Her Private Hell : Her Private Hell was the UK's first narrative sex film, although the carnal activity depicted on screen is very chased indeed.
Her Private Hell : Her Private Hell was the UK's first narrative sex film, although the carnal activity depicted on screen is very chased indeed.

Her Private Hell : Her Private Hell was the UK's first narrative sex film, although the carnal activity depicted on screen is very chased indeed.
Her Private Hell : Her Private Hell was the UK's first narrative sex film, although the carnal activity depicted on screen is very chased indeed.

Expanded from its well-liked monthly screening slot at the BFI Southbank in London, the BFI’s widely celebrated Flipside series of DVD/Blu Ray releases is intended to return to and re-evaluate British movies that have fallen through the wide fissures of film history.
These are pictures that were disregarded, sidelined, or underrated at the original time of release, or which sit outside the reputable standards of established landmark celluloid works. Norman J Warren’s Swinging Sixties saga Her Private Hell definitely fits the Flipside bill. In fact, Her Private Hell is the very quintessence of what has become known as ”˜the Flipside genre’.

Her Private Hell (1967) is an admonitory tale of a very naïve Italian girl caught up in Swinging London’s sleazy world of ”˜glamour’ modelling. In fact, Previously unreleased, it finally comes to DVD and Blu-ray for the first time in a brand spanking new Dual Format Edition.  

Starring the Italian actress Lucia Modugno (Roberto Rossellini’s 1959 Il generale Della Rovere, Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 spaghetti western Navajo Joe, starring Burt Reynolds, and Mario Bavo’s 1968 Danger: Diabolik), and directed by Norman J Warren, Her Private Hell established Britain on the map in the realm of home-grown adult features. The storylines protagonist is the gorgeous but highly inexperienced Marisa who arrives from the continent for a job as a fashion model, but soon discovers she’s being groomed for a different purpose. Marisa is quickly seduced by photographer Bernie (Terry Skelton, of the 60’s hit stage musical Charlie Girl), while kept under supervision and control by the unscrupulous magazine proprietor Neville (Robert Crewdson). Rival younger photographer Matt (French actor Daniel Ollier, whose English was so incomprehensible it had to be completely dubbed) also has an affair with Marisa. Someone sells nude photos of Marisa in bed with Bernie, causing the model great distress. But more importantly, who is sleeping with whom and what relationships do they share and how will this affect the outcome of Her Private Hell?

By the late 1960s, British producers had begun to realise the profitable potential of sex and to test the confines of what the UK censors would consent to be shown on screen. Producer Bachoo Sen, a distributor who imported ”˜art-house’ titles to the UK, set up Piccadilly Pictures with cinema-owner Richard Schulman and financed Her Private Hell. It premiered at London’s Cameo-Royal cinema on 4th January 1968 and was so popular that it ran for over a year.
 The film was the debut feature for young director Norman J Warren (Satan’s Slave, Prey and Terror). Looking back at the picture, 45 years on, J Warren opines during the documentary that accompanies this release: “Why it got so much publicity and why it was so successful was that the sex situation in this country was so naïve and innocent and you were so restricted.”

 Remarkably, Her Own Private Hell features a screenplay by New Zealander Glynn Christian (best known as BBC Breakfast Time’s resident chef in the 1980s), which like J Warren’s tight, atmospheric direction, influenced by the French New Wave, is extraordinarily sympathetic towards the feminine perspective in a sexploitation picture aimed primarily at a male audience. Arguably the strongest character in the whole picture is Neville’s inscrutable right hand woman Margaret (an enjoyable Pearl Catlin), who remains dispassionately in control of the rest of the cast for much of the drama.

As well as obviously echoing Antonioni’s Blow Up (without the heavy handed existentialism), Her Own Private Hell successfully channels aspects of Michael Powell’s great 1960 thriller Peeping Tom. The icing on the cake is the groovy, idiosyncratic jazz influenced soundtrack by celebrated musician and composer John Scott, which captures the tenor of the piece perfectly. Though there are undeniably moments of unintended hilarity to be derived from the period décor and clothing, J Warren’s feature is remarkably well made, considering the constrictions of his miniscule budget, and considerate in its outlook.
Among the extensive extras are new cast and crew interviews, original screen tests and two early shorts by Norman J Warren.

These extras include the original Her Private Hell trailer (its titles ”˜Love, Lust and Deceit Go Hand In Hand’ ran into trouble with the British Board of Film Censors), alternative US sequences (1967, 3 minutes) of uncensored footage and screen tests (4 minutes, mute): including footage of the great cult actor Udo Kier, who unfortunately didn’t make the final cast of Her Private Hell.

The frank and droll documentary Inside Her Private Hell (2011, 15 minutes) features cast and crew interviews. Also included are Incident (Norman J Warren, 1959/2007, 13 minutes), Warren’s enigmatic first film, recently completed, and Fragment (Norman J Warren, 1966, 11 minutes), an exquisite black and white short about a woman’s deep unhappiness after a failed love affair.

The rarely seen The Anatomy of a Pin-up (David Cohen, 1971, 31 minutes) is an energetic and bizarre documentary about ”˜Penthouse Pets’ and the nude modelling industry in Britain during the early 70’s. Featuring interviews with ”˜ordinary’ members of the public in the street (some of which, mostly the men, are highly peculiar indeed) and with notable figures of the time, such as Penthouse owner Bob Guccione, ”˜swinging’ photographer Amnon Bar-Tur, model Katie Brooks and the outlandish novelist Barbara Cartland (!), this astonishing documentary originally played as a second feature with Hitchcock’s last great picture, Frenzy. That might rank as one of the ultimate 1970’s movie double bills of the entire wayward decade.

As an amusing time capsule of the moods and mores prevalent in Britain concerning sexuality, pornography and fashion in the early 1970’s, Anatomy of a Pin-Up is invaluable. Its director, David Cohen, would eventually direct very serious documentaries about hijacking, Broadmoor and heroin withdrawal.

The new, director-approved High Definition transfer is a accompanied by a comprehensive, Illustrated 34-page booklet, with original promotional materials, stills and new essays by J Warren, David Cohen, an overview of the film by BFI curator Josephine Botting, journalist Lynn Barber who worked at Penthouse for some years (“Although I was and am a feminist I never felt that Penthouse Pets were exploited”) and Lucia Modugno: “Only one word in the whole film really caused me problems. In a scene in which Marisa is very angry, I had to say ”˜toothpaste’, a word Italians have trouble pronouncing properly.”
With far more bang for your buck than the usual run of the mill DVD release, The Flipside’s Her Private Hell makes one hell of an enjoyable retro package.

Her Own Private Hell is released on 20th February RRP: £19.99 / cat. no. BFIB1124 / BFI Flipside no. 022 / Cert 15

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