Dec 24, 2014

The Moon Over the Alley




Nearly three years ago, I saw a little known British cult masterpiece called Duffer (1971) about a rather naïve and seemingly half-autistic young bisexual twink who allows himself to be the personal sexual plaything of both a sadistic middle-aged sodomite with a rather repugnant worm fetish and a kind yet chubby over-the-hill prostitute in what one might describe as the truest of bizarre love triangles. Needless to say, when I discovered that one of the film’s two Canadian expatriate co-directors, Joseph Despins, was also responsible for directing a gritty black-and-white lumpenprole musical, The Moon Over the Alley (1976), I had to hunt it down, which was not exactly that hard considering it was included with the BFI Flipside DVD/Blu-ray release of Duffer. Notably, the musical was penned by Duffer co-director and star William Dumaresq, who demonstrated a natural knack for sexually torturing a young man onscreen despite the fact that it was the first (and ultimately the last) acting role he ever had. I probably cannot think of a cinematic persuasion that I would be less interested in enduring than that of a British multicultural musical set in a London ghetto full of beatniks, bums, blacks, and bastard kids haunting the streets like lost souls, but of course, Despins’ film is no phony Hebraic Hollywood movie and takes a more honest and, in turn, politically incorrect approach to shitty city living where the only harmony present is in the form of crude folk and soul songs sung in sleazy strip clubs, in front of butcher houses, and on dilapidated park benches. Set in a world where, to quote the eponymous song sung by Joanne Brown, “the moon over the alley makes the world seem sad,” the film might be described as a work of ‘proletariansploitation’ were it not for auteur Despins’ quite discernible empathy for his hopelessly disenfranchised and forlorn characters who have been foredoomed by their own birthright as perennially struggling members of the so-called ‘lumpenproletariat.’ Featuring a musically eclectic score by screenwriter Dumaresq's lifelong collaborator, Grammy Award winning Canadian composer Galt MacDermot of Hair fame, The Moon Over the Alley is a left-leaning work for sure, but not in the college lobotomized ‘social justice warrior’ or Frankfurt School fanboy sort of way, as a work that depicts the rarely good, the oftentimes bad, and the uniquely ugly in regard to London’s most desperate social bottomfeeders. More oriented towards magic realism than kitchen sink realism that was popular among British filmmakers of that time, The Moon Over the Alley manages to be both gritty yet stylish and even somewhat expressionistic as a work that owes more credit to Fritz Lang and G.W. Pabst than Ken Loach and Tony Richardson. Somewhat like a 1970s British take on Fritz Lang’s M (1931) minus the serial killer (although it does have a pedo and a gang of killers!) as penned by a less annoying Brit Bertolt Brecht and directed by a less cynical and more sentimental Robert Altman, Despins' second feature is set in a sort of neo-Dickensian dystopia inhabited by an eclectic collection of poor working-class characters, including a tough and equally tyrannical Teutonic landlady who looks like she was spawned from an American trailer park, a homesick Indian who can only dream of Calcutta and is thoroughly convinced the world is about to end as a result of the moon supposedly being covered in blood, a drunken Irish bartender who stereotypically beats his fiancée and hates England, and a motley crew of droog-like juvenile delinquents that have a propensity for pernicious things like gang-rape and murder. Sentimental without being sappy or phony, The Moon Over the Alley is surely the rare kind of arthouse film about the working-class that could actually be enjoyed by the working-class, thus making for a work that would probably leave a bitter taste in the mouth of pathologically pedantic New York City liberal types who look at people, especially poor people, as statistics and who refuse to believe that there are whites struggling in ghettos. 




 The Moon Over the Alley opens with a truly odd couple—a large and in charge 50-something-year old hobo lady named Sybil (Doris Fishwick) and her much younger and shorter intellectually-challenged beau Akki (Peter Farrell)—walking down a dark London alleyway under the moonlight. As Sybil tells her beloved dullard boy, “…in a little while, you will see that the moon won’t be so bright as it is now. Clouds will cover it…clouds will cover it and spirits will cover it. It will love that, but it will lose in days to come […] it will lose more and more of itself, it will get broke up there. I hope it won’t break us.” As Sybil adds in her particular brand of peasant poetry, “the moon makes you play…the moon makes me sing…the moon means everything to what we do…or don’t do,” and indeed, the fuller the moon gets, the crazier the dirt poor people in the Notting Hill section of London seem to get. The film mainly focuses on the borderline destitute inhabitants of a dilapidated boardinghouse owned by a rough acting and looking German woman named Bertha Gusset (Erna May, who played the sweetheart prostitute ‘Your Gracie’ in Duffer) and her kind but somewhat cuckolded and feeble-minded husband Bert (John Gay), who have a young and considerably gawky teenage son named Ronnie (Patrick Murray, who went on to play small roles in Brit cult flicks like Alan Clarke’s Scum (1979) and Brian Gibson’s Breaking Glass (1980)). Bertha acts rude and aggressive to everyone, including her son, at whom she screams, “wake up, you good for nothing!” right in front of his face to wake him up, though she does tend to get in a happy mood anytime one of her favorite songs comes on the radio to the extent where she starts singing, dancing, and even kissing her loved ones. Despite having an obscenely bitchy mother, Ronnie is a fairly nice fellow who has a little girlfriend named Nellie Tudge (Lesley Roach of the BBC children’s fantasy show Jackanory (1965–1996)) in what is a sort of Romeo and Juliet-esque relationship, as the two teenage lovebird’s mothers hate each other. 




 If Bertha is a rude kraut cunt, Nellie’s mother Ethel (Joan Geary of Fräulein Doktor (1969)) is a two-faced busybody bitch who talks trash in secret to her emasculated tobacco shop owner hubby Joe (Norman Mitchell of the Hammer horror flick Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)), who seems rather turned-off by his wife's pathological negativity but does not have the testicular fortitude to stand up to her. Ethel is irked that her daughter is dating Ronnie, who in her mind is “the son of his mother” and a half-kraut. Indeed, Ethel hates krauts and thinks that all Germans are Nazis, stating in regard to Bertha, “Don’t tell me Hitler’s dead. If he is dead, he won’t lie down. Don’t tell me Hitler’s lying down because I know different…Fascists just a stones throw away from here.” Although she still speaks broken English, Bertha has been living in England for over three decades and hates foreigners more than the average Brit. When a seemingly deranged middle-aged Hindu fellow comes up to her while she is washing off the front porch of her house, asks her for a room for “just one night,” and eccentrically states, “These stairs are wet! What is happening to the earth? Do you not glimpse in the cracks of the pavement? The hidden worth…the values hidden here. We shall all be dead tomorrow. I’m faraway from home…,” Bertha becomes quite agitated and tells him that she has no problem with colored folks but that she refuses to rent out a room to him. After declaring, “In Calcutta where I was born and educated, life is worse than this…but it is still better in Calcutta” and describing how there will be a “drop of blood on the moon tonight,” the Indian eccentric goes on his merry way while continuing to mumble bizarre gibberish.  To her minor credit, Bertha has good reason to be a bitch because a government bureaucrat came by her house and told her that her house has been scheduled to be demolished in one year’s time, which is a complete and utter outrage since she and her hubby rightfully own the building and should not have their increasingly socialistic government dictate to them what they can and cannot do with their own property. 




 Probably the only thing that all the inhabitants of the boardinghouse have in common is that they are all poor and, at least to some extent, miserable to the point where they seem used to feeling like shit all the time. Jack MacMahon (Sean Caffrey of Val Guest’s Hammer dinosaur flick When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970)) is a stereotypical Irish drunkard with a shitty attitude in his mid-30s who works as a bartender and has no problem beating up his longtime fiancée Belinda (Sharon Forester) if she gets out of line. When Belinda shows up outside of her fiancé’s boardinghouse sporting a tacky bleach blonde wig and dressed like a cheap hooker, Jack complains “you seem like a changed person” and looks at her if shes an alien. Despite turning 30 soon, Belinda got engaged to Jack when she was 12 and he was 15, but her boy toy will only agree to marry her when she gets enough money to afford a proper apartment for both of them, so she has taken it upon herself to save up enough money to buy a suitable flat by stripping in the red light district. When Jack calls Belinda a “fucking little whore” and smacks the shit out of her because of her new choice of employment, Bertha runs in and smacks the shit out of him, even knocking him out with a single blow, thus demonstrating that an Irish man is no match for a German woman. The newest tenants of the boardinghouse are a Jamaican negro couple, which include the young patriarch ‘Washington,’ his wife, and their baby son ‘Little Washington.’ They live in the upstairs apartment of the boardinghouse with two other black families and Washington has just started working at the same bar as Jack, though they don’t realize that they are neighbors until they begin shooting the shit together. Unquestionably, the creepiest, most introverted, and lonely person living in the boardinghouse is a grotesquely elderly cadaver-like fellow named Mr. Deray (Basil Clarke, who appeared in P.J. Hogan’s Muriel's Wedding (1994)) who lives with rats in squalor and who is an assumed pedophile who spends most of his time stalking and crudely staring at prepubescent little girls, especially when no other adults are around. 




 When Mr. Deray spots a lonely little girl named Katie (played by stunt motorcyclist and top Hollywood stuntwoman Debbie Evans of Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) and countless other Hollywood blockbusters when she was a fairly chubby little girl), he goes up to her in a supremely creepy fashion and tries to ply her with candy by sinisterly asking her if she “wants sweets,” but luckily the little lass has enough intuition to sense that he is a sexual predator with unsavory intentions. Katie is outside on the street by herself in a less than safe area because her mother is a floozy and alcoholic who is such a heartless woman that she remarks regarding her progeny while she is standing right there to some guy she has just picked up at a bar, “you wouldn’t think she was mine, would you? That’s the trouble with having a kid like that…I mean she’s got no spirit…that’s what’s wrong with her.”  Of course, Katie's lack of spirit is probably the result of the fact that she has no father and her mother is a self-centered slut who cares more about getting banged by random bros that she meets at the bar than properly taking care of her daughter and watching out for her safety.  Luckily, some dirty hippies cheer up Katie and give her “spirit” by teaching her to sing a folk song. When a gang of violent boys spot Mr. Deray gawking at little Katie in a less than savory fashion while she sings, they decide to hunt him down and beat him to a bloody pulp with the utmost malice.  On the other side of town, McDrunk Jack goes searching for his fiancee in various seedy bars and strip clubs and when he eventually spots her singing and dancing on stage as part of a girlish schoolgirl-like quartet, she becomes so embarrassed that she stops singing and dancing mid-performance and even forgets to show off her derriere at the end of the song like the rest of her co-dancers.  After the bawdy burlesque routine, Jack, who is now angrier than a latent lesbian nun in a porno theater, charges the stage and nonsensically attacks the girls, thus resulting in him being subsequently severely beaten by the bouncer of the club.  Luckily for Jack, his faithful fiancee comes out and comforts him while he is lying in the middle of the street after being beaten to a bloody pulp.  Indeed, in the proletarian world, it seems like people are more liable to stay with you no matter how big of a dick you act like, as people have nothing but each other and thus have a much greater asshole tolerance.




 Meanwhile, Ronnie takes his quasi-girlfriend Nellie for a romantic stroll and pathetically tries to talk her into having sex, but she is too afraid, though she does end up losing her virginity that night, albeit in a heinous fashion that she and her boy toy probably never thought imaginable. Indeed, the same gang of violent hoodlums that brutally assaulted Mr. Deray attack Ronnie and ultimately beat him good and bloody while forcing him to watch his beloved girlfriend Nellie being brutally raped while a dirty adult hippie secretly watches on via a crack in his door and does nothing to help the couple, thus signifying the general apathy of people in Notting Hill when it comes to violent crimes. Meanwhile back at the boardinghouse, an aspiring American singer named Jim (Leroy Hyde)—a fellow that is symbolic of the delusional view that yanks have of England as a dimwitted yet well-meaning dude with a lot of excess cash who decided to move to the UK because he thought it would be easier for him to become a famous folk singer since, after all, the Beatles are from there, and who has willingly paid an inflated rate to live underneath the stairs of the building—spots brutalized and bloody Mr. Deray stumble into the building and immediately informs slumlord Bertha when the old fart refuses help and locks himself inside his apartment. Ultimately, Bertha and Jim find Mr. Deray’s corpse in his apartment and are shocked to see that the old dead pedo has a horrified expression on his lifeless face, as if he saw the Grim Reaper before being sent straight to hell. Meanwhile, since their daughter is late coming home, Nellie’s parents go looking for her and Ronnie, who are ultimately found with the help of hobo couple Sybil and Akki, who were also once victims of the youth gang's savagery.  As it turns out, Ronnie was so brutally beaten by the boy gang that he suffered a small skull fracture and has totally lost vision in one of his eyes. In the end, the government forces the tenants to move out of the boardinghouse and the building his destroyed to make way for Soviet style public housing. 




 Notably, near the beginning of The Moon Over the Alley, teenage lovers Ronnie and Nellie go on a date at a movie theater where they see the once-controversial British cult flick It Happened Here: The Story of Hitler's England (1964) co-directed by film historian/documentarian Kevin Brownlow and military uniform expert Andrew Mollo, which depicts an alternate historical scenario where Britain has been occupied by Nazi Germany. Unquestionably, after watching Joseph Despins’ film, I cannot help but think that England would have been better off if the Third Reich had taken over the country and won the war, as that would have certainly beat the multicultural nightmare depicted in The Moon Over the Alley where educated Indians are thrown into near insanity due to homesickness and where poor sub-literate negroes and perennially pissed off mick drunkards are forced to fight over lousy jobs and stale bread crumbs. Of course, if the film was remade today in an authentic way (which would never happen in a million years considering the sort of authoritarian political correctness that prevails today in less than jolly old England), the central ghetto setting would be a no-go-zone for whites and even police that is inhabited by hostile Islamic Arabs and Pakis who are not beneath raping preteen white girls and forcing them into sex slavery. In The Moon Over the Alley, the only racial tension is caused by whites and white cops, but overall the ghetto is depicted as a largely culturally pluralistic place where everyone is equally poor and similarly struggling, thus making it seem like some sort of multicultural utopia could somehow spring up under the right circumstances, which is pure wishful thinking of the deluded far-leftist idealist sort. Although I absolutely loathe musicals and found most of the songs in the flick to be nothing short of auditory torture, the musical numbers in The Moon Over the Alley are seamlessly interwoven into the film’s narrative to the point where I never really became conscious of the fact that I was watching a quasi-musical, as the work is more of a postcolonial Dickensian parable depicting the excess rabble of a once great but now pre-apocalyptic empire than some sort of pornographically structured celluloid sing-and-dance-a-thon like Guys and Dolls (1955) or West Side Story (1961). Unquestionably, for better or worse, there is no other film quite like Despins’ work, which even features a sort of proto-Goth scene featuring a holocaust survivor-esque tranny doing a spooky drag show in pancake makeup at a bar fittingly called ‘Danse Macabre.’  Of course, one can only wonder if certain members of British Goth/deathrock bands like Bauhaus, Sex Gang Children, and the Virgin Prunes saw the film, though I certainly would not be surprised if they did (notably, Despins and Dumaresq two films were released on DVD/Blu-ray by the BFI largely as a result of industrial musician Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson of Throbbing Gristle/Coil championing Duffer).  Indeed, in a strange sort of inexplicable fashion, The Moon Over the Alley feels like a work of proletarian Gothic horror, albeit with a crummy old boardinghouse instead of a haunted castle and realistic human ‘monsters’ instead of archetypical supernatural beings.  After all, the characters in the film do not need to watch horror films, as they live in a virtual living hell where their neighbors are much more scarier than Christopher Lee or Boris Karloff.  I noticed that a lot of reviewers have written that Duffer and The Moon Over the Alley could not be more different types of films, yet to me, they both captured the same sort of dispiriting spirit of impending doom and abject misery that plagued white London ghettos during the 1970s, although I guess one could argue the latter work is more ‘lighthearted,’ if only because it features catchy songs and does not feature man-on-boy sexual sadism and baby corpses being disposed of in dumpsters, among other things. Not surprisingly considering the marginality of their work together, Despins and Dumaresq would never collaborate on another film after The Moon Over the Alley, which is a shame considering they could have certainly become a sort of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger of the underground cult/arthouse world.



-Ty E

11 comments:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Bloody British made garbage.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I liked the shot of the girls showing their bums, i actually jerked-off to that image because, although it was barely even pornographic, it took me by surprise as i was reading the reveiw (and i was obviously already incredibly turned on by the idea of the old geezer molesting the sexy little girls!), i imagined they were all waiting in line to be bummed-off by me ! ! !, that really was a good wank for Christmas Eve, cheers for including the image my old mate. Although it still doesn`t excuse this film for being British made crap obviously ! ! !.

Jennifer Croissant said...

What a strange and unpleasant choice for Christmas Eve, lets hope for something better tomorrow, Olivia Hussey and Keir Dullea perhaps.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Enjoying your chocolates and mince pies Ty E!, i`ve got chocolate biscuits and pickled onions ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

The last two lines of the 4th paragraph drove me absolutely wild with lust and desire when i read them.

teddy crescendo said...

Who`d have guessed that "Jackanory" would ever be girl-tioned on this site ! ! !

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, who`d have thought that amongst these 7 paragraphs of British related horse-shit there would still be a quite magical Heather O`Rourke connection, did you spot it ?...thats right...when you girl-tioned that British (although at least thankfully heterosexual) turd Brian Gib-daughter, he directed Poltergeist II in the summer of `85. He would`ve been very close to Heather for 8 or 10 weeks so he would`ve had some truly magical memories of being around THE most beautiful girl who ever lived, although Gib-daughter himself snuffed it almost 11 years ago so all those incredible memories would`ve been snuffed out with him unfortunately. Hey, i just re-twat-ered, in `85 Pauline Hickey was 17...! ! !...COR...WOW...WEY-HEY...Oh those tits, what truly amazing tits they were ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

The worthless cunts who beat up Mr. Deray are like the witch finders from 300 years ago, think about it Ty E, think about it my old mate. "THE TIME OF SEXUAL REPRESSION" will soon be over and so-called pedophilia will become completely normalised and accepted with-in our society, when that day finally arrives it will be THE greatest day in the entire history of the universe.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, theres a bizarre contra-twat-tion with regards to a couple of the pictures that you used to accompany the reveiw, first theres the gorgeous sexy birds showing their bums that i enjoyed so much earlier, but then theres the image of the silly bastards who`ve just beaten someone up. The girls showing their bums is perfect but in the other image its like those wankers are saying: "We are a direct product of "THE TIME OF SEXUAL REPRESSION" that we were all unfortunate enough to be born into, we prefer Hatred and violence over love and sex and lies and hypocrisy over the truth, and there-fore, by definition, literally ALL the violence and stupidity and ignorance and spitefulness and completely irrational hatred in us is derived wholly and completely from the hideously sexually repressed hell-on-earth that we were ALL unfortunate enough to be born into, that loathsome and odious abomination known as the 20th century....". Which verifys what i`m always saying, when will you learn Ty E ?. lets have more pictures of gorgeous sexy young girls showing their bums and less images of violent wankers and tossers who are a direct product of "THE TIME OF SEXUAL REPRESSION" ! ! !.

Pauline Hickeys tits said...

Merry Christmas.

Anonymous said...

fuckn hell, hamster. how many years have you been sprinkling your obscenities all over thinking mens message boards, then? i thought sex criminals werent supposed to use the internet