Nov 19, 2014
Maybe it is just me but, with a couple exceptions like Lindsay Anderson, I find most British cinema of the 1970s to be a sad joke, especially compared to the films that were made in West Germany and Italy at the same time, so it only seems fitting that one of the best UK productions of that time period was not only directed by a foreigner from backwards Slavic lands, but was also shot mostly in Munich, Germany, not to mention being a co-production with the dreaded ‘Jerry’ nation. Indeed, Deep End (1970) aka Starting Out directed by Polish cult auteur Jerzy Skolimowski (The Shout, Essential Killing) is, at least in my less than humble opinion, not only the greatest and most underrated film of the British 1970s, but also one of the most uncompromisingly scathing depictions of post-Swing London/post-counterculture London ever made. A true lost masterpiece that was rarely seen upon its release, especially outside of Great Britain due to poor distribution by its distributor, Skolimowski’s eccentrically erotic coming-of-age flick seems to have only gotten its due somewhat recently with the re-release of the work on DVD/Blu-ray in the summer of 2011 by BFI’s BFI Flipside series, yet some great auteur filmmakers have lauded the film, with David Lynch notably remarking in a 1982 interview with NME: “I don't like color movies and I can hardly think about color. It really cheapens things for me and there's never been a color movie I've freaked out over except one, this thing called Deep End, which had really great art direction.” Skolimowski’s second non-Polish film following the similarly thematically themed French-language Belgian comedy Le départ (1967) aka The Departure starring La Nouvelle Vague icon Jean-Pierre Léaud, Deep End is a wickedly wonderful and waywardly wanton virtual celluloid botched orgasm where a gawky 15-year-old turd of a boy has an ultimately tragic and even deranged sexual awakening after starting a super servile job at a whorehouse-like bathroom house where he is introduced to the birds and the bees by a bunch of old and horny sexually repressed hags and a somewhat sadomasochistic young whore who exploits the naive teen’s youthful crush as a parasitic means to inflate her self-esteem, as well as a means to derive a regular empowering dose of sadistic glee and petty manipulation.
Starring the Beatles frontman Paul McCartney’s one-time fiancee Jane Asher (The Masque of the Red Death, Alfie) as the cruel redheaded cocktease that exploits the budding sexuality and erratic hormones of the hopelessly shy and seemingly half-autistic teenage protagonist, as well as blonde bombshell Diana ‘The British Marilyn Monroe’ Dors (Carol Reed’s A Kid for Two Farthings, Tread Softly Stranger), Skolimowski’s darkly and sardonically mirthful work makes a major mockery of the social changes that occurred as a result of the counterculture movement and so-called sexual liberation, as a film where sex, which is used as a tyrannical tool of cryptic-power, is about as sacred as a public communal urinal and where age, maturity, and professional prestige are just prerequisites for having free reign to defile a certain demographic of the general population. A sort of playfully venomous antidote to superlatively soulless Semitic teen sex comedies like American Pie (1999) and the would-be-angst-ridden dramedies of weak ass wasp wuss John Hughes, Deep End is a somewhat nihilistic quasi-arthouse shocker of the rather rude and gritty sort that almost seems to parody the then trendy ‘social realist’ works of its time like Tony Richardson’s A Taste of Honey (1961), Lindsay Anderson’s This Sporting Life (1963), Ken Loach’s Poor Cow (1967) and Kes (1969), and Barney Platts-Mills’ Bronco Bullfrog (1969), as it floods kitchen-sink-realism with absurdism, surrealism, and a mean and grimy yet kaleidoscopic and relatively minimalistic mise-en-scène that is misleadingly simplistic. Indeed, Deep End makes Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) seem like a second-rate episode of Happy Days by comparison. Featuring melodically melancholy music by Cat Stevens and raw rock by krautrockers Can and set in Soho, London, the film takes a beauteously brutal look at the dark side of sexual liberation without preaching to anyone, let alone to the choir.
Everything changes for clumsy, goofy, and exceedingly awkward 15-year-old lower-middle class Brit boy and naive high school dropout Mike (John Moulder-Brown of Luchino Visconti’s 1972 epic Ludwig and the underrated 1969 Spanish proto-slasher horror flick The House That Screams aka La residencia by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador) when he decides to take a job as an ‘attendant’ aka ‘softcore whore’ at an offbeat and seemingly crumbling London-based bathhouse where sex is on everyone’s mind and swimming is just a pretext for carrying out fantasies with the poorly paid employees of the dubious establishment. For example, Mike’s first customer is a busty, if not somewhat overweight, middle-aged blonde (British screen alpha-whore Diana Dors) who more or less manages to achieve an orgasm by violently rubbing the teen’s head into her almost terrifying tits and and who rambles on about famous soccer players ‘scoring’ in an absurdly salacious fashion. Needless to say, little Mike is terrified by the experience with the carnally carnivorous old bird, but he soon learns from his externally gorgeous yet internally ugly co-worker Susan (Jane Asher)—a dangerously ravishing 25-year-old redhead who uses her body to get gifts and special treatment from various older men despite the fact she has a fiancé and who the protagonist will ultimately tragically fall in love with—that fulfilling the sexual desires of the patrons is an unofficial part of their job description and to “Just go along with the gag…that’s all they want.” When Mike’s parents unexpectedly show up at the bathhouse, Susan reveals her innate jealous and bitchy character by remarking to her co-worker, “Your mother’s a silly old cow!” When Mike says the same thing to Susan about her mother, she replies “She can’t be. She’s dead,” thus revealing the potential source of her bitchy and whorish behavior. Despite the fact that Susan gets a gang of boys to beat him up and throw him into a pool, Mike more or less falls in love with her at first sight, even daydreaming about her unclad body swimming under the water after the goons hurl him into the pool. Susan loves to sadistically tease Mike and even takes a British government propaganda poster of a pregnant man (!) captioned with, “Would you be more careful if it was you that was pregnant?” and drapes it over the teen’s body to make him seem like he has a baby in his belly, thus emasculating him in the process. Indeed, the more Mike demonstrates his undying devotion and infatuation to Susan, the more she ridicules and cockteases the poor lad. Of course, a young man can only handle blue balls for so long before he explodes as the shocking conclusion of Deep End savagely demonstrates.
Of course, Mike is not the only one that Susan teases, as she often ridicules a blonde middle-aged spinster cashier (German actress Erica Beer of Wolfgang Liebeneiner’s 1956 film Waldwinter aka Winter in the Woods and George Seaton’s 1962 war flick The Counterfeit Traitor), even hatefully stating to her, “I’m very lucky to not have your weight problem. I can eat almost anything” while showing off a chocolate sundae. In fact, Susan is such a seasoned sadist that she lures in a dog just so she can maliciously hit it over the head with a large snowball. When Mike discovers that Susan has a fiancé named Chris (Christopher Sandford), he begins stalking the two, even following them to a sleazy Red Light district X-rated theater to a screening of an pseudo-scientific sexploitation flick called Dr. Lotte Fiedler’s The Science of Sex where a big bosomed blonde bimbo pseudo-doctor with a fake Teutonic accent ridiculously declares that women have “3,267 erogenic zones.” While the movie is playing, Mike, who is seated behind the couple, brings a smile to Susan’s face after he begins groping her tits while her unwitting fiancé watches on. Of course, being a scheming slut who derives a sadistic kick from getting her many ‘gentlemen callers’ in trouble, Susan eventually slaps Mike on the face, complains “this bloody bastard’s touching me up,” and demands that her fiancé tell the movie theater manager who calls the police. While Susan demands that there be criminals charges placed against Mike (even though she French kisses him while her fiancé is getting the manager), she and her boyfriend leave before they can be taken. After being released by the police, Mike goes by Susan’s apartment and stalks her fiancé Chris when he leaves, even accusing him of trying to molest him after running into a police officer. Indeed, in a warped sort of way, Susan becomes Mike’s teacher, as the lad soon begins to not only lie and cheat, but also learns that he has a masochistic streak that compels him to become more and more obsessed with a sadistic little bitch who loves to use and abuse men, even when it is not monetarily or materially beneficial.
When Mike discovers that his would-be-ladylove not only has a fiancé, but is also carrying on a lurid love affair with his ex-PE teacher (Karl Michael Vogler of Downhill Racer (1969) and Patton (1970))—a man who enjoys touching the youthful derrieres of underage girls to whom he gives swim instruction at the bathhouse—he goes berserk and pulls the fire alarm while the two are having sex in one of the bathrooms. As revenge, Susan uses the PE teacher’s car to run over Mike’s bike. When the protagonist’s high school crush Kathy (Anita Lochner of Erwin Keusch’s Das Brot des Bäckers (1977) aka Baker’s Bread and the popular German detective TV series Derrick (1974-1998)) shows up at the bathhouse and attempts to seduce him by disrobing and putting his hand on her small teenage tit, Mike completely blows her off and reveals to the viewer how obsessed he has become with Susan by stating to his ex-crush, “I don’t know how to explain. It’s not you, you’re all right. It’s just that…I don’t know, all that old scene seems so strange now. As if it were someone else, not me at all. I’m sorry, Kathy.” Needless to say, Mike continues stalking Susan and her fiancé around the Red Light district. When Mike finds a life-size cardboard cutout of a topless woman named ‘Angelica’ that may or may not be Susan in front of a strip joint, he steals it and then runs inside a whorehouse after men begin chasing him where he meets a used-up middle-aged whore who tries her darnedest to take the boy’s money. In fact, the whore even offers to hold the cardboard cutout of ‘Angelica’ while Mike screws her so he can pretend to make love to his beloved, but the bashful lad opts out and is told by the hooker he must pay her anyway because, as she complains, “you’ve had my time, my drink, my emotions. You made me nervous.” In between stalking Susan, Mike routinely buys hotdogs from a Chinese vendor in a rather hilarious recurring scene. When Mike spots Susan get in a fight with her boyfriend and head to the subway by herself, he follows her there and confronts her with the life-size cardboard cutout that may or may not be her. To torture Mike, Susan does not deny that she is the one in the cardboard cutout, though she does state, “I’m much worse than that.” After his little spat with Susan in the subway, Mike visits the bathhouse during after hours and goes skinny-dipping with the ‘Angelica’ cardboard cutout that night while fantasizing that he is actually swimming with Susan. Little does Mike realize that he will soon be caressing Susan’s unclad body in the pool late at night, though the experience will be nowhere near as pleasurable as he imagined.
After beating his ex-classmates in a race during one of his ex-teacher’s gym classes in a pathetic attempt to show off in front of Susan, Mike decides to take more desperate measures to appeal to the affection of his lecherous love interest. Since Susan has borrowed the PE teacher’s car, Mike decides to place a broken bottle under the tire of the automobile. After the car receives a flat, Mike pops out from hiding and brags about his delinquent actions to Susan, who becomes so enraged that she calls the protagonist a “little bastard” and punches him in the face, thus breaking one of his teeth. As the two soon learn, it was not actually Mike’s tooth that was broken, but Susan’s fancy engagement ring, which proves impossible to find since the diamond that fell off the ring was lost in the snow. Ultimately, the two have the somewhat odd idea to carry the snow back to the bathhouse so they can melt it under the lights inside in the hope of finding the lost diamond in the process. While melting the snow in the deep end of the empty bathhouse, the PE teacher arrives and demands his car keys and that Susan leave with him, but she becomes enraged by his attitude and mocks his sexual prowess (or lack thereof) by claiming that he screws teenage virgins because of lack of carnal knowledge (during the scene, Susan also reveals the teacher deflowered her, hence her contempt for men). After the PE teacher leaves, Mike manages to find the diamond while Susan calls her fiancé to tell him that she will be late. When Susan gets off the phone, she finds Mike lying on the ground naked with the diamond on his tongue. Realizing that Mike wants her body in return for the diamond, Susan strips completely naked and is soon given the glistening rock without so much as having to give a blow job or even allow the boy to touch her body. When Susan notices Mike lying in a fetal position and looking so pathetically forlorn, she decides to give him a sympathy fuck, but when the virginal boy attempts to mount his fair lady, he fails to rise to the occasion. After the failed sex session, Susan calls her fiancé to tell him to come pick her up, but Mike is adamant about consummating the dream sex session that he has worked for so long to obtain and begins hassling the girl. Meanwhile, the bathhouse handyman who has no idea that Susan and Mike are there turns on a pipe valve, which begins to fill the pool with water while the protagonist becomes increasingly erratic in his attempts to coerce his love interest into coitus. When Susan begins to climb out of the pool via the ladder, Mike becomes enraged and pushes a swinging lamp at her, in the process accidentally knocking over a bucket of red paint which hits the lecherous lady in the head, thus fatally wounding her. While red blood begins to darken the pool water, Susan’s blood also dilutes the water. In a rather darkly humorous scene, Mike caresses Susan’s seemingly postmortem body while the Cat Stevens’ song “But I Might Die Tonight” plays in the background.
Unquestionably, one would be hard-pressed to find a coming-of-age flick with such a senselessly tragic ending as Deep End which, as various IMDB.com user reviews demonstrate, has been known to irk certain less sophisticated and/or more sensitive viewers. As auteur Jerzy Skolimowski reveals in the ‘making-of’ featurette Starting Out included with the 3-disc Blu-ray release of the film, an American film critic asked him after a San Francisco screening of the film, “Why did you ruin such a lovely film?,” as he and the various other spectators there were quite perturbed by the film’s uniquely unhappy ending. Apparently inspired by a true story, Skolimowski built the storyline around the murder and not the other way around as so many misguided viewers seem to suspect. Of course, considering Deep End begins with blood dripping during the opening title screen and features various glaring shots where red blood is heavily emphasized in a symbolic fashion, the ending of the film does not really come out of nowhere as many reviewers of the work oftentimes claim (notably, the original poster art for the American Paramount release of the film makes it seem like a bloody horror film). Immaculately cast in virtually any way you look at it, Skolimowski’s film owes much of its particular potency to its lead actors, especially Jane Asher’s unwavering bitchy and sadistic behavior which is so believable that I was almost happy when her character dies tragically in the end at the hands of a young degenerate who probably would not be beyond necrophilia as arguably hinted at during the final shot of the film. Of course, as an upper-class woman who suffered the internationally broadcasted shame of walking in on her world famous fiancé Paul McCartney in bed with a remarkably less attractive American Jewess (American scriptwriter Francie Schwartz, who detailed the incident in her 1972 autobiography Body Count) and the suicide of her famous physician father Richard Asher—an endocrinologist and hematologist, who is best known for naming and detailing Münchausen syndrome—in 1969, Asher was probably not in the best of spirits nor happy with men when she starred in Skolimowski’s film, so one can certainly argue that her personal trauma added to the quality of her striking and undeniably unforgettable performance. Deep End is easily the best British film about ‘unnatural love’ featuring a seemingly Asperger-plagued antihero since Michael Powell’s masterpiece Peeping Tom (1960), as well as a kindred celluloid spirit to the work of German New Cinema alpha-auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder with its central theme of master-slave power relations between the sexes and hysterically melodramatic depiction of the lumpenprole reacting violently due to not being able to properly articulate themselves, as well as a more handsome cinematic brother to gutter auteur Andy Milligan’s London-based X-rated anti-romance Nightbirds (1970) in terms of its delightfully debasing depiction of a young man being seduced and emotionally destroyed by a sadistic older woman. Indeed, if you have a teenage son or little brother who is enslaved to their overwhelming hormones and cannot get some manipulative little floozy out of their mind, divert them from the phony Hebraic pseudo-hedonistic Shiksa-fetishizing high-jinks of American Pie and other related scatological kosher coming-of-age crud and force them to dive into the delightfully dejecting depths of Deep End.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 6:16 AM
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