If you can’t have the real thing– you do all kinds of unreal things.
I LOVE creepy British psycho-sexual thrillers of the 1970s – Goodbye Gemini (1971) with Judy Geeson and Martin Potter, Twisted Nerve (1968) with Hayley Mills and Hywel Bennett, Beware My Brethren (1972) with Ann Todd, and The Night Digger (1971) with Patricia Neal and Nicholas Clay. And then there’s the non-conformist Polish auteur Jerzy Skolimowski with his portrayal of the seamy underbelly of a tawdry swinging London’s Soho at the end of the 1960s — Deep End (1970) similar to his other works – Le Départ (The Departure 1967) and Walkover (1965) all representative of a character disadvantaged by his social class inhabiting a bourgeois realm and in Deep End the story is about young Mike (John Moulder-Brown) set against a classist system that crowds him into a strange world that brings out his unstable burgeoning sexuality.
Like his colleague Roman Polanski, Skolimowski uses water in his films and here in Deep End especially- it is used as a liminal space where the characters may move in and out of reality. It’s significance here is a passage between childhood and maturity and life and death. All of the narrative is geared toward flow and not necessarily structured.
Actor, writer, producer and director Jerzy Skolimowski (King, Queen, Knave 1972, The Shout 1978-actor in Mars Attacks! 1996, Before Night Falls 2000) Here he directs and has written the screenplay with Jerzy Gruza and Boleslaw Sulik for Deep End 1970.
Cinematography by Charly Steinberger who creates a surreal and dreamlike landscape that lends itself to metaphorical interpretations of pubescent angst and awakening, set against a squalid London at the end of the 1960s. With a soundtrack by Cat Stevens using his song under the opening titles ‘But I Might Die Tonight’ and German band The Can with their song ‘Mother Sky.’
Skolimowski uses the recurring theme of the color red in much the way – red was used as symbolism as illustrated in the poster of the blood trailing downward, it reminds me of the same motif used by Nicholas Roeg’s adaption of Daphne du Maurier’s incredibly haunting Don’t Look Now (1973) a particular favorite 70s horror of mine.
Deep End stars cherubic faced John Moulder-Brown (The House that Screamed 1970, Forbidden Love Game 1975) as Mike, Jane Asher as Susan, Karl Michael Vogler as the swimming instructor, Christopher Sanford as Susan’s fiancée Chris, Diana Dors as Mike’s 1st lady client- a ‘withered rose’, Louise Martini as Beata the prostitute, Erica Beer as the Bath’s cashier, Anita Lochner as Kathy.
The grotesque and creepily moving tableau- a seedy Bath house where Mike (John Moulder-Brown) a 15 year old towel boy who’s awakening sexuality is aroused by Susan (Jane Asher-Masque of the Red Death 1964, Alfie 1966) a beautiful red head who provokes and baits his distorted hormonal urges to the verge of madness. Mike is sexually inexperienced and obsessed with Susan until he transforms into a voyeuristic stalker.
Skolimowski’s film is uncomfortable, disorienting, oddly dark, curiously droll and off-kilter in the same way, Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) is with it’s similar eye for detail as cinematographer Steinberger focuses the camera on each particle and trace of the bath house which creates a nightmare world that this disturbed young man inhabits among the other weirdos. In a similar vein as Polanski’s The Tenant (1976) and Cul-De-Sac (1966). Skolimowski was a co-writer with Polanski on Knife in the Water (1962). The film is littered with subconscious outré and offbeat imagery and weird and unsavory characters and we can see a bit of influence from Polanski at work.
Skolimowski (left) and Polanski (right)
Jane Asher’s character of Susan, a slightly older co-worker turns Mike onto the secret world that goes on in the private rooms of the bath house where certain of the clientèle indulge in their deviant proclivities and are willing to pay for it. Among them is the blonde Rubenesque British actress Diana Dors who taunts Mike in a libidinous bizarre scene.
Skolimowski refers to Dors type of character as a “withered rose’ the presence of an older woman who once was famous for her sex appeal but is now pathetic as she tries to seduce much younger men or comparing herself to favorite male past times as seen with the Physical Ed teacher (Karl Michael Vogler) who was in reality older that Dors. And with Mike whom she taunts unmercifully.
Susan is not serious about her fiancée Chris, she participates in various private sexual encounters with clients at the baths, and gets perverse gratification out of turning on Mike, until he realizes that she is having a deeper affair with his former teacher.
“Mother’s Sky” is utilized in a great scene where Mike stalks Susan ‘the object of his fixation’ to a London Club, and then moves onto a seedy strip joint where his dreams become even more subverted when he sees the large cardboard cut out of Susan, then he meets an old prostitute, and finally we follow them to the London Underground where he confronts her. When Mike’s obsession devolves it ends with tragic consequences as the story plays out with the quivers of young sexual innocence that quickly turns from disturbing pervy fixation to the kinky shivers of death. John Moulder-Brown is so perfect at playing at radiating a damaged boyish psyche.
If you love to luxuriate in odd British psycho-thrillers like I do, then Deep End will certainly fulfill that fancy mate!
Your EverLovin’ Joey saying, stay out of the deep end, and bring your own towel!