Marieme is an African-French tennager living in a poor neighbourhood in Paris. As her mother works long hours she has plenty of responsibilities within her household where her older and very strict brother takes the unofficial mantle of head of whilst their mother isn’t present. Marieme’s academic career has been affected adversely because of her household duties and it is suggested that when she leaves school she takes a vocational course which leaves her disillusioned and despairing.
She quickly finds solace and escape under the auspices of a girl gang. With this she appears to come out of her shell more but also sacrifices her true personality so that she can fit in and so a kind of grooming starts with her adopting the ways of the gang as a collective and burying her true self in the process. The gang appears to be the role models and family she always wanted rather than the actual family situation she finds herself in. This is very liberating. But also very dangerous when the will of the collective group take over her individual will. She is even given a new name by the group- Vic which is short for Victory and hew new (and fake) identity is sealed.
This film is stunning. It’s a tale of coming of age, friendship and how life can hold many unexpected twists and turns. It also shows how some people’s futures are so empty and devoid of meaning due to a bleak future that they are enticed by the perceived glamour of a life as a rebel or maverick. But with such a life comes serious consequences that are shown worts and all within the film.
With being in a gang there are also rivalries with other gangs to show who is the baddest and most dangerous. This happens in the form of organised fights that are arranged between members of rival gangs with plenty of onlookers cheering and even filming proceedings on their phones. The fights reminded me of some of the fights seen within the TV series Wentworth as they symbolise more than just a winner and a loser but also how they can determine one’s status within a much bigger hierarchy.
Reject a boring life with soul destroying jobs, lack of prospects and a bleak future. But beware of what you accept in it’s place as this may make you vulnerable to other kinds of dangers and place a target on your head.
One criticism that director Céline Sciamma received on making this film was that she is a white women telling a story of black women and so her film is somewhat disingenuous and not authentic. This is nonsense and I oppose this criticism just as much as the arguments levelled at certain actors for portraying a character who is within a different demographic to themselves. It’s called acting for a reason just as directors can tell stories involving characters with different origins to their own.
Look out for the amazing sequence in which the leads mime to Rihanna’s Diamonds, not that you would fail to miss such an exquisite moment. But this could be said about the whole of Girlhood. It’s a stunning film.
It’s 1974. A French starlet who isn’t averse to modelling with no clothes on is seduced by an enigmatic young man who asks to take her home to meet his parents. However, his home appears to be some kind of old institution like a long forgotten prison. And this is exactly what it is. His mother is the sadistic Governor of her own prison where her son takes flagrant examples of the new ‘permissive’ society so that they can be punished and even executed because of their lax ways.
This is Within These Walls on steroids. I love the fact that there is a notice at the start of the film that reads “This film is dedicated to those who are disturbed by today’s lax moral codes and who eagerly await the return of corporal and capital punishment.” This is obviously a film that is parodying and sticking up two fingers to the puritanical types who didn’t like that the society of the time was becoming more permissive and free, the ‘Bring Back Hanging’ brigade. Britain was moving away from it’s more conservative ways and some weren’t happy about this as they flocked to fill the letters pages of every national newspaper. Precedents were falling and were set to fall even further as during the 70’s. One prime example of this movement that directly affected film was Mary Whitehouse and her Caravan of Light both of which would try to get exploitation films like House of Whipcord banned. Whitehouse was massively active during the Video Nasties furore that would occur during the next decade.
But within the film’s duration there are currents of dissent as prisoners held at the institution secretly plan to overthrow the evil wardens and hopefully escape this kangeroo prison. This film adheres to but also subverts the conventions of prison genres but especially the ‘women in prison’ genre and only excludes lesbianism which maybe for the time in Britain would have been a step too far for that still conservative time. Had it have been included then the film may have fallen foul of the BBFC. The theme of an uprising is one of the prime tropes of this genre and I love that this was so brilliantly depicted. But I also love the result of this which ironically delivers back to the prison the woman who had successfully escaped.
Special mentions go out to Barbara Markham as the deranged Governor and Sheila Keith as one of the sadistic wardens. House of Whipcord was called Flagellations abroad. Quite.
Another Pete Walker masterpiece. Now, can we have a Blu Ray boxset of his back catalogue please?
Exactly 30 years ago today, something extraordinary happened. Let me elaborate. I grew up in York in the UK. My local TV station was Yorkshire Television who were the first UK regional station to transmit twenty-four hours a day. Because of this during the night and early hours of the morning, they would show some of the most eclectic fare imaginable. One night they might show Spawn of the Slithis, another they might show a Warhol movie, the night after it might be a series of rare Scorsese short films. In between whatever they showed they would transmit 70’s and 80’s Public Information Films and ads for sex lines.
It’s Monday 3rd Oct 1988. I forget what I was recording on my VCR but it was what was after it that made my jaw hit the floor. I was suddenly watching a late 70’s/early 80’s drama depicting Australian women in denim serving time in a Melbourne prison. The programme was, of course, Prisoner Cell Block H, a programme that I had seen listed plenty of times but never thought of taping to investigate. For a fan of exploitation cinema and cult movies, the discovery of this programme was the equivalent of hitting the jackpot. This was also my first taste of ‘Ozploitation’.
This first episode that I watched was (I later found out) episode number 125. This was a great point in the whole trajectory of Prisoner’s history to start watching the series. At this point Prisoner had just entered its ‘Imperial Phase’- characters had been clearly defined and established, there was a firm nucleus of these characters who the audience recognised and had grown to love. Hence there were viewer’s favourite prisoners (Bea, Lizzie, Dor and relative newcomer, Judy) and favourite ‘screws’ even if some of them weren’t ‘goodies’ (Vera ‘Vinegar Tits’ Bennett is far from a pleasant character but audiences loved her being vile and sour just as much as they did fellow officer Meg Morris being all ‘sweetness and light’). These characters were eagerly watched by viewers as they moved through different situations and encountered opposition from various characters who entered their orbit.
This was also a great episode to act as an introduction as it featured one of Prisoner’s greatest characters- Noeline Burke. Burke was the perfect combination of expert writing and amazing acting colliding with this incredible character being brought to life with real gusto by actress Jude Kuring.
I started to watch every episode after this. I had my fingers crossed that this first episode that I had recorded by mistake wasn’t some kind of fluke. I was relieved to find out that it wasn’t. Every episode was consistently brilliant. The characters were hugely likeable, the dialogue crackled with electricity and the storylines were by turns intelligent, perceptive, daring and sometimes downright outrageous. I was looking for sex, violence and gritty fare. I had found the motherlode in Prisoner Cell Block H.
Yorkshire TV’s history of showing Prisoner (as it was called in Australia) was very good. They were the first UK regional TV station to show the programme in the UK.
They had started showing it in 1984 when the programme was still being made and shown in Australia (it ran from 1979 until 1986 in Oz).
My friend who I had grown up with had actually told me about seeing the first episode when it was first shown and gleefully regaled the plotline to me involving the ‘baby that was buried alive and found by tracker dogs just in time’.
After watching Prisoner for several months on Yorkshire TV I suddenly had a brainwave- what if other regions had started showing Prisoner from different time points. One region could have just started showing it from the very beginning whilst another might be up to a later point in the programme’s history. I had another TV aerial which allowed me to watch programmes on another regional station (Tyne Tees). I found out that they showed Prisoner on a Thursday as opposed to the Monday in Yorkshire. When I tuned in I was astounded to find out that they were showing episode 30 and so I had the luxury of almost starting from the beginning of the programme’s history.
In no time Prisoner was starting to gain popularity as seemingly everyone from students (Prisoner regularly featured in the NME end-of-year Reader’s Poll in the Best Programme category) to OAPs started to religiously tune in every week. There were estimates that weekly viewing figures for the programme in the UK ranged from anywhere between 3 to 10 million. When shown in America it had primetime viewing figures of 39 million.
But there were still those who didn’t get the programme and just saw it as cheap trash. They probably came to see Prisoner after hearing that it was another Aussie soap and so surmised that maybe it would be like Neighbours and Home and Away. Rumours of wobbly walls started around this time. Which is very strange as Prisoner was filmed in the headquarters for Channel 9, the company that made it in Australia. And for what it’s worth, I’ve watched Prisoner in its entirety several times. It may have been rushed in places (and these occasions were few and far between) but Prisoner was shown twice a week in Oz- that’s two hours of telly to be made and so the cast and crew never had the luxury of multiple takes and plenty of time to shoot these in.
Also, if you watch other soaps from this time period you will see similar techniques, imperfections and production practices at play. I’ve seen shaking sets and moving bannisters/staircases in Coronation Street before. But then maybe this is why Prisoner was criticised as sub-par or cheap in the early days of it being shown on ITV- it’s Australian and maybe this was pure snobbery on the parts of the minority of British critics and viewers who didn’t like it. The same criticisms would never have been levelled against home-grown fare.
To understand Prisoner and enjoy it is not just to recognise the conventions of the ‘Women in Prison’ sub-genre but also to understand ‘cult’ viewing in the first place. Prisoner is so sophisticated that it can fit into multiple categories with their own viewing demographics all at once- soap opera, drama, exploitation vehicle with heightened storylines and a pessimism/realism not seen on many other TV programmes at that time.
Another great thing about Yorkshire TV showing Prisoner before any other region was that they didn’t think to check the programme’s content. When word spread that there were some scenes or storylines that were close to the bone and needed to be possibly cut, they had already been shown on Yorkshire and devoured by yours truly. Hangings, decapitations, brandings, shootings- they all featured and in many cases in graphic detail.
Even 30 years on Prisoner Cell Block H is still my favourite TV show. Do yourself a favour- if you’re a fan of all things exploitation, ‘cult’ and extreme watch Prisoner. You’ll be glad you did.
The DVDs of the series are as cheap as chips with all episodes being released.
As some of you may know I’m a huge Prisoner Cell Block H fan. I actually think its the best TV series ever made. If you’re into cult film, cult TV or video nasties/exploitation cinema then chances are you’ll love Prisoner.
I’ve just made a video documenting some of the most outrageous moments from the series.
All the juicy stuff is present and correct- drugs, lynchings, murders and brandings. Theres even a sequence that will have you shaking your head in disbelief.
The videos here. But beware- its not for the faint hearted!
If you could replace your wife with a robot hausfrau who lives to cook, clean, be subserviant to her man and climax every time you had sex, would you?
Joanna Eberhart has just moved to Stepford and is suspicious of the sinister Men’s Association. Joanna is a liberated woman, a free spirit. And in Stepford that just won’t do.
This is a brilliant satire of both the patriarchy and Women’s Lib movement. It hits its targets effortlessly and is a bone chilling joy from start to finish.
A great cast with the director Bryan Forbes’ wife Nanette Newman playing a home loving android. Her casting is genius as shes known in Britain as the face of Fairy Liquid and an uber Stepford Wife in the sunshine drenched world of advertising.
This is one of the scariest and bleakest horror films I’ve ever seen. Brilliant.