France’s ARTE TV called British art-house auteur Peter Whitehead: “Che Guevara with a camera.” Throughout the 1960s, Whitehead always managed to find himself in the right place at the right time with the right people and his camera. The Cambridge-educated filmmaker, a pal of the Rolling Stones—he directed their 60s promo videos, and the Charlie is My Darling documentary—shot the beatnik goings on at the Allen Ginsberg-led Albert Hall Poetry Festival in 1965 for his Wholly Communion film and captured the anti-Vietnam protests in America in The Fall, an extraordinary polemic from 1969 (Whitehead himself was barricaded in with the Columbia students who took over Low Library. Click on that link, you’ll be glad you did).
One of Whitehead’s most fascinating films, and perhaps the single best time capsule that exists of “Swinging London” in the Sixties, is his 1967 semi-documentary Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London. Ali Catterall and Simon Wells described the film in Your Face Here: British Cult Movies Since the Sixties:
Beautifully shot, with a Syd Barrett-led Pink Floyd supplying the soundtrack, it is perhaps the only true masterpiece of the period, offering a visually captivating window on the ‘in’ crowd. Revealing, often very personal interviews with the era’s prime movers - Michael Caine, Julie Christie, David Hockney and Mick Jagger - are interspersed by dazzling images of the ‘dedicated followers of fashion’, patronizing the clubs and discotheques of the day. As a trusted confidant of the Rolling Stones, who had filmed their first US tour, and a member of the inner circle, Whitehead was able to give an unusually free rein to his eye for detail.”
Not to mention appearances by Lee Marvin, Vanessa Redgrave, Andrew Loog Oldham, Michael Caine, famed illustrator Alan Aldridge, Vashti Bunyan, John Lennon milling about at the Pink Floyd’s “14 Hour Technicolor Dream” event that also featured Yoko Ono on the bill months before the pair would meet, Eric Burdon and the Animals and many more famous faces (including Dolly Reed, later of Russ Meyer’s Beyond The Valley of the Dolls, when she was a Playboy bunny, arriving off the plane for a freezing cold photo op.)
After leaving filmmaking behind to breed falcons and write novels, Whitehead returned in 2010 with Terrorism Considered as One of the Fine Arts, his first film in 32 years.
Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London used to be very difficult to see (indeed, when I first saw it 30 years ago, I had to check out it out of the ICA in London’s video library and watch it in a tiny room by myself with headphones). For a short while it was out on VHS, this version, with hard-coded Japanese subtitles comes from a laserdisc).
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
I’m Not Sayin’: Pre-Velvet Underground Nico with Jimmy Page and Brian Jones, 1965