Wednesday 31 August 2011


(Jerzy Skolimowski, 1970)

An odd and unique product of the British film industry from a transitional period in its history, this arthouse comedy-drama, directed by a Pole and influenced by the European cinema which had risen to International prominence during the 1960s, retains a timeless, utterly distinctive quality. The story of a 15 -year old school leavers first job, at a Public Baths in late 60s London, and his infatuation with an attractive, older, sexually liberated colleague, Deep End nimbly walks the line between its comedic impulses and the darker heart of the material while managing to remain both accessible and ambitious in a manner most modern cinema would never even attempt.
Skolimowski's direction is terrific, plainly the work of a man in love with the exciting possibilities of the medium. With the aid of Charly Steinberger's vivid cinematography, which fairly throbs with colour, he makes Deep End a fascinating, stimulating visual experience. The chief location, the run-down baths, is atmospheric and evocative, all flaking paint in bright shades of green and red, and Skolimowski capitalises on it to use colour and composition to echo his character's states of mind without ever effecting the power of his storytelling. The camerawork is largely handheld, making the emotional drama between the main characters sometimes uncomfortably intimate. The two leads - John Moulder-Brown as fresh-faced Mike, struggling with his sexuality and emotions, and a revelatory Jane Asher, complicated, intelligent, cruel and extremely sexy as Sue -are both great and their chemistry feels unforced.
Diana Dors' cameo as a lecherous older woman who basically uses a stunned Mike as a sex-toy in an intense, funny scene shot in what looks like one lengthy take puts her fading looks but unmistakably sultry appeal to excellent use.
Skolimowski finds surreal imagery in his environment throughout, giving the film a real charge of unpredictable cinematic energy. The final scene is perhaps the finest example of this. One the one hand, its an arty, almost pretentious visual metaphor. But the narrative and location make it work, make it unavoidable, even.
There is also Skolimowski's view of London to consider. His outsiders gaze finds coldness in its streets but colour and warmth in nocturnal Soho, and the use of many dubbed German actors - the film was mainly shot in Munich - adds a layer of distance to our experience of it. It has a markedly strange feel throughout, a great part of its appeal, as is the soundtrack. Can's "Mother Sky" is chopped up and used at different moments throughout, to memorable effect, alongside Cat Stevens, no less effective over the opening and closing credits.

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