Pauline Boty was a celebrated English Pop artist of the 1960s who died young and her work went missing for decades.
Boty was a smart and talented ‘pop’ figure on the ‘Swinging London’ scene. She was an actor on TV and at the theatre. She was a dancer on the music show Ready, Steady, Go. Pauline made radio programmes. She interviewed the Beatles; hung out with young Bob Dylan. She was an activist and radical. She was serious, fun, glamorous and beautiful, and took her pleasures where she found them. Boty epitomised her times, but was ahead of them. She challenged the era’s gender stereotypes and women’s life options a decade before the second wave of feminism landed. Boty said she wanted to change the rules, ‘to re-establish the kind of woman one could be.’
Pauline Boty died aged twenty eight, four and a bit months after she gave birth to a daughter. On her demise, there was talk of a career retrospective, but instead her paintings rapidly vanished, and with it Pauline was forgotten and erased from art history.
And then one day, a quarter of a century after, an art historian went looking for Pauline Boty’s missing paintings and belatedly her lost legend was partially reclaimed.
Someone needs to make a film about Pauline Boty and her story.
This is the opening instalment of a treatment, or synopsis, of Pauline’s life. But as a blogpiece. I don’t know how to write a film synopsis. I will be discussing my ignorance as we bump along, imagining what a Boty biopic could look like. There will be routine scenes, trusty tropes and blatant cliches. There will be some commentary. You will also see some of Pauline’s paintings come to life.*
The Start of the Film
The primary colour should be pink. Rose pink. Pauline used the rose in her art to symbolise female desire. So, there must be pink. And then also black lettering. Black and pink go well together. And black because not all of Pauline’s story is happy.
A blue car driving through the English countryside. Aerial shot of winding B road bisecting bosky, rolling, southern hills. The blue car has the road to itself and is making good progress. It’s a model from the late 80s – a Renault Megane. But generally we’re not going to sweat the period detail for maximal fidelity.
We take the aerial camera and swoop down, then close in to a medium shot from behind as the vehicle plunges into a natural tunnel of bent-over trees. This is a two second shot. The next shot is even less than two seconds. The car is now captured from the front, emerging from the wood. It takes a sharp corner, photographed at ankle height from the kink in the bend, the left front wheel splashing into a puddle. We pivot and watch from the rear as the Megane peels away and off down the tarmac.
The next shot is from inside the vehicle. Opera’s playing on the radio. It’s snug. You can almost smell the Murray Mints. The driver is in profile. A man in his thirties. Quite good looking – but not so that he is rugged or strapping. Thin, interesting, cerebral, bookish. You could imagine a midlife Colin Firth playing the role of the diffident seeker.
The next shot is from the car’s back seat, looking over the driver’s shoulder through the windscreen at a sunny but drizzling grey sky. The wipers come on.
The car arrives at a small farm down a bushy lane. A working farm, not a fantasy rustic heap. A bit ugly, in fact, with a small silo to the left of the front gate and a complete absence of period tractors. And forget about any scenic hay bales, pink pigs, or hens pecking at feed.
Briefly overlaid across the top right corner of the screen is the year: 1992. (I think the top right, not the top left corner. This way, the digits are like page numbers in a good book, with a great story to tell, and you want to turn to get to the next part of the story.)
By now it is raining heavily.
Will the wet weather set the wrong emotional tone? Do people dislike rain at the start of the film – have focus groups reported that it dampens the spirits before viewers have even settled in their seats? I once read that a camera tracking left to right is optically pleasing, but that its reverse tracking, right to left, subconsciously causes viewers to feel uneasy and sad.
Let’s for now say that it is raining, as an inclement downpour lends an extra urgency to the man’s arrival at the farm. He looks out the passenger window. His expression is apprehensive. From his point of view we see a middle aged woman in an green anorak and wellington’s tread carefully down a rocky, stone path, approaching the car. The woman is attractive but bedraggled from work and the rain.
The man winds down his window. He says her name. Bridget? She nods.
David, he replies, and gets out the car. He holds up a leather document pouch to protect his curly hair from the rain. They shake hands perfunctorily, but don’t really engage with their eyes.
Come, says she woman, as she leads the way up the slippery path. Tea first – or straight to the outhouse?
Outhouse, he replies. If that’s ok.
She nods briskly. Thought so. Excited?
We follow as they enter a enclosed farmyard with a Victorian farm house at the centre. The camera subtly switches to a point of view taken from inside the quadrangle, tracking David and Bridget’s progress over cobblestones and dirt, past a cattle trough, a Champion jeep, an empty trailer and pile of roof tiles stacked against the wall of a stone outbuilding coated with peeling whitewash. They open the outbuilding door, which creaks – it creaks a lot.
We the viewer, we’re already inside the building, waiting as Bridget and David enter and switch on the light. This is rather like one of those flashy shots at the cinema: the unexpected angle from inside the coat closet, or from the back of the fridge looking out – the immersive lens which asserts ‘unique point of view’. But in our case, if we just follow the newly-mets into the outhouse from the yard, filming over their shoulder, then this could either be too documentarian, or the other side of spectrum entirely, too bravura – we don’t want it to look like we’re attempting one of those winding, extended Steadicam trails.
So, we pick-up inside the outhouse, where the illumination is a bare light bulb with a loop in the electric flex. The interior reveals thick stone slabs and is crowded with clutter. There are farm tools, filled potato sacks, and fat blue bags bulging with fertiliser and lime, a work bench, paint pots and chemical flasks, shelves of boxfiles and a desk heaped with paperwork. There’s also a deep freeze – we used to have a deep freeze in the outhouse when I lived on a farm as child – and broken furniture, rusty saw blades, a tatty parasol and a matching mothy deckchair set. I think tatty and mothy fit with the atmosphere of a working farm, far removed from a bucolic rental off Airbnb.
Bridget speaks. Says, There, and points to the far wall and a bulky shape under a green tarpaulin set close to the bare, damp wall. She steps over and starts to remove the green cover.
The camera swivels from Bridget and centres on David’s face. Then follows the direction of his gaze, as from under the green cover a stack of what appear to be large boards is partially revealed.
But only briefly glimpsed, as the camera switches back to David’s face, ready for his big reaction shot. By now the framing is tighter, with a close-up that is getting closer still, as the camera moves slowly, almost imperceptibly, towards the art historian’s eyes. There is a sense of anticipation. Well, we hope there is a sense of anticipation. Or at least something like a mild curiosity, as the woman says, Here come and see.
David shuffles a few paces forward. We hear what we take to be the sound of one of the boards being lifted up and witness David’s widescreen, wide-eyed look of delight.
Also astonishment, excitement, disbelief. But firstly delight. And then in another second, a gentle sigh of relief. This is the end of one journey. And the start of something else.
But we the viewer, we don’t get to see the cause of all these signalled emotions. We must wait. Tension.
How many? He says after a long pause.
Oh, lots, she replies. Maybe a dozen. And there’s more in London.
We cut to a new scene. The half lit interior of the farmhouse. The kitchen, with bulky flagstone floor and Indian rugs to warm the toes. The inevitable Aga, huge cooking pans hanging from the ceiling, a beige basket of dried flowers.
The man has his tea now. He’s sat on a wooden dining chair with slats, positioned at an angle next to a large solid dining table. There’s a dog sleeping on a pile of old blankets close to the Aga. The woman offers the man a biscuit from a Spode or Wedgwood plate. He takes another chocolate digestive. He asks, How long have they been in the shed?
She replies, Who knows? They’ve moved round a lot. They’ve been in the barn, the shed, the loft, the outhouse. I lose track. They first came to the farm shortly after – so, roughly 25 years.
Incredible. He shakes his head. He smiles.
Are they okay?
He nods and sips his tea. Think so. Yes.
And they’re what you were expecting?
(Twenty years later, David Mellor – the art historian, not the former Tory minister – this man in the farmhouse kitchen still reeling at finding the buried treasure, was asked to describe his emotions on that first visit to the Boty farm. It was for a long magazine feature on Pauline. David explained that the lost Pop artist had been this troubling memory in the back of his mind for a long, long time. Stashed in the outhouse of his limbic system was the ghost of Boty, and her bright painted collages. Mellor had this nagging feeling that not only had Boty and her paintings been quite incredible, but somehow, inexplicably her artworks had disappeared. He says that the discovery at the Kent farm was ‘an extraordinarily moving experience – I cried.’)
Mellor returns to his tea. His eyes glaze over in thought. The reflective moment moves us along. The soundtrack becomes overlayered by a murmuring of a large gathering of people coming from the next scene that we are slowly dissolving towards. The dissolve is gradual to indicate a long passage of time between the connected moments on screen.
The new scene is at a big art gallery opening in the city. We don’t initially fill the frame with one of those trademark helicopter establishing shots of London. A title card (also on the top right hand of the screen) says One Year Later. The murmuring of people is louder now, but its source is slow to be revealed. We slowly open on a city street and the approach to a large art centre, a major public gallery, with a grand entrance.
First from the outside. Once again the rain is coming down. A taxi arrives and out steps a woman in a stylish dress. She is middle aged and glamorous. The camera follows her from taxi to pavement, through the plate glass entrance and into the foyer of the large Brutalist art building, where security men in tuxes usher her up the stairs, towards the hubbub of the party. Sixties pop music is playing quietly in the background, we can pick out some early Beatles, maybe Twist and Shout.
The woman gets to the top of the stairs, she pauses, takes a breath. A tall thin waiter in a white dress shirt holds out a platinum tray of wine. She lifts a flute off the tray. We realise that it’s the woman from the farm. Bridget is transformed and wearing a red dress for tonight’s launch. No wellies, no green anorak, no damp hair. She is approximately the same age Pauline would’ve been (She is Pauline’s sister-in-law). She sips the wine. She looks a tiny bit apprehensive in this environment, but is nevertheless confident, not mousey. She smiles as she takes in the large gathering.
The camera observes through her eyes the scene of an art show party – the mix of money, bohemians, institution and PR. The predictable art types in clusters talking and smiling, a range of formal and informal, dabs of ostentatious hair and leftfield fashion selections, a spread of ages and beards and footwear, all of this swiftly outlined in a quick summary shot encapsulating a conjoined world of money and creatives, prestige and recognition. A place that feels pampered inside.
From amid the crowd, the camera finds the face of Mellor – you know, the art academic who came to Bridget’s farm, the treasure hunter. As the camera brings David into frame, he instantly shifts and returns Bridget’s gaze. David briskly breaks away from his current conversation and strides towards Bridget. (Definitely strides. The historian’s gait is much more assured compared with how he walked on the farm.)
They shake hands.
Thank you for coming.
I had to.
She pauses. Mellor looks mildly surprised. You did, didn’t you?
I mean that in the best, most extraordinary way.
David smiles. I know. I can’t imagine what you’re feeling. He clears his throat, tilts his head towards the show. Ready?
I so hope you like them, says an excited Mellor, breaking slightly from the usual emotional restraint.
He leads her through the crowd of people. We don’t see what it is yet, but we know from the setting that it is likely to be a piece of art. I mean, we’re not stupid, right?
This scene at the gallery hasn’t been entirely fabricated. Something like this actually took place. (And Pauline’s tragic daughter was also there that night to witness her mother’s art finally revived.) But it’s not a moment in time that people have written about extensively. The farmer and the historian are having this moment largely for the sake of the viewer. And for Pauline, of course.
They don’t speak as he leads her. Perhaps they should. Maybe he flannels away confidently, and in doing so demonstrates his ease in this environment – while Bridget’s clipped return speech betrays her feeling of being a farmer in the city, a bit fishlike in this realm of confected celebration. But she must also somehow convey an inner anxiety concerning what is happening tonight and wishing dearly for it to be a hit. Bridget’s great hope is that people are delighted by what they see. That history has been kind to Pauline at last.
But for now I’m not writing this dialogue. There will be a limit to the invented speech – because I don’t think I can successfully make it up. But but also I’d like to see if we can largely survive on quotes from the source materials. Let the archive do the talking.
The approach across the gallery to the moment of revelation is swift and ends in front of a Boty canvas hanging on the wall. This time there will be no reaction shot. We don’t see Bridget and David gasp. That would be odd. It’s our turn to look, finally, and for us to be impressed. It’s time for some art.**
For the first view of the art work, the canvas fills up most, but not all of the screen. Framed inside a narrow border of white gallery wall, that lends the canvas extra emphasis and punch, the middle of Boty’s celebrated painting projects from the hanging out into space.
The Only Blonde in the World. Starring Marilyn Monroe. Enclosed within a skinny gold perimeter, vertical green panels daubed with abstract curls of red and a terrace of angled stripes in gold and grey. The thick and freely painted panels hang either side like curtains or screens parted to reveal the star of the show. Marilyn Monroe bursts forth from between the vivid green, laughing in pearl shift with feathers gathered up to the chin. Monroe in motion, head titled back at the amusement of it all. Marilyn assured, mid stride, so alive, heading left to right across a smoky urban backdrop upon a slate-grey sidewalk. Marilyn moving so fast in vertiginous heels like nothing’s going to stop her. Like why would anyone think such a thing anyway? Like she could actually walk right off the canvas and out the gallery door.
The camera pulls closer, within the precincts of the white border, as the painting absorbs every inch of screen. The image of Marilyn has been borrowed from a photo still off the set of Some Like It Hot – cut out of Life magazine and loosely painted in colour with Marilyn ‘all dazzling,’ says Boty – hips and legs and hair ‘hurrying along.’ There are vague shadowy lines sketched up and down Monroe’s legs indicating motion through space.
Further in now. Cut away the gold perimeter. The camera is drawn deeper into layers of paint, the smeared blurry coatings of oil, the forms fading, the lens absorbed as the warm, tactile, painterly canvas takes over. This is the moment the viewer tumbles into the art work.
Inside this event, the camera and special effects combine for an elaborate two-part transition. For the first part, the painting comes to life. Monroe is animated. She walks across the screen and her shift almost rustles while her heels can be heard clicking on the sidewalk, as the cars honk their horns and the traffic’s boom blares momentarily from Boty’s canvas.
And then the brief Monroe animation abruptly concludes as another loose brushstroke is applied to the painting by the artist Pauline Boty.
Pauline’s dabbed paintwork is the second half of the two-part transition – taking us back in time to the early 1960s. Now the camera pulls away, withdraws to a medium shot well outside the painting, taking the viewer from within the artwork to inside the space where the canvas is being finished up – inside Pauline Boty’s west London flat in 1963, as she completes her latest art piece, The Only Blonde in the World.
The Only Blonde in the World. But of course there were already two blondes in the room. The dramatic life story of the amazing Pauline Boty has now begun.***
We’re going to stop describing camera shot after camera shot, because it’s getting in the way and is mainly quite superfluous.
That said, Pauline continues to dab a little with the paintbrush while we observe with a camera that is stable and then in motion, as we swivel between a head shot profile of Pauline and the passage of the paint brush across the canvas in close up.
Boty discusses the subject of her new painting – Film stars, she says, 20th century gods and goddesses. Aware of having visitors from the future, dropped into her room, she explains the thinking behind her loose brush work. I used to want every stroke to be perfect, she says, To capture the subject exactly. For so long I was simply a fan. But now I want smudges and daubs and licks of paint. Yes, licks of paint. I’ve learned when to go and when to leave off.
Pauline continues talking out loud, offering a surface tour of the composition with a sprinkling of Pop theory. But nothing heavy, we don’t want to scare viewers. There’s even a twist of gender politics when Pauline refers to herself jokingly as, An attractive painter without a beard – but a brain instead. AKA a talking dolly bird, she says. (That’s the way some people spoke back then; that’s how Pauline would describe herself in self-deprecatory mode.)
As she completes this loving overview of her work, explaining once again why paint Marilyn – A myth we colour in for ourselves – Pauline stops and turns away from the canvas. She places the paintbrush in a splotched, multi-coloured saucer, then takes two deliberate steps towards the lens. Pauline positions herself casually but carefully catching the good light streaming in from the tall window. And then she speaks to us, directly into the camera, and across the decades.
First thing she wants to explain is that being forward like this, addressing the lens and returning its gaze without embarrassment, is simply getting in tune with the times – that she’s only acting as clever and modish as a lot of films were clever and modish in the early 1960s.
They cast me as just another one of Alfie’s giddy, adoring conquests. But not one of his conquests, actually. Not in my mind. One of his flings, for sure. As he was one of my flings. We both wanted to fuck. We were equals. For ten or twenty seconds.
The image inside the imaginary TV screen flips to another still from the movie. Pauline plays the manager of the dry cleaner’s where Alfie gets his suits cleaned. But Alfie’s such a ladies man, that he doesn’t just get his suits pressed. The sign on the window says ‘Service Within’. Pauline’s character gestures with her finger, Come inside. So, Alfie goes through the door and flips the Open sign to Closed. Cut to Boty and Caine merging in an ardent kiss as they disappear behind the crowded hanger rails.
We would, under ideal circumstances, re-create this lusty kiss. We would also show the actors on set preparing to shoot the scene of the kiss – the recurring cinematic dream of the film within a film. Eddie Redmayne would make a decent mini cameo as the young Caine. Film actors like doing cameos, so they can showcase their range, but also demonstrate a sense of fun.
Now, as we take a pause from Pauline’s direct address and her memories of Alfie, we set the camera loose to describe Boty’s living space through images, running the lens across her large room with its high ceiling and the big bed with the worked headpiece, the mini stove, discarded clothes heaped on a rocker, Boty’s paintings stacked up against the wall. Then there is Boty’s vast wall collage.
Pauline’s collage deserves a slow track – across the busy, tight, intricate assembly of photos and cut-outs from glossy magazines, of museum post cards, handbills, gallery flyers, pictorial mementoes and handmade sketches positioned next to close-ups of Monroe, African art, Goya, an Edwardian bike, Jean-Paul Belmondo, bright painted numbers, landscapes, gowns and flowers.
Here’s a detail of the collage.
The camera pans across to Pauline, who’s washing her brushes in the sink in the corner of the room. Note the bohemian rig, black pants, black pullover, slip on shoes, hair backcombed into a blonde nest.
‘We were a bit beatniky,’ recalls Celia Birtwell. Celia wasPauline’s friend and housemate through the early years in this big bohemian mansion buried in west London’s art colony. Celia went on to become a successful designer. She momentarily steps inside the scene, into Pauline’s room, with Boty apparently oblivious, hunched over the wash basin with the tap running. ‘I was often spending time in her room, which had a huge brass bed, and a collage wall. We were all poor. We cooked on her little paraffin stove in her room.’
Celia pauses. This is supposed to be the end of her contribution, but she feels compelled to say more. ‘Pauline was beautiful, and tall, and funny, and clever.’ Celia has strong emotions concerning Boty. ‘It was as though she was on a mission. She was driven. An amazing creature.’
Celia stops speaking – then vanishes; possibly with a small puff of smoke. The camera swivels to the other side of the room, to land on one of Pauline’s artworks prominently positioned and facing out.
It’s Celia relocated to paint and brushstroke. The work is titled Celia with Some of Her Heroes. The oil on canvas from 1963 positions Birtwell front and centre with a red rose hanging against her leg, as she poses in front of a mural of pop icons – Elvis, Hockney and Brando. Celia has her shirt undone revealing a push-up bra and pale pink skin. Her face is as pretty as a girl in a teen magazine. We rostrum round the canvas, pull away from Celia’s face in isolation, to the rose in isolation, to Elvis in isolation, to the Everly Brothers, to the pink hot air balloon in isolation.
The balloon starts to rise – another painting animated – before the camera cuts abruptly to a connected art work. The screen is filled with an image of Pauline, this time posed in front of her painting of Celia.
This highly constructed image is a key piece in Boty-land. It possesses many functions or facets – it is what a theorist might call polyvalent. The photograph was taken at Pauline’s studio for Town magazine by Michael Ward. The painting of Celia is strategically positioned against a backdrop featuring several other artworks by Boty. (Frames within frames.) It was Pauline’s idea to pose like this – to mimic the painted Celia, but with fewer clothes. During her career Boty staged several photographs in a similar style: provocative, arch, knowing self-portraits of the artist as both subject and object, gazing back at the curious camera, under-dressed but layered-up with meanings. (But then some magazines took liberties with Boty’s scanty image – so she stopped stripping off.)
How Do We Look?
There will be more on Boty’s nudie photos later in the series. But for now we need to pause, to take a moment to consider what style we’re using. What style of photography we’re aiming after with our treatment.
Not the camera style, insofar as how the lens moves or positions itself inside a moment; or even how scenes are edited into shape. No, not any of this. Rather the mood or tone of the photography. Should the 1960s and Boty’s story feature a different kind of tone and aesthetic to the 1990s, of David’s visit to the farm, or opening night at the Barbican? Yes. Will the palette for the 60s be brighter, more like Pop, and therefore less realist? Maybe. Or should the 1960s, where we will be situated for most of the film, be shaded and coded into a range of colour schemes? Probably. We might like to have washed out and pale whenever outdoors, in the ‘real world’, to reflect the still quite bloodless state of the nation back in the early 1960s – still deeply post war even while shifting gear, into the era of Mary Quant. Yes, washed out, pale and sooty for outdoors, please; in contrast to richer darker interiors; and then, of course, the bold, bright, commercial monochromes of Boty’s Pop paintings.
Hmmm. (My favourite word.) Yes, hmmm, how much contrast is good, and how much is glaring and thematically clunky?
There’s another thing to consider. Does a Pop film have a ‘Pop’ sensibility? Yes, it does. To spurn the riches of Pop would be foolish – the transgressive, energetic fun; the dynamic, colourful imagery; Pop’s appropriation of mass culture – pin-ups, Elvis, Marilyn, The Beatles, comics, popular music, advertising and space travel; art films, weepies, and Westerns; mass production; collage, then montage, provoking arresting and unexpected collisions; Pop’s mass media and mass culture fixations, commodities fetishised; cut outs, action adventure graphics, K’Pao! – the energy of new goods, the saturation of commercialism. All of this plenty, all of this stuff, all these things Boty described as ‘nostalgia for now.’
The look of Boty on film needs much thought. But not all of it right now.
This is the BBC
We have close to concluded our first visit to Pauline’s room in Notting Hill. It is nearly time to follow Pauline out the front door and into the world at large. But first, a section of Pauline’s room has a rail with a dark curtain. She steps inside and pulls the curtain closed. But immediately it opens again, and I mean immediately, with a loud swish of fabric, and Pauline is revealed once more, but transformed from sloppy painter to girl about town – dress, heels, make-up, hair.
Boty grabs her bucket bag and exits the room, down the stairs, and out the house. The street shot is filmed from Pauline’s point of view. Several passers-by stare at Pauline, but really they’re looking straight at the camera. She walks along a terraced street of large white Victorian townhouses, crumbling, subdivided and coated in grey pollution. The sun has drained from the pale blue sky. In a nod to early 60s New Wave cinema, where directors filmed exteriors on the cheap and on the hoof, we use only natural light for this shot. As a result the frame is gauzy and textural, including smeary pockets of darkness.
At the corner of the road, Pauline shouts Taxi! A black cab pulls over to the pavement. Boty says Broadcasting House to the driver. She gets into the cab through the left door and in a blink she climbs out the right hand door and onto the wide footway outside the BBC at the top of Regent Street.
Pauline’s come to make a radio programme. She plunges through the art deco entrance – across the marble-decked lobby, between thick double doors, down two flights of stairs, then more doors, followed by the length of a curved, institutional corridor painted old lime, then left, right, and ingress via a padded door, with a red light hung above the lintel, into a cramped recording studio, where three Oxbridge-educated young men in sleeveless jumpers, striped shirts, National Health specs and indifferent teeth, greet our glam heroine and collectively act awkward.
The three young men went to a single sex boarding school, studied at single sex colleges, and then completed two years National Service surrounded by scores of blokes their age. They appear to be dazzled by Pauline’s Kleig-like beam. They puff away on their pipes as they gaze into the live booth through the window over the mix desk, as Boty speaks into a outsized furry microphone, recording one of her monologues for the weekly culture show, The Public Ear: ‘All over the country, young girls are starting and shaking,’ declares Pauline, with a bright, Grampian delivery. ‘And if they terrify you. They mean to – and they are beginning to impress the world.’
Boty wrote and recited many monologues during her year-long gig presenting on The Public Ear.
The solo recording fades out to a follow-up scene with the camera now on the other side of the observation glass, within the recording booth. The lens is positioned at desk height facing Pauline, who in turn is facing a dashing young man on the other side of the furry microphone. He is young and mod and wearing clamp headphones like Pauline. He’s this week’s cultural figure – the fashion designer Ossie Clark.
There are three good reasons we’ve picked Ossie from the many cultural figures interviewed by Boty during her time on the show. The main motivation will become clear in a second. But also, it feels a little bit premature, like overkill, to be rolling out one of the very big guns off the list – not The Beatles, or Orson Welles, not yet, that would be laying it on a too thick too early. (But later on, why not? Perhaps we could have Eddie Izzard pad up for a tilt at Welles and that velvet Sherry voice.)
Ossie Clark was one of the new decade’s seismics, in on it all like Pauline. The fashion designer was with the emerging generation of disruptors, upending the orthodoxies that stifled. Clark was Pauline’s near contemporary at art college and had admired her from a distance for what must have felt like a very long time. We will show Pauline and Ossie conducting their radio discussion, but at the same time we will also dip into the admiring acclamations Clark wrote about Pauline in his diaries, published many years later.
We could split the screen in two perhaps. On one half, we have the radio interview, with Pauline sat with her legs off the ground, her bare feet tucked under her bum. And at the same time, on the other half of the screen, we remove Ossie Clark to a different moment in time, alone in his bedroom one night, in a silk robe, reciting direct to camera an effusive entry from an illustrated notebook.
As with Celia Birtwell’s commentary from earlier, we run Ossie’s eulogy to convey the impact Pauline had on people in her orbit. Clark was besotted. He speaks of the time they first met. It was at the home of one of Pauline’s lovers. Ossie’s language is flowery and excitable: ‘…sunbathing in her bikini bottom sprawled out in the garden. Freckles, innocent blue eyes, lips so full, a look direct eyeball to eyeball. Philip Saville was her current chap, beau lovers by the score. Those lips I was eventually to kiss, so soft like crying tears absorbed into a down pillow, maudlin, too pretty. Always swanking.’
‘Beau lovers’ ‘Always swanking’ – vintage slang alert.
Could the split screen be the wrong device, however, in overtaxing the viewer? We never know where to look when two things are happening simultaneously.
Scrub the split screen. Try this instead: At first Pauline asks Clark a straightforward question. And he starts to answer, but quickly the soundtrack switches to inside Clark’s head, where his interior monologue speaks of those lips so soft, like crying tears.
Or, perhaps this: We read Ossie’s terms of desire as they seep out the back of his feather coiffed head, as thought bubbles rising to the studio’s cork ceiling, where they burst and vanish.
After the radio session has been completed, Pauline leaves Broadcasting House. Clark is waiting for her on the steps outside the building. He’s smoking a Gauloises. He offers one to Pauline, but she declines. It’s late and dark. Clark asks Pauline to join him for a drink. He beckons at the grand hotel across the road and its restaurant bar. The great Langham Hotel, where Mark Twain stayed; and Oscar Wilde, Toscanini and Emperor Haile Selassie. Where Arthur Conan Doyle set several famous scenes from the Sherlock Holmes stories. Clark touches Pauline’s sleeve preparing to steer her to the hotel, but she smiles and moves away. Says she can’t – Must dash. She flags down a cab. Clark asks which way is she going? We can share. Boty says she’s not going his way and quickly departs.
Pauline and her Lover
Boty takes off to meet her lover in north London. She gets to a street in Hampstead lined with red brick mansion blocks. She tells the driver to stop. The cabbie calls Pauline ‘Love’ as she leaves him a tip. She pulls a face, but not that the cabbie can see.
Pauline approaches a large building with an imposing entrance porch, featuring a chessboard footplate and a great double door with stained glass inlay. Pauline fondly regards the stained glass then turns to work the brass intercom panel. We see her fingers in intimate close up as she dials the number. Neat and agile fingers – elegant fingers for an artist who spends all day with paint and turps; elegant like the ladies hands that often feature in Pauline’s paintings.
Boty is buzzed into the building. She walks up the stairs. The flow of her movement is time lapsed, absorbing four flights in four seconds. The camera follows Pauline through the front door of an apartment and into the arms of her lover.
The lover has to be more than ten years older. They start to kiss and undress in the entrance. However, we don’t do a love scene. The camera fades out to black and then fades in again, slowly. We are looking down from the ceiling at the lovers on their backs in a wide Breton bed, tucked up under the sheets, but with their heads sticking out, propped on blue pillows. They are smoking after the act. Yes, that’s what you do after an orgasm. That’s what everyone did after sex in the 1960s. Everyone will smoke in this film. And the food will mostly be hefty, and brown, while the weather often rinsed, hosed, or simply wet.
The lover speaks. His voice is educated, his tone mildly haughty. But also, momentarily, Boty’s lover appears vulnerable and uncertain. He says, Did you like that?
She nods. Yes. Did you like that?
He shrugs and flicks ash into a shallow pewter ashtray on the varnish bedside table to his left.
Do you do it to your wife?
He almost shudders and shakes his head as he blows a jet of smoke from the corner of his plump mouth.
I think it’s quite ugly, says Pauline.
The director’s eyes dilate. He draws hard on his cigarette, which is running low. He appears not to know what to say. So he keeps silent.
(Remember this scene with the lover. This will rise up again later, when Pauline describes what being a mistress feels like.)
The long silent pause extends. The clock ticks. Eyebrows are raised. Pauline wants to know what he’s thinking. She expects an opinion. In bed with her lover she refuses to be polite and demure, or pretty and silent, she insists on frank disclosure.
So? You’ve seen quite a few in your time, Philip. What do you think of my cunt?
Philip frowns. He opens his mouth, but still he doesn’t speak. He is a leading theatre and TV director. He often sleeps with the leading women in his productions. He is a leftie and a cultural impresario and a husband. He is educated, urbane, well travelled, and apparently quite worldly, but he doesn’t know what to say about cunnilingus or cunts.
Boty turns to the camera, speaks as if her lover isn’t there. She has put him on hold – which is probably where he belongs, given his lack of words.
Pauline steps outside of the scene temporarily. I am on record for saying this about my fanny, she announces in a dancing voice similar to the one off the radio. Pauline continues, It’s in a book. That I said it. Sorry, I know, but I do think it’s ugly. Did think it’s ugly. Still think it’s ugly.
Celia Birtwell pops up again, a flickering presence beamed in over by the window – a semi translucent silhouette, almost a ghost. Celia speaks: You were always very outspoken, Pauline. Ahead of the times.
Then, ping – Celia disappears.*****
I was often outspoken, says Pauline to Celia’s trailing words. Sadly not always. But yes, often. I blame my brothers. They tormented me, you see. But they helped to make me what I am. Boty thinks about what she just said and looks happy and sad.
This is the end of Part One of the Boty Treatment. Next time, about a week from now, we will head off into Pauline’s early years. We will meet Boty as a child. And those terrible brothers. Her complicated parents. And the young adult Pauline – the bold Boty who briefly came to be known as The Wimbledon Bardot.
* I realise it’s quite possible there’s someone out there already embarked on a Boty biopic. The lost painter’s profile, though it fluctuates, is largely on the rise. The best selling Autumn by Ali Smith (which I haven’t read) apparently features chunks of Boty. It would be extraordinary if no one else has had the film idea. I just want get this series out there, before I read of the film that surely has to be in the works, or waiting to be greenlit, or already in production, or soon to be released. But, as I write this, film and Boty still haven’t been joined together in any sentence I’ve seen. This strange absence is tantalising, but also allows me the delusion of considering myself first to plant the flag. (I should also point out that I previously wrote about Boty a few years ago, eighteen months before Smith’s book was published. Not that I’ve got a thing about Autumn – I think it could be a tipping point for Pauline at the cinema.)
** The revelation scene at the start of this treatment is in part a copy, or direct lift, of the opening section of Downsizing, the latest film by Alexander Payne. The director of Sideways, Election, Nebraska and About Schmidt, is surely one of the most fluent and elegant American film-makers currently working.
Downsizing is yet to go on general release. The opening section goes like this: A scientist is first seen in his laboratory, preparing a live experiment on a cute little rat. He injects the rat and puts it into a kind of processing machine, that looks like a microwave, but isn’t. And then, when the time is up, we see the scientist return and open the door of the processing machine, and witness the scientist’s look of utter shock.
But we don’t see what the scientist sees – the incredible thing causing such amazement.
Next scene, he rushes down stairs, filmed as a medium shot. Then he bursts into the office of a close colleague. He tells him it’s worked. But he doesn’t say what has worked.
Next scene. Five Years Later. A lecture theatre. A man begins a keynote speech. Then he opens a box sitting on a podium next to his lectern. And finally we see the cause of all the amazement.
The man giving the speech points to a live example of a revolutionary ‘cellular reduction project’. His research colleague, the scientist from the beginning of the film, has been downsized into a tiny man, a miniature human only five inches tall. The experimental scientist has become the product of his groundbreaking transformation project.
We hears the gasps and witness the excited reaction of the audience,. The speech maker finally calms them down. He says some more words. And then he’s joined on stage by a trolley full of downsized humans. (Let’s hear it for the little guy). Then the camera shows people flooding into the back of the theatre captured by the excitement of the already spreading news of this incredible moment in science.
Next we are shown TV news stories of the scientific breakthrough being watched by people across the world, from favelas to suburban homes to bars – as this big new item about a small guy gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger.
*** The Only Girl in the World was the first painting by Boty I ever saw. I bumped into it in Tate Britain and knew nothing except that it was a striking piece of work. It’s where all of this started.
**** Boty told the writer Nell Dunn how she found her sex to be ugly. I didn’t make this up. I wouldn’t make this up. But what if I did make it up? That would be pretty bold.
***** Celia Birtwell went on to be a successful textile and fashion designer. She was married to Ossie Clark for several years. This is the third reason we went with Clark for the radio interview. Birtwell and Clark are the subjects of the famous painting by David Hockney, Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1971). In 1996, Clark, who was bisexual, was stabbed to death by his male lover in his flat in Kensington.
****** Bum was Boty’s last painting, produced as part of an unfinished series for the theatrical revue Oh! Calcutta!