AFED #47: Beat Girl (UK, 1960); Dir. Edmond T. Gréville

Ever since Jack Kerouac and his cohorts first coined the term, 'Beat' has held an ambivalent status. It was derived from the slang talk of hustlers and addicts, an epithet for their abjection; but for Kerouac it also stood for 'beatitude'; a certain state of grace.

As it was appropriated and commodified by the mainstream, that spiritual aspect became subordinate to the pursuit of pleasure and as mitigation for pretentious excess. The 'beatnik' was born; a subculture for the kids who dug the Bohemian coolness of jazz culture. They fancied themselves as more sophisticated than 'square' society and made sure everybody knew it.

The beatnik cliche: goatee beards, shades, turtle-neck sweaters, the coffee shops where cool cats would recite jazz poetry, was ripe for parody and exploitation by the movies. In Funny Face (1957), Audrey Hepburn discovers pseudo-intellectual pretensions are no match for Fred Astaire's old school charm. A couple of years later Roger Corman's horror comedy A Bucket of Blood served up a caustic parody of the Beat scene that, by all accounts, was surprisingly close to the truth.

In Britain a scene grew up around the expresso coffee bars which began springing up in Soho in the mid-fifties. Unlike pubs, they weren't subject to licensing laws and were therefore able to stay open until late. Teenagers, prohibited from being served alcohol until they were twenty-one, began adopting them as places to hang out, particularly if there was a jukebox.

In this new, classless environment they would rub shoulders with art students, intellectuals and what would now be called media professionals. The proximity to the strip bars, sex shops and the nascent gay scene all made for a febrile melting pot. Some coffeebars, such as The Partisan (established to help fund a left-wing journal) and Le Macabre (with its coffin-shaped tables), would enter legend as places of music, poetry and lively discussion.

It's against this backdrop that Beat Girl tells its story; a fairly typical 'problem' film that's become an interesting glimpse into the beatnik milieu and perceptions surrounding it.

When wealthy architect Paul Linden (Davd Farrar) returns home with new young French bride Nichole (Noelle Adam), his surly teenage daughter Jennifer (Gillian Hills) isn't impressed. After Jennifer, who's part of the beatnik crowd, discovers her mother-in-law has a sordid past as a stripper she decides to use it to humiliate her. But although she has a penchant for danger, pretty Jennifer may have bitten off more than she can chew when she crosses paths with lecherous strip club manager Kenny (Christopher Lee).

Predictably Beat Girl both celebrates and reacts to the teen subculture, but is delivered with enough sultry style by veteran French director Edmond T. Gréville to lift it above many films from this genre. This may not be Rebel Without a Cause, and when Jennifer articulates the beatnik philosophy ("It means us! Something that's ours! We didn't get it from our parents, we can express ourselves and they don't know what we're talking about! It makes us different!") you're more inclined to smirk than empathise, but n a modest budget its a slick production.

A decent ensemble cast helps; although David Farrar looks tired and uninterested and Noelle Adam little more than a pretty face, the younger members perform well enough. Gillian Hills pouts with allure in the title role, and her crowd include a young Peter McEnery, Oliver Reed and Shirley Ann Field, with Adam Faith performing a couple of impromptu musical numbers as Jennifer's bit-of-rough boyfriend.

Faith was at the time a protege of the late John Barry, whose jazzy score purrs with sex and menace, anticipating his Bond work a couple of years later. It's a catchy arrangement, probably the film's highlight, and deserving of its imminent re-release on CD.

The denouement is admittedly rather silly, turning the story into a cautionary tale of what can happen when kids start mixing with the wrong sort of people. Still, there's more to like here than not.


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