Peter Whitehead’s 1967 documentary Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London is of such historical interest that it cries out for a full restoration by the British Film Institute. Famous for its panoply of ’60s scene makers and its footage of a very young Pink Floyd performing “Interstellar Overdrive,” the film has languished in distribution limbo for decades, viewable only in bootleg prints of varying quality.
Subtitled “A Pop Concerto For Film,” Tonite offers a vivid cross-section of Swinging London’s major players. Highlights include interviews with a glum but thoughtful Mick Jagger, artist David Hockney, author Edna O’Brien, “body painter” Alan Aldridge (it all seems a very long time ago), and the era’s ultimate “it” girl, Julie Christie. A militant Vanessa Redgrave hypes “Fidel’s revolution” at a political rally, sings “Guantanamera,” and rolls her r’s magnificently. Andrew Loog Oldham exudes drop-dead hipness. Michael Caine and Lee Marvin (what is he doing in here?) hold forth on the pressing issue of mini-skirts. (Surprisingly, Caine has reservations about their effect on the nation’s moral fiber.) One scene that probably holds more interest today than it did at the time is a rare glimpse of Loog Oldham’s then-protege Vashti Bunyan, a folk-pop thrush who failed to catch on in the ’60s but found belated cult success decades later.
A visit to a Playboy club, fan mayhem at a Stones concert, obligatory “relevant” shots of bombs being dropped on Vietnam, Allen Ginsberg intoning the poem that gives the film its title–all in all, there are more time-capsule moments than one could reasonably expect from a 70-minute documentary. And oh, them dollygirls….
And yet, for all the conspicuous grooviness on display, there’s a certain sobriety about Whitehead’s film; don’t approach it expecting an Austin Powers-style romp. London may have been swinging, but not everyone appeared to be having a great time. Whitehead lets his subjects speak for themselves and never injects himself into the proceedings, but his detached style suggests a tentative, slightly skeptical viewpoint. To paraphrase Dylan, he knows that something is happening, but he’s not sure what it is.
Apologies for the Japanese subtitles and washed-out color, but this is one of those rare films that has to be seen in whatever condition you find it.