Music for Films: Shoreditch High Street – Nightbirds (1970)


First broadcast 5pm, 21st November 2016 on Resonance FM in London
[Repeated 6am, 26th November]

1 hour broadcast version.

1 hour 37 min version. Not safe for work.

Every month, interesting people talk about the music, films and music for films which have shaped their lives.

In November, Roz and Tim revisit the locations of 1970s ‘Nightbirds169 Commercial Street, Whitechapel, in near to Shoreditch High Street in East London.* Made by gay American underground playwright, costumiere, screenwriter, actor, film producer, editor and director Andy Milligan, the horror critic Stephen King described another of Milligan’s films as “the work of morons with cameras.”

An erotic drama filmed in black and white, ‘Nightbirds’ is about two young people who meet by chance and fall into like and into bed with one another, played by Julie Shaw in her only screen role and Berwick Kaler (now one of North England’s leading panto dames).

‘Nightbirds’ depicts a vanished London of grubby lofts and peeling paint. Bringing a queer eye to a destructive straight liaison, Milligan’s film is a meditation on the abject, the wretched but – unusually for underground cinema of the period, dominated by the likes of Kenneth Anger – in the heterosexual rather than LGBT realm.

Unscreened at the time that it was completed, the only print of it was bought by Nicolas (‘The Neon Demon’) Winding Refn on eBay for $25,000, who worked with the BFI to restore it for DVD release. Critic and author Kim Newman discusses this and Milligan’s other exploitation films made in England with us, and BFI’s Vic Pratt and Will Fowler chat about BFI’s Flipside DVD title. (This show is a re-edit of a Scala Review show which we did in September 2016, as part of Scalarama, with more interview material).

In the extended podcast we listen again to Roz and Lexi Turner’s conversation from September’s Scalarama festival about Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘The Neon Demon‘. Roz and Tim discuss 80s synth scores, followed by a medley of somber electronic tracks including John Carpenter, and the theme to ‘Stranger Things’ by Austin soundscapists Survive.

On our three year mission to explore the subterranean sources of London’s culture we’ve created the Scala Underground Film Map, which imagines the Tube as a film festival programmed by the legendary cinema at Kings Cross.

London’s radicals, underworlds and counter-cultures over a century of cinema, through a Tube map re-imagined as a film festival programmed by the legendary Scala cinema at Kings Cross.

Our guest, Kim Newman, considers the Scala map.

* In the show we got mixed up about the location of 169 Commercial Street, thinking it was 163. 169 (a few doors down) is even more interesting as the imaginary location of ‘Nightbirds’. Viewed from the air, it’s almost a fit for the rooftop scenes in the movie filmed in 1969. Across the road is 154 Commercial Street, now apartments, but before World War Two it was the Luxor cinema.

169 Commercial Street

163 Commercial Street