Friday, May 14, 2010

Make us famous: Pamela Green (1929 - 2010)

My good friend Anthony Blampied has emailed to tell me that Pamela Green has died at the age of 81.
Pamela, should you need reminding, was Britain's foremost glamour model of the nineteen-fifties, a monumentally statuesque blonde who appeared in countless magazines and 8mm striptease films, mainly made in collaboration with George Harrison Marks, with whom for a time she shared both a professional and a private association.
Their most famous joint venture remains the cinema film Naked As Nature Intended, a supposed celebration of naturism that caused considerable controversy at the time for the barrier-breaking ease with which it circumnavigated censorship restrictions against nudity despite its obvious insincerity.
Remember the scene at the start of Carry On Camping, with Sid and Bernie trying to convince their dates that the nudist film they are seeing is an artistic celebration of physical freedom? Such debates were commonplace in every cinema in the land at the time. Now, you hardly need telling, it all seems almost heartbreakingly innocent.
This is more than enough to ensure Green's place in the pantheon of British exploitation icons, but she secures her spot in Carfax Abbey's Hall of Fame on account of her short but scene-stealing appearance in Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, as the girlie model Mark Lewis photographs above the newsagents that sells the pictures to middle aged gentlemen.
Pamela is obviously the genuine article, and her scene rings with authenticity: she's also a more than competent actress, who invests her lines with a colour that Powell surely wasn't counting on when he cast her. ("Well look who's here - Cecil Beaton!")
It's a funny old film is Peeping Tom, isn't it? Obviously an important piece, and fascinating to watch, though just as surely its vaunted reputation is as much a knee-jerk reaction to its initial denigration as a sober evaluation of its merits. I'm not certain it's quite a masterpiece; certainly it's not Powell's masterpiece, not while A Canterbury Tale or The Edge of the World are still around. It's uncertainly paced, the suspense goes awry at a few key moments, and the oddball piano score is plenty unusual but so emphatic that after a while it works against the film's mood, which should be one of lingering unease and dread. Some of it is profoundly clever, but a lot of its tricks are just that, and screenwriter Leo Marks - a fascinating man whose compelling book Between Silk and Cyanide documents his work as a World War 2 code breaker and deviser, and reflects a lifelong obsession with subterfuge and games playing that carries over into the movie - is as much a sleight of hand conjurer as a true penetrator of psychopathology. The film's psychology is for the most part crassly Freudian.
Still, it is one of those films that must be seen, and once seen, is never forgotten: certainly it wasn't forgotten - or forgiven - by contemporary critics, who spoke of the desire to flush it down the nearest sewer.
Powell cast himself as the murderer's sadistic father, the cause of his adult psychoses, and his own son as the infant killer. It was typical of his demand for authenticity that none other than Green would do in the role, and you can only wonder how many in the audience knew who she was. He even shot a nude sequence with her, only a fragment of which remains in the most complete modern prints, knowing full well that it would be cut by the censors. According to Green he insisted that his son watched the scene being shot.

The calm before the storm: Powell and Pamela at the film's ill-fated premiere

It was not Pamela's last appearance in British horror: look sharp for her in the bordello scenes of Tyburn's Legend of the Werewolf in 1975. (By this time she and Marks had split and she was living with Doug Webb, veteran of the Dambusters raid and Tyburn's stills photographer.)
But it is her work in Peeping Tom that will carry her into cinema history.

"Come on, sonny, make us famous..."