Alfie and the Death of Pauline Boty

New on HV this week: a potentially controversial reassessment of the classic 1966 version of Alfie starring Michael Caine. That’s right, Alfie! If you haven’t thought about that movie ever, we don’t entirely blame you. The piece by HV Artist Member and film writer Adam D-F focuses on two scenes. One’s crucial to the plot and was groundbreaking when the film came out. The other is a small cameo moment notable for featuring the artist Pauline Boty. Boty, a great pop artist innovator, died just months after the film’s release. The article speculates on what influence the film may have had on decisions contributing to her death. We won’t give away any more than that. But it’s a provocative take on a beloved film classic, but it raises some compelling arguments about the importance of art and storytelling.

While the piece focuses more on the film Alfie, it’s worth diving a little more into Boty herself. As a painter, she’s finally gained the recognition she deserves within the last 25 years. Here’s how the article describes her:

A striking blond as playfully vibrant as the colors in her paintings, Boty embodied the free-spirited femininity of the Swinging 60’s. Though formally trained as an artist, she also acted and appeared in films and TV shows ranging from an acclaimed Ken Russell documentary to a dancer on the Ready Steady Go! music program. She painted pictures of rock stars and celebrities… and hung out with them too, along with a who’s who of hipsters, socialites and bohemian artists. They called her the Wimbledon Bardot, and she may have inspired Julie Christie’s character in another classic film of this era, Darling.

Perhaps her most famous painting, The Only Blonde in the World, presents an iconic portrait of Marilyn Monroe. Unlike that other famous pop art portrayal, Boty presents her subject in full body. Or almost, as she’s slightly cut off at the right ankle. The swirling paint strokes, Marylin’s pose mid-stride, and the colorful geometric patterns suggest movement, rhythm and energy, while also confining her. Boty also painted male sex symbols: her portrait of French New Wave actor Jean-Paul Belmondo both sexualizes and intellectualizes him through the brain-like floral design emanating from his head. Pieces like these demonstrate Boty’s injection of feminism into pop culture savvy. Her work also shows a playful and humorous, perhaps most evident in a piece like Bum. Cheeky.

For more about Boty and her life, check out her official artist website. Ali Smith’s excellent novel Autumn also explores Boty’s life and impact. If you do want to watch Alfie to make up your own mind about the film, it’s available to stream via Paramount+, Amazon (with a Paramount+ subscription), or for free on Pluto TV or here in a low quality version with subtitles.