Stanley Long: King of Sexploitation (1933-2012)

From smut comedies to a salacious exposé of the seamy side of London, the late Stanley Long brought creativity and an unwavering sense of humour to British exploitation cinema. Curator Vic Pratt pays tribute.

Vic Pratt

The Wife Swappers (1970)

The Wife Swappers (1970)

I’m sorry to say that producer, cinematographer, director and writer Stanley Long died on 10 September, aged 78, after a long illness. He was dubbed ‘The King of Sexploitation’ by The Sun, and this grand title was no overstatement: Stanley was incredibly good at what he did, and had made his first million by the time he was in his mid-30s, as producer of the saucy sex pseudo-documentary The Wife Swappers (1969).

This was just one in a string of successes that reflected Stanley’s skill for creating exploitation films – in various genres – that were low on budget but high on production values. Arguably the foremost auteur of the very British smut comedy, he brought distinctive camerawork and an unwavering sense of humour, so that in a ghettoised field his films were quality products, often a cut above the works of his competitors.

I first met Stanley back in 2007 when Will Fowler and I screened Primitive London (1965) at BFI Southbank. This was the giddily wonderful British ‘mondo’ film, shot by Stanley and directed by his long-term collaborator Arnold Miller, which launched BFI Southbank’s Flipside strand and Flipside DVD series.

Deliciously salacious, this pre-permissive ‘exposé’ of the Big Smoke titillated with strip-club dancers, Jack the Ripper murders, topless swimsuits, battery chickens and old men in sauna baths. ‘Exotic dancers’ were hired for its 1965 premiere, while a girl in a borrowed fur coat and a leopard skin bikini toured the West End with a cheetah on a leash (Colchester Zoo didn’t have a leopard available).

Stanley Long shooting Primitive London (1965)

Stanley Long shooting Primitive London (1965)

Inevitably written off in its day, by 2007 Primitive London was overdue a reappraisal. Suddenly, the film looked like some valuable lost history. It was wonderfully well-made by Miller and Long and the passing of time had turned it into a precious filmic document of a London everybody had chosen to forget. The screening went down a storm.

An exploitation expert, Stanley lived up to his own hype, and was a great guest: exactly the kind of fantastic larger-than-life character you wanted him to be. Born into a working-class family (he was the son of a chauffeur), he’d worked hard to make his way in a tough business. He cut his teeth on ‘glamour’ photography and 8mm striptease films, and honed his craft shooting films for the military with Miller, before going on to nudist films, notably the superbly titled Take Off Your Clothes and Live! (1962).

This was followed by some exceptional work for Tony Tenser’s Tigon production company, including camerawork on Michael Reeves’s The Sorcerers (1967). Later, as an independent under the Salon banner, he produced and shot the splendidly grimy Groupie Girl (1970) and directed the hugely successful saucy-comic Adventures films that gave the Confessions films more than a good run for their money.

He was uncomfortable with violence, preferring adult humour, but despite this he devised what is perhaps the last great British portmanteau horror film, Screamtime (1983). Released on video only (in the UK) at the height of the VHS era, Screamtime was a splendidly entertaining collection of short bloody chillers, shot previously for release as cinema supporting features (Stanley never wasted anything!). The stories were neatly connected with a witty all-new linking narrative which wryly drew upon the then-current media flap surrounding ‘video nasties’.

Primitive London (1965)

Primitive London (1965)

Described by his biographer Simon Sheridan as “one of the most commercially successful independent filmmakers Britain has ever produced”, Stanley was rightly proud of his achievements in critically neglected areas of filmmaking. You can read all the lurid details in his excellent book, X Rated: Adventures of an Exploitation Filmmaker.

We stayed in touch over the years following the screening, and we invited him back for another event. Right up to the end – like his close friend, director and cinematographer Jack Cardiff – he was full of energy and enthusiasm for life and for cinema. And though well-known as a hard-nosed businessman, he was also generous, warm and kind. He donated film material to the BFI National Archive, and was also keen to befriend and encourage a filmmaker friend of mine. Though not by now in the best of health, Stanley made a point of driving over to my friend’s house, in his grand Bentley, where he played the part of ‘angry motorist’ free of charge in a short film that paid homage to his own Adventures series.

Stanley had an inexhaustible supply of great stories. I remember him telling me in his no-nonsense fashion how he had to step in at the last minute to direct sequences of Repulsion (1965) because ‘proper’ filmmaker Roman Polanski had no idea about time, money, or the limitations of budget. These were things that Stanley never forgot, and he couldn’t understand how anybody else could either – no matter how talented they were supposed to be.

He was thrilled to have worked with the great Boris Karloff, who, on the set of Michael Reeves’s The Sorcerers, asked Stanley to turn on the set lights early each morning to soothe his chronic back pain (“my heater”, Karloff called it). A signed photograph of Karloff hung in the bathroom of Stanley’s Buckinghamshire house. Though he was sceptical about Michael Reeves’s later critical elevation, he proudly recalled Reeves comparing the way he lit and shot a scene in The Sorcerers to “a Rubens painting”.

The Sorcerers (1967)

The Sorcerers (1967)

Like many in the exploitation film business he was often at odds with the censors, and had long-running battles with Mary Whitehouse. When he finally got his chance to take the stage at BFI Southbank to introduce Primitive London back in 2007, his first comment, beaming around a packed cinema, was a cheeky “If only Mary Whitehouse could see me now!” She couldn’t, but luckily a large and enthusiastic NFT1 audience could, and he was greeted with rapturous applause.

His film, neglected by the critics and, like so many others he worked upon, unscreened for donkey’s years, got the enthusiastic reception it deserved, even without the aid of exotic dancers or a cheetah on a leash. It’s splendid that he was there to see it.

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