Cult Movie: Smashing Time documents a long lost era of youthful exuberance

Lynn Redgrave and Rita Tushingham roll into London in Smashing Time
Ralph McLean

Smashing Time

LAST week in this very column I was singing the praises of Talking Pictures TV as a treasure trove of undervalued cult classics with a loving appraisal of Up The Junction.

That 1968 offering, with its colourful class interplay and nifty Manfred Mann soundtrack, tapped into a vision of 60s cool that I reckoned was hard to beat. A similarly rare little period film that the channel is debuting this weekend, however, just about bests it when it comes to capturing a sense of Swinging London magic on the silver screen.

Smashing Time (1967) is an amazing time capsule of a film. Bright, brash and hopelessly dated (in a good way!) it makes comic spoofs like Austin Powers look understated in the “grooviness” stakes.

Two “normal” girls from the north of England, Yvonne and Brenda (played by the none-more-60s duo of Lynn Redgrave and Rita Tushingham) roll into London in search of the 'swinging scene' they've been reading so much about out in the sticks.

From Camden Town to Carnaby Street, the girls skip along, encountering oddball characters and comic scenarios as they go. As a coherent film, it rambles along like a series of half-baked sketches, but as a document of a long lost era of youthful exuberance and good vibes it's pretty hard to beat.

The script comes courtesy of jazz legend George Melly and its knowing and slightly jaded take on the scene allows for gentle mickey taking and some genuinely cool moments of 60s experimentalism.

Yvonne (Redgrave) has a stab at being a pop star and Brenda (Tushingham) becomes a fashion icon. It's all very predictable but there are some neat little twists to the mythology. Yvonne falls in with hip photographer Tom Wabe (Michael York) who wants to shoot her but only as an example of how a girl shouldn't look rather than as the fashion queen she aspires to being, and there are some tidy little digs at the pointlessness of fashion and the kind of vacuous idiots who follow it so blindly.

More than anything though, Smashing Time is a visual feast for old 60s buffs everywhere, offering priceless footage of some of London's most revered fashion spots in all their peacock-suited glory. To see Carnaby Street all aglow in bright technicolour with bag-swinging teenagers is a rare treat in itself.

Director Desmond Davis offers little by way of a satirical cutting edge but there are nods towards the love-ins of the period and every now and then a Twiggy lookalike wanders by in a dimly lit manner. There are roles for reliable Brit character types like Irene Handl and Ian Carmichael and while the story isn't up to much there's so much going on it's easy to just let the visuals take the strain and lift you out of the mundane modern world into something much more groovy and warm than anything 2020 has to offer.

Smashing Time debuts on Talking Pictures TV this Sunday at 10pm. Get your finest mod glad rags on and I'll see you there.

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