Permissive – The Ultimate Bad Trip Rock Groupie Bummer Movie?

IMG_2940One of the nice things about Netflix streaming is that I’m catching a lot of obscure European horror and exploitation films that I either never knew existed, or had heard about but never had the chance to see.

I stumbled on “Permissive,” a 1970 British film that falls into the first category. The brief description detailed that it was about groupies and a band. I figured it might be dated, and probably really stupid. But dated and stupid can be a lot of fun, so I took the plunge.

“Permissive” begins with female protagonist Suzy arriving in London. There’s no back story or anything, she just seems like a lost girl that probably doesn’t have any other option. She has one friend in London, a woman named Fiona, that is a groupie for bearded, hairy folk rockers Forever More.

The rest of the story is a relatively simple one, where Suzy evolves from a shy and naive girl into a scene queen groupie that basically fucks her way up the Rock and Roll Fuck Ladder. In the end, there is betrayal and death, and lots of mediocre rock music and beardy rock shenanigans.

In the end, the plot of “Permissive” isn’t really the important thing. I’m sure that the film’s producers probably wanted a straight up sexploitation film set around rock bands and groupies, but “Permissive” is a decidedly bummer of a bad trip. 1970 London looks ugly and grey, and the rock scene looks awful. Forever More was a real touring band at the time, and were signed to RCA. We’re treated to several scenes of them playing live shows, and the music is mediocre at best. It reminded me of a really lame version of Jethro Tull, and there is probably a reason they never exactly rocketed to stardom. 

If Forever More was an indication of the London rock scene in 1970, it’s no wonder David Bowie ushered in glam rock shortly after, and that punk rock was just around the bend. Scenes of Forever More and other bands playing shows in basement clubs to forty bored-looking hippies sure doesn’t make me think that things were really happening at the time. The singer/bass player for Forever More is one of the more central love interests in the film, if such a title can be applied to the guys that hopeless groupies choose to sleep with in this movie. His real name is Allan Gorrie, and he went on to greater success in The Average White Band and other ventures, but in 1970 the dude looks like a creepy Neanderthal. Seeing the groupie women trying to seduce him is horrifying to watch.

No one in this film looks like they’re having much fun, and it feels like we’re seeing the idealism of the 1960’s die on the screen.  Even the somewhat graphic sexual trysts look like the bored  participants are just balling to stave off total existential dread. The groupies themselves seem like hopeless women, and it’s difficult to fathom what their motivations are. Surely if having sex with all of those hairy ape-men is your best option, then your options must suck.

The whole film is dour in tone, and nothing fun or sexy seems to creep in, despite a fair amount of nudity, and lots of rock culture excess on display. In many scenes, people are casually smoking joints that have to be six inches long, so maybe that was the best thing going for London’s local music scene in 1970. In any case, while this film could have been a sensationalized sexploitation treatment of the music scene, the sex scenes are uniformly unsexy, compounding the feeling of hopelessness. “Permissive” is a definite bummer, and so are the “erotic” scenes. Most films covering the subject matter that “Permissive” does, tend to show a celebratory fantasy version of rock and roll, and sex and drugs. Not so with “Permissive” – I have the feeling that this film accidentally catches the depressing side of this stuff, even though the film makers were probably trying to turn a buck with what could have been standard sexploitation fare.

One thing I couldn’t figure out is how the groupies supported themselves. Forever More look like poor musicians to me, traveling in a beat up van and staying at motels. Not exactly Led Zeppelin, and not exactly equipped to pay for a bunch of groupies to get by. No one in the film seems to like each other very much either. It’s a weird downer to watch.

There is something kind of fascinating about “Permissive” though, and I’m not exactly sure what it is. I guess it’s just the unpleasant portrayal of being in a rock band, or being a woman whose best option is being sexually available to a bunch of going-nowhere band members. The editing is also kind of interesting. There are frequent quick edits of what a character’s future holds for them, and the future shown is never a nice one
IMG_2936. It reminds me stylistically of “Easy Rider” or maybe “Performance,” but this film is not nearly as good as either of those. Still, the film is interesting in its way, and of I had to give it a rating, I’d give it 5 bearded bass players out of 10.
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