Naked Ladies of my Youth

It is fair to say that I started going to see grown-up movies far too soon for my own good.  It is also true that these movies sometimes contained a fair measure of ladies without any clothes on.

But that was not the point.  That was never the point.

The point was Bruce Lee.

‘Fist of Fury’ came to the Gaiety Cinema in Sligo and it simply had to be seen.  All of us eleven and twelve year olds simply idolised Bruce Lee.  We spent all of our time clucking like angry hens and aiming flying-sidekicks at each other’s heads.  We were obsessed.  And the oddest thing of all was that it was an entirely second-hand obsession.  None of us had ever seen any moving footage of Bruce Lee.  All we had were the posters, the rumours, and the visions of our older brothers (who had actually seen the movies) maniacally kicking the shit out of each other.

(Bruce Lee by Tony Lewis)

‘Fist of Fury’ was released in 1972 with an X (18) certificate.  I can’t have seen it then, I was nine, for Christ’s sake.  That would have been just silly.  No, I must have seen it the second or third time around.  I would have been at least eleven.  Yes, I must have been eleven when I asked my Mum if I could go with the older boys to see Bruce Lee.  Mum would have known, in a passing way, that this was some movie guy we liked a lot so she said yes.

The mechanics of getting into the over 18’s movies when you were eleven were interesting, nerve-wracking, and they worked for us on many happy occasions.  If you turned up at the ticket-window, barely able to reach up to the counter, you would be unceremoniously 'ran' so a more subtle approach was required.  It was simple, really.  You needed an older boy who would buy your ticket for you.  He wasn’t 18 either but he was old enough that people didn’t care.  While he was doing that, you, the 11 year old, would duck up the stairs to the balcony and hide in the disused cloakroom up there.  The tickets for the balcony were never checked until you entered the auditorium so you waited in the cloak room until the lights had gone down and then you went in.  The older boy presented the tickets and you slipped past.  It certainly added to the ‘frisson’ of movie-going to know that, at any given moment, you might be grabbed and chucked out.

So, in this manner, in late 1973, I got in to see Bruce Lee in Fist of Fury at the ripe old age of eleven. 

I dislike the film now.  Apart from the fight scenes it’s a bit boring and repetitive.  But those fight scenes, then… man, they were just Poetry.  An icon, previously only known via images and rumour, literally came alive on the big screen in front of me and I was instantly and irrevocably sold on the magic and thrill of Cinema for ever more.

But there was an unfortunate price to pay.

There was Nudity.

For an eleven year old trying to get in to see his hero, nudity was not a fun or a titillating thing.  It was a Problem.  As far as we were concerned, Nudity was the only reason that Bruce Lee movies were not open for all kids to enjoy.  If we had our way, all the nudey-bits would have been cut out.  They were the moments when the usher might snap awake and see that there are diddies on the screen and young boys in the auditorium, munching Milky Moos.  They were the moments you could get yourself chucked out.

So, yes, nudity at eleven, as I now recall it, was a thing to be annoyed-about and cursed.  It was the barrier between you and your heroes.  It was odd, wasn’t it?

The Bruce Lee nudity was restrained enough – a glance of a bare breast or buttock, perhaps, and then on with the Nunchucks.  The step upwards was with a well-known cult film from 1975 called ‘Death Race 2000’.  I was twelve on the night that Over 18’s puppy arrived in Sligo and I simply had to get in.  I simply had to.

This film had everything.  A super-car race to the death, a hero called ‘Frankenstein’, points gained for killing people… it was, for me, by the sound of it, the absolute perfect kid’s movie and, as I said, it had everything.

Unfortunately, it really did… have ‘everything’… if you know what I mean.

We got in.  No problem.  We didn’t even have to use the cloak room technique.  The new ticket-tearer guy was a distant cousin so, once the ticket was bought by an older kid, I had no worries for the rest of the evening.

What a great movie.  I couldn’t believe it.  (See it now and it’s a bit shitty but, come on, I was Twelve).  Mayhem, cars, heroes, villains.  Then, at a moment of peak happiness, there occurred a scene in a massage room where everyone was laid down on benches, getting massaged… and then they all got up… and here was something new to me… here was Full Frontal Nudity in all its glory.

How did I react?  Was my youthful libido released and did I then venture outward into a world of physical love and adult relationships?

Did I hell!

I had only one thought in my head.  “If Mum or Dad catches me in here, I am Feckin’ Dead.”

It spoiled the movie for me.  Nudity was yet again the problem and not any kind of solution… and if there is a pun there then, yes, it was intended.

I didn’t get caught for ‘Death Race 2000’ but we were certainly living dangerously with our Over 18’s Movie Activities and at some point there had to be Retribution.

It came in 1976 (I was now Thirteen and a Veteran of all kinds of unsuitable flicks) with a film called ‘Death Weekend’ (Alternative Title, ‘The House by the Lake’.).  We went to see it.  It was a violent film and is still, to this day, something of a benchmark in nastiness and exploitation.  When I got home, my parents were waiting for me. 

“What cinema were you at tonight?”

We had two in the town, the Savoy was showing ‘Lady and the Tramp’.  I had a moment where a lie might have let me go free but I’ve always been one for cutting my losses. 

“The Gaiety, I was at The Gaiety.”

Our mistake had been basic.  We had neglected to read the huge lettering above the cinema entrance promoting the film we had seen.  It boldly stated,  “They raped her one-by-one, she killed them one-by-one.”  An unusual evening-walk past the Cinema gates by my parents had done for me.

That curtailed my movie-going for a time but not really for too long.

By 1978, we were fifteen, and we could pretty much step up and buy tickets for anything we wanted so the ‘Cinema-Assault’ party was effectively over.  Then a film came out called ‘The Stud’ (yes, you remember
it ).  It arrived in Sligo blaring the fact that is was a ‘sexy-time show’ and that only over 18’s would be allowed in to see it.  Thus challenged, we went and we got in, no bother.  Interestingly though (and this is true) while sitting in my seat, along with my pals, waiting for the curtains to open, I decided I didn’t really want to see a crap ‘sexy-time show’ so I got up and went home.

Go figure that one.

Perhaps our movie-going sounds awful now but it wasn’t such a bad thing.  As young teens, we never wanted to sneak into films which were ‘Adult’ first and foremost, we only craved the fighting, the monsters, the cars.  I don’t feel I was ever damaged by anything I saw on my teen excursions into grownup cinema, although I suppose it’s possible that more-impressionable kids might have been.  I certainly wouldn’t swap any of my experiences as I believe they coloured-in the love affair that I carry on with The Movies to this very day.

        *        *        *        *

Here’s a Couple of Footnotes:  There was only one film I failed to get into upon its release and that was ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. For some reason that was heavily clamped down upon.  It is one of my favourite films.

I didn’t try to get into ‘The Exorcist’ upon its release and I am pretty sure I would not have been allowed in. 

And, finally, in 1975, I was challenged when buying a ticket to a film called ‘Hennessy’.  It carried an over 12’s certificate and, ironically-enough, I was 12 at the time.

They eventually let me in.


Jim Murdoch said...

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was the first X-Certificate film I ever tried to get into and as I was sixteen at the time I had no bother. I’m not sure why I never tried before then but I never did. This was the first film, too, where I’d read the book before seeing the film and that enhanced the experience considerably for me. The book, as I am sure you know, if a very different proposition to the film but they both work and I learned a lot from the experience. It was also the first film I went to alone and the first film as an adult (if I can use the term loosely) I cried at. It is also a film that never leave my all-time Top Ten, which, as I may have mentioned before is about twenty-five long.

Bruce Lee never did anything for me except as Kato in The Green Hornet. And don’t get me started on naked ladies…

seoirse mac enri said...

What a flood of memories you've just released Ken I think all the Bruce Lee movies hit us around 1973 Iknow he was dead well before i seen Enter the Dragon Iremember coming out from one show and the group was accosted by an any odds merchant leaping Kung Fu style from McGoldricks(great for american comics)doorway only to meet a fist delivered by Padraig Hynes with a ferocity that would have impressed Bruce.The only film I was refused was Texas Chainsaw Massacre after the rest of you got in try as Imight pleas fell on deaf ears even an intervention by Padraig was met with 'are u sure you're 18 yourself son' Hennessy I remember your recommendations and have watched many times since death race Ithink is as good as it's remake although thats no great recommendation What makes me sad is those times are gone the challenge of being somewhere u weren't meant to and succeeding in your mission sheer elation nowadays kids can just turn on the tv and see virtually anything Where's the fun in that?

Ken Armstrong said...

I love that film too. I read the book after the film and loved it for different reasons. The Chief is wonderful in the book, he tells how his Dad was sucking out of the bottle until the bottle started sucking out of him.

I often think of McMurphy at the window when he fell asleep... did he really not want to go?

It's hard to sell anyone on Bruce now, the movies are so dated and silly-looking. At the time though, he was our Elvis, our John Wayne, our Jesus.

Seoirse: I'm glad you enjoyed this one, G. After all, you were one of the key conspirators in many of these excursions. I, myself, was the recipient of a lovely flying side kick from one of the Gordon's after a showing of The Big Boss. The Big Boss was the Holy Grail of Bruce Lee movies for me, it took me a while to get to see it. Fist of Fury almost came too easy.

Web-Betty said...

Another wonderful post Ken! Thanks for sharing--I love reading your "memoirs". ;-)

Ken Armstrong said...

Web-Betty: Thanks. It *is* becoming a bit like a memoir innit? :)

MummaDoc said...

Lovely blog Mr Ken. There were no naked men in movies when I was young, and there still aren't many. And thank the Lord for that, I say. ;-)

Ken Armstrong said...

Mummadoc It's probably best if we men keep our little secrets. :)

Ben said...

One word:


Ken Armstrong said...

Hi Ben, my memories of my first encounter with Avanti were strong.

Friday evening, The Spy Who Loved Me was opening at the Gaiety. I met my mate Shane and we went. (This would be 1977 and I would have been 14). I *loved* it, it was the best ever. I came hope buzzing, reckoning I would watch a bit of telly before bed. Avanti was on. As I opened the sitting room door, two parental voices rang out together, "Do *not* come in here, this film is not suitable for you!" If only they knew the films I was already a veteran of. :)