song plays over them.
There are so many things that happen in this film, that it is difficult to sum it up properly in one post without going into rambling territory. It’s rather episodic and films like that are always difficult to summarise, anyway. I don’t like to use the word ‘dated’ because it’s generally used in a negative way. ‘Of its time’ sounds much nicer and is very apt for this film. Does that mean it can’t be enjoyed now? I don’t think so, but if you don’t know anything at all about the ‘swinging London’ scene of the 1960s you may struggle a little. But it’s a great watch if you feel like something that’s easy to laugh at, lighthearted and fun. I was gasping for breath at some points during the film, though others may very well not find it funny at all. Regardless, it is a nice little film that I think is quite underrated when it comes to talk of 1960s cinema.