Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Deep End

Cheers to Flicker for screening a film that is not just obscure, but also thoughtful and intelligent (ghettoed on a Monday night nevertheless.) Since the flickskinny guys took over, I gave a pass on Supervan and the blackploitation films screened, although sadly I understand the logic that kitsch is more appealing these days than quality.

Deep End (dir. Jerzy Skolimowski, 1970) is a dark coming of age drama set in drab working-class England, damp with misery and frustrated sexuality. Comparisons to Harold and Maude and Rushmore are common, but are apt mostly for narrative similarity. Whereas Wes Anderson operates in a postmodern pop culture dreamland, and Harold and Maude proclaims an anarchic new era of liberation, Deep End describes a society in deep distress and psychological confusion, even madness. Mike, its 15 year old working class protagonist, may share a good natured quirkiness with Harold and Max Fischer, but his fate is far darker, his sexual obsession with an older woman less love than naked lust. Thrust into an adult world unprepared, he finds a devious double standard where the young are sexually exploited but forbidden full access to adult sexuality. When Mike pursues this contradiction to its conclusion, tragedy is inevitable.

Skolimowski's sense of mise en scene and tonal construction is compelling. The decaying landscape of crumbling Victorian bathhouses, red light districts, and dingy subways make for a sober palette broken dramatically by the passionate, expressive reds and yellows of Susan, Mike's object of desire. Extensive hand held shots explore the landscape while keeping the characters distant, alienated, despite their occasional flirtatious moments. This distance is further marked by the screenplay and John Moulder-Brown's portrayal of Mike that perhaps takes on a glint of madness too early, and runs out of steam by the spectacular final swimming pool scene. I liked Deep End, which I think deserves the tag of a lost classic. Although the symbolic use of color was a bit tired (hadn't Godard already established that red paint is blood in front of a camera?) there was a earnestness here that is still refreshing. In all the stories of sexual obsession that fill the multiplexes year after year, one rarely finds this nuanced perspective; namely, that such a story can be told, with verve and sympathy, outside of an aestheticized world where hard bodies and serial killers bounce off each other like popcorn.

Strayhorn magazine was the screening sponsor. I don't know much about it, but from what I've been told its a new local magazine bringing to light obscure and out of print film, music, and art. Right on. To track down a bootleg copy of a great film, and take the time to schedule, publicize, and screen, is righteous and should fill rooms, especially if given a better night of the week. My only wish would be that Flicker would get a new screen without wanky creases, and correct the keystone distortion somehow.