Alfie-Industry, Gender and sex in 1960’s London
I will be investigating the industrial changes in film, the structure of the market, America’s investment in the British film industry and the reasons censorship laws were revised. I will examine Alfie (1966) directed by Lewis Gilbert, pinpointing issues of gender roles, the male dominance, the hedonistic man and his consequences. I will observe whether this is a sensationalist film, if the film uses subject matter, for example abortion, to shock and anger viewers. I will discern how exaggerated Alfie (1966) is in respect to the ‘real’ 1960’s.
The 1960’s showed significant social change Sue Harper (2000) states
The 1960’s was a period in which social change in Britain appeared to be accelerated: the Profumo affair, the election of the labour government in 1964, the public protests about Vietnam, the suspension of capital punishment in 1965 and the Race Relations, sexual offences, obscene publications and Abortion Acts all modified people’s perceptions of individual freedom. (Sue Harper, 2000, pg 101)
In the ‘swinging sixties’ people seemed less conscious of their permissive acts.
‘The girls have become as emancipated as the boys’ and ‘lead fulfilled sex lives’ (Sue Harper, 2000, pg 101).
Suggesting the ‘no sex before marriage’ issue seemed to be relaxed. 1960’s film showed social changes and expressed changes in the era’s view on social issues. Alfie portrayed women as a ‘stand-by’, someone who is there, but asks nothing of the man for example Gilda in Alfie (1966), or an independent woman, who is heartless and promiscuous such as Ruby. Emotions of women seemed to be restricted, even though there were women, not like either statement suggests. The freedom and relaxation of social issues made filmmakers impetuous. They made sexually driven films. The 1960’s film industry was more challenging and less tolerant of women than they were in the 1950’s.
The film industry’s, economic structure in Britain was struggling. The structure of the market changed, for example the ‘youth’ were dividing into subcultures and more interested in music than in cinema. Television had a large part to play, becoming popular with the ‘family’. The industry needed to recruit a new audience. They started making films about taboos of society. Their main audience, young single adults or couples. Another factor is poverty; they could not afford to go to the cinema. The structure of the market, caused cinema audiences to fall dramatically, resulting in cinema’s across Britain to close.
Britain started working with international film industries; they needed the American market to help cover film costs. America stopped investing in the British industry at the end of the 1960’s and this caused problems resulting in risk-taking.
British Lion had served as a permissive catch-all for independent film makers and that it had backed some adventurous projects. (Sue Harper, 2000, pg106)
As films became more hedonistic, they dealt with issues such as permissiveness, infidelity and abortion. This required the censorship laws to be revised. They introduced an ‘X’ rate certificate, age restriction, 18. This was one of the major changes in the film industry from the 1950’s-1960’s. Film used social and political issues, becoming apparent in Britain. This gave them more freedom in film content.
Alfie (1966) dealt with issues in London that encircled his life and followed him throughout the film. The political issue of Abortion is raised in the film. It shows us how women were treated by men and the gender roles and difference. It glamorises sex and shows, women were made to feel below men, but the way Alfie treats women is supposed to be slight comedy, for example when Gilda cries, she rests her head on his shoulder and he says ‘mind the shirt’. (Alfie, 1966) Alfie had some results from the doctor and when he met her she didn’t fall for his charms.
The only female character apparently not bedded by Alfie in the film is ‘abnormal’: a female doctor (‘queer job for a bird innit?’) who’s swept black hair and glasses suggest repression. (John Hill, 1986, pg165).
In the 1960’s, film encouraged the view of ‘Swinging London’. Alfie does exaggerate, he is an individual, he does not represent the whole era.
The most influential issue of the film is abortion. An affair with his friend’s wife resulted in an unwanted pregnancy and an illegal abortion, by an unqualified doctor, in Alfie’s flat. The Abortion Act 1967 was
The law forbade all ‘unlawful attempts to procure a miscarriage’, except where it is necessary to preserve the life of the mother. (Wheen. F, 1982, pg112)
Liberal MP David Steel changed the Abortion Act 1967,
Technically the law did not legalise abortions, but rather provided a legal defence for those carrying them out. Abortions can legally be performed under certain conditions - the first is that continuing with the pregnancy involves a greater risk to the physical or mental health of the woman, or her existing children, than having a termination. The woman's "actual or reasonably foreseeable future environment" may be taken into account. Abortion up to 24 weeks is also allowed if there is a substantial risk that the child when born would suffer "such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped". An abortion must be agreed by two doctors (or one in an emergency) and carried out by a doctor in a government-approved hospital or clinic. (BBC, 2008)
Working class women could still not get a legal abortion, so committed the crime of an illegal abortion.
Alfie treats women as unimportant and he refers to them as ‘bird’ or ‘it’. Alfie demeans women and treats them like objects for his pleasure. Thus showing us the domination of men over women, in the 60’s. Women could not support themselves or a family without a man. Women were paid a lesser wage. Gilda decides to marry Humphrey, she ‘respects him’ (Alfie, 1966). She now has financial stability for her and her child with Alfie, who refused to marry her. When Gilda was pregnant, Alfie stated that it was ‘her’ baby and she could do whatever she wanted.
The character Ruby is a rich American woman; he says he would settle down with. She is independent of men and shown as ‘heartless’, when Alfie finds another man in her bed. Ruby states ‘he’s younger than you are’ (Alfie, 1966). He then knew how it felt, and he could not carry on his hedonistic lifestyle. Ruby suggests that American women have more freedom than British women. In the 1960’s Women’s Revolution was noticed in politics in America, whereas in Britain it was not so noticeable. The late 1960’s showed politicians started to notice the Women’s Liberations.
Alfie leads his life with different women including married women, their husbands portrayed as immobile or boring. The ‘Swinging Sixties’, only gave advantage to the men, and the women have to suffer any consequences of the sexual acts, for example abortion.