Considering the heavy cycles of biker movies, hippie trip flicks, and “Blaxpoitation” epics that took over drive-in screens and movie theaters around the world in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it’s a little surprising that the mods were so oddly underrepresented in cinema. But enough representations of the culture made their way into the movies for us to present this little primer of mod at the movies.
Upon its release in 1966, Village Voice film critic Andrew Sarris called Blow-Up “a mod masterpiece,” and that just about sums up the staying power of Michelangelo Antonioni’s surprise hit — it is widely regarded as the definitive, at-that-moment portrait of “swinging London,” circa mid-1960s. Inspired by iconic photographer David Bailey, Antonioni spins the tale of a seemingly soulless fashion photog whose hedonistic lifestyle is interrupted by an odd mystery and, perhaps, a murder.
The Beatles’ A Hard Days Night was a seminal influence on mod style and photography — and included Ringo’s famous response to the mod/rocker query: “I’m a mocker” — and this “trippy, fluffy piece of mod-sploitation” (per VideoHound’s Groovy Movies) from 1968 wanted so badly to ape that picture’s style that it even brought in Beatles still photographer Robert Freeman to direct. A quartet of groupies, dressed as nuns, kidnap a pop star and keep him as their personal playtoy; it’s all pretty dopey, but fun, and the flashes of psychedelia make it an effective time capsule.
I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘isname
Director Michael Winner (who would go on, oddly enough, to direct Death Wish) helmed this 1967 effort, in which a dissatisfied ad executive (played by the invaluable Oliver Reed) quits his job, burns his bridges (and his boss, Orson Welles), and takes the plunge into “Swinging London.”
What’s Good for the Goose
As with I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘isname, this 1969 comedy from director Menahem Golan (who, as half of Golan-Globus, would later become one of the most powerful producers of the 1980s) values British youth culture primarily for its effect on unhappy older burn-outs, who siphon off a bit of its youthful juice. Here, an older bank manager (Norman Wisdom) has a one-day affair with a gorgeous young student (Wisdom also co-wrote, aha) and finds himself reinvigorated by her free spirit, which he takes back to his atrophied marriage.
The Girl on a Motorcycle
More escapism from the oppression of middle-class life, as newlywed Rebecca (Marianne Faithfull, at her Marianne Faithfull-est) abandons her husband, slips into a full-body suit, hops on her motorcycle, and heads off to Germany to visit her lover. As we’re all so tempted to do. (The alternate title was Naked Under Leather, proving somebody, somewhere knew how to sell this one.)
Silvio Narizzano’s international smash from 1966 was, in many ways, a fusion of two British filmmaking eras: the contemporary, free-and-easy, mod-styled swinger and the “kitchen sink” dramas that had dominated their screens for the previous decade. The concerns are familial and romantic — but director Narizzano splashes it all through the filter of mid-‘60s London, coming up with a picture that is sunny, fizzy, and delightful.
Morgan — A Suitable Case for Treatment
This 1966 comedy from director Karel Reisz concerns a leftist fish-and-chips shop owner (the great David Warner) who takes desperate steps to prevent his upper-class wife (Blow-Up’s Vanessa Redgrave) from leaving him for a snooty art gallery owner. Maybe not a mod movie per se, but nicely capturing the class-crashing, subversive spirit of the movement.
Who says a mod movie has to come from Britain? Radley Metzger’s 1969 take on Dumas was shot in Italy, but maintains a markedly mod mood, particularly in its swinging (and sometimes silly) fashions and groovy music cues. And it’s a great little dirty movie, spicing up the familiar tale of Marguerite and Armand’s doomed love with double-entendre dialogue, vivid sexual encounters, and some heavy-duty, proto-Lynchian psychosexual subtext.
We Are the Mods
And for that matter, who says a mod movie has to be set in the ‘60s? E.E. Cassidy’s 2009 coming-of-age comedy/drama concerns a subset of contemporary Los Angeles teens who are obsessed with mod culture: swinging clothes, scooters, foreign films, underground clubs, and cigarettes a-plenty. Director Cassidy is a Blow-Up fan, and you can certainly tell, but her film transcends its influences to stake out its own, unique storytelling style.
The mod movement in England was in decline by the late 1960s (when many of these films were made, appropriately enough), but it experienced a sharp revival in the late 1970s, both in England and America, following the release of Franc Roddam’s film adaptation of the Who’s rock opera, set in 1965. Though made long after the fact, it is in many ways the quintessential Mod movie — which is why our own Tyler Coates will have much, much more to say about it on Friday.
On May 18 and 19, 1964, England’s seaside towns were rocked by historic youth riots that pitted mods against rockers. In anticipation of the 50th anniversary of that defining subcultural moment, we’ve declared it Mod Week at Flavorwire. Click here to follow our coverage.