Friday, 5 March 2010

Deep End (1970)

This title does not refer to the relatively mainstream Tilda Swinton film of the same name from 2001, but to this rather stranger and more obscure movie from Polish director, Jerzy Skolimowski -- his second English-language feature after the minor historical romp, "The Adventures of Gerard". It brings together three interesting talents, none of whom have fulfilled their early promise, to create a dark black coming-of-age film of teenaged angst and obsession.

Skolimowski was a close friend of two other Polish directors, Roman Polanski and Andrzej Wajda, but did not have as prolific or showy a career as either of them, and in fact made no movies between 1991 and 2008, filling in as a writer, painter, and actor. Of the two leads, 17-year old John Moulder-Brown, playing a 15-year old school-leaver on his first job, had small parts in films -- often uncredited -- since early childhood, but apart from a very showy role in Visconti's 1972 "Ludwig" has had only a patchy TV-role filmography since. Jane Asher was considered one of the up-and-coming actresses of the day and she of the gorgeous red hair graced a number of late-60s/early 70's outings; while she still makes occasional TV appearances, she is today better known as the long-term wife of cartoonist Gerald Scarfe and the baker of imaginative party cakes.

In this movie, Moulder-Brown has found work as an attendant at a local swimming-pool-cum-bathhouse -- a fixture of post-war British townscapes -- where Asher also works in the ladies' section. She plays a typical "dolly-bird" of the period, scantily clothed and sexually promiscuous. She befriends the young man, teaching him the ropes of the job, and he in turn becomes besotted with her. He follows her about, makes not-so-veiled advances, and can not understand the affections she shows to her somewhat dubious "fiancee" and to a skirt-chasing married teacher who surreptitiously fondles the young female students he brings to the pool. The first half of the movie is rather disjointed and is more a series of unrelated incidents at work. The second half picks up rather as the young man stalks Asher and beau to a nightclub, which he is too young to enter, spends his waiting-time munching hot-dogs from street vendor Burt Kwouk (long before his "Pink Panther" fame) and steals a life-size cardboard figurine from outside a strip club, which he decides is the spitting image of his love. There is then a long and rather humourous sequence where Asher has lost the wee diamond from her new engagement ring in the snow and the pair of them bag-up the dirty snow, take it to the empty swimming pool, and melt lumps of it in an electric kettle in the hope of finding the nearly invisible gem. When the youth manages to locate it, he anticipates a sexual reward, before the chilling and rather unexpected final scenes.

While interesting overall and certainly worth a view, I didn't find it a particularly well-made movie, too patchy, with parts shot at a local London bathhouse and much of it shot in Germany for some reason (I think German finance was involved). Apart from the leads and Kwouk's brief appearance, the only other vaguely well-known actor was Diana Dors in an excruciatingly embarrassing cameo as a rather overripe and sexually voracious bathhouse client coming on to the horrified young man. Parts of the film are inexplicably surreal; for example, at one stage a nude female swimmer is seen amongst the pool's regular patrons, but the overall tone of the movie is bogged down in prosaic reality...and the terrifying ending seems to come out of nowhere.

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