May 21, 2011

Deep End [15]

Dir: Jerzy Soklimowski
It is amazing to think that films made as late as 1970 could be lost to history, but Deep End very nearly was. For a long time it was unavailable but now, happily, it has been rescued, found, restored and re-released by the BFI. It's a huge relief too, because, even if it has dated quite considerably, this a fascinating and hypnotic film, filled with intriguing scenes, performances and shots, and it deserves better than to fall through the cracks in history.

Deep End starts out as a fairly typical coming of age, boy meets girl picture. 15 year old Mike (John Moulder Brown) gets his first job (as an attendant at a public bathhouse, one of several things that feel very anachronistic 41 years later) and promptly falls in love with his slightly older co-worker Susan (she's played by a 24 year old Jane Asher, so really, who can blame him). It's after this initial falling in love, and Mike's discovery that Susan is not just engaged, but cheating on her fiancé with at least one older man, that Deep End really becomes interesting; metamorphosing into a study of a steadily growing and rather dangerous obsession.

Polish director Soklimowski has a really interesting eye, and he makes what could easily be quite a visually drab tale endlessly fascinating to look at. From the way he uses colour to bring the film full circle (red paint used in two strikingly different moments at either end of the film) to his seedy, dirty looking London and the composition of his frames, this is always a visual feast, and I'm sure that further viewings will only deepen (no pun intended) what can be seen in this film. This is a film very much of its time; London had just about stopped swinging, and the long passage of the film that sees Mike follow Susan and her boyfriend, and wait for them to leave a club in the red light district, really brings that home.

The performances are effective. John Moulder Brown is very convincing as the naive and inexperienced Mike, who has his head turned by Susan. In one of the films best scenes Susan teases and flirts with Mike, and he doesn't quite know how to handle it; an awkward reaction that really transcends the years, because there's not a guy who doesn't know that feeling. Moulder Brown also manages to move the character on credibly, becoming more and more disturbing but giving a quietly chilling rather than an overblown 'I'm mad me' performance as Mike's obsession grows. Early in the film he follows Susan and her boyfriend to a porno cinema, and touches Susan up in a very creepy scene.

Jane Asher is just as strong. She's obviously jaw droppingly beautiful, but she also gives a great performance as Susan. There is both an ethereal unknowable quality about her, and a down to earth straightforwardness that she adopts with Mike in the early part of the film. It's an intoxicating blend, and it would be easy to become as obsessed as Mike does. I like the way that both the film and Asher's performance leave certain important questions unanswered, for instance, Mike steals a cutout of a topless girl who looks exactly like Susan from outside a strip club, but she will not confirm or deny that it is her, also left ambiguous is the exact type of relationship and arrangement she has with the men in her life (her fiancé and others).

It's hard to know where to file Deep End. It has surealist tendencies (the ending uses these especially well), moments of high comedy (Diana Dors' cameo as an amorous pool guest) and there is a vein of horror running right through it. However you categorise it, this is an intensely interesting film which I am sure will grow in stature as I rewatch it, which I plan to do many times when the BFI release it on Blu Ray in July. I suggest you discover it as soon as possible.

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