Thursday, 22 April 2010
The A-Z of Britsploitation Cinema: G is for Groupie Girl (1970)
Sally (Esme Johns) is tired of her drab existence in suburban anywhere and decides to head for the bright lights of Swinging London. Money stuffed into her bra and her post office savings book tucked into her knickers, she stows away in the transit van of the first group who visit her town. They’re the greasy, unappealing sorts you might expect, though some of them do have rather nice floral shirts, and their jolly little tunes are more Brotherhood of Man than Led Zeppelin. They’re also managed by Private Walker from Dad’s Army, which seems a rather ominous sign. Their reaction on finding Sally stowed away isn’t immediately favourable, (‘it’s a bloody slag, innit?’) but youth and looks are on her side and it’s not long before the dirty van becomes the romantic location for the loss of her virginity to lead singer Bob (Jimmie Edwardes - not to be confused with the similarly named moustachioed comedian). Sally’s now a bona fide groupie and soon settles into her new life - before you can say A Hard Day’s Night she and the group are larking about all over London without a care in the world.
But nothing lasts forever. There’s precious little sisterhood in the world of the groupie and as soon as she spots a blonde, mini-skirted threat, Sally engages in a brilliantly rubbish catfight (‘You bitch! I’ll kill you!') which lasts for about ten minutes and features lots of rolling around on the floor, hair-pulling and breasts being exposed. Rapidly exiled from this band (she’s better off without them, Bob was a useless mimer), Sally doesn’t take long to find another near-identical (but slightly more successful) one to latch on to – Orange Butterfly, led by Steve (Martin Shaw lookalike Donald Sumpter), who Sally makes a beeline for. This band’s into a pretty crazy scene, and takes Sally along to an amazing party that’s like a scene from a lethargic, cut-price British remake of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. It’s full of amazing eccentric characters including a lusty middle-aged blonde boasting about not wearing knickers and a heavily bearded man with a monocle who wants to try the band’s hash (‘What’s meant to happen?’ ‘You’ll fly man, really fly!’ ‘Will I really? How super!’). The host’s a marvellous old queen whose response to one of the band members’ horrified refusal of his advances is ‘Stuffy old thing!’ The party concludes with everyone crawling on the floor making animal noises.
Sally has a whale of a time on the road with her new boyfriend and his band. But her happiness is quickly tainted by having to participate in a foursome with Steve and the Collinson sisters from Hammer’s Twins of Evil. After her obvious unwillingness there Steve quickly decides to get rid of her. In the film’s most disturbing scene the band pass a kicking and screaming Sally out of the window of their moving tour bus through to the bus of fellow group Sweaty Betty. But they quickly get their just deserts, ploughing into the back of a parked van and dying instantly. Hysterical Sally is holed up in Sweaty Betty’s Stones-style country mansion and pacified with drugs so she can’t tell the police about their part in Orange Butterfly’s demise. The police show up on a drugs raid (led by 70s Britsploitation regular Neil Hallett), Sally swallows a large piece of hash to get rid of it, and promptly falls down the cellar steps into unconsciousness.
When she awakes Sweaty Betty have been carted off and only sensitive folk singer Wes (Billy Boyle) remains. Unlike anyone else in the film Billy seems to want to treat Sally like a human being instead of a convenient sex object. Could this be love for the much-abused groupie? Is Wes as lovely as he seems? (Probably not, or I wouldn’t be asking…)
Groupie Girl’s co-written by Suzanne Mercer, a one-time groupie herself, so presumably a lot of it’s based on the sort of thing that genuinely happened to girls who latched themselves on to rock groups. Sally’s not exactly an empowered woman, being pretty much a helpless victim throughout the film, but there’s a quiet strength in the way she walks away from it all to go home at the movie’s end. The men in the film are all pretty revolting (Trevor Adams, Reginald Perrin’s Tony Webster, is the closest thing to an attractive man, and that’s not saying much). The various bands’ music ranges from the entertainingly kitsch (there’s one quite fun number with a chorus that goes ‘lighting up a cigarette all our worries disappear’) to the incredibly dull. The incidental music consists of a couple of Alan Hawkshaw tunes from the KPM library that are used over and over again (so it’s a good job they’re so groovy). Groupie Girl is a very entertaining piece of late 60s/early 70s sleaze that, despite various rapes, deaths and kidnappings manages to seem relentlessly upbeat in comparison with the other groupie movie of 1970, Lindsay Shonteff’s thoroughly depressing Permissive.