More BFI Flipside Cult Movie Releases - Articles - Soundblab

More BFI Flipside Cult Movie Releases

by Ian Johnston Rating: Release Date:

More unjustly overlooked cult British movies from the 1970s (and one from the 1940s). Deep End (1970) Requiem for a Village (1975) will be re-released in dual format edition (Blu-ray and DVD) on the Flipside label on July 18. Went the Day Well? (1942) is released on DVD/Blu-ray by Optimum Classic also on July 18.

Deep End

Director Jerzy (Essential Killing) Skolimowski's persuasive, forebodingly poetic representation of London existence in an era of uncertainty and changing sexual mores is undoubtedly an overlooked classic, now even more beautiful in this stunning new digital restoration.

The swinging 60s are over and the extremely lengthy, dreary morning after has only just commenced. Yet there are still revelatory new experiences in store for inexperienced teenager Mike (John Moulder-Brown) when he takes his first job after leaving school at a rundown London swimming bath. After one of its more mature visitors steamily attempts to take advantage (former 50s British sex symbol Diana Dors, in a superb cameo), he gradually wises up to find himself adrift with an increasingly compulsive interest in pert, self-possessed and engaged co-worker Susan (an alluring Jane Asher, 60s icon and former girlfriend of Beatle Paul McCartney). Mike dizzily follows Susan into the grubby underbelly of Soho for a long dark night of the soul, which is soundtracked with great force by the legendary Krautrock band Can. Mike tires to sabotage Susan's relationship with her fiancé but his obsession has disastrous consequences.

Set at the tail-end of the 60s in a decidedly unspectacular and unswinging London (though mostly actually filmed, very convincingly, in Hamburg, with many featured German actors dubbed into English), Skolimowski's agreeably distorted variant on the coming-of-age sex comedy puts forward a weird, totally hard-bitten tutoring for its juvenile central character. Often very funny, and blessed with Can's hammering, propulsive, 14-minute epic 'Mother Sky' on the soundtrack, (available on Can's 1970 Soundtracks LP), Deep End is a highly original and unusual picture, whose mix of peculiarity, wit and temperate social satire works to perfection. Looking at Deep End today makes one realise that Jane Asher should definitely be better known as a great actress, rather than a celebrity baker of cakes, and that John Moulder-Brown should have enjoyed a much higher career profile over the past 40 years. Their class accents might occasionally slip, but both actors truly embody their respective characters to the hilt.

For a film that is so much of its time, it is highly surprising that Deep End, like Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg's Performance, has aged so well. Maybe it's a cliché, but many of the most durable cinematic visions of Britain have been the work of directors from beyond these islands - whether American (Joseph Losey's The Servant), Polish (Roman Polanski's Repulsion) or Italian (Antonioni's Blow Up) - all using their expatriate vision to throw into relief the fertility and peculiarity of the domestic 'ordinariness' of the UK. Pole Skolimowski, then in London exile from his country's repressive communist government (and appearing in the film in an Alfred Hitchcock type cameo, ironically reading a communist newspaper on the tube), should definitely be added to this revered list. Beautifully shot by Charly Steinberger, with outstanding production design from Michael Bittens and incisive editing by Barrie Vince, Deep End is a remarkable cinematic experience. Venerable film critic Kim Newman has described Deep End as "one of the best films of the 70s'' and that estimation withstands repeated viewing of the picture.

Befitting Deep End's ever-burgeoning critical status, the BFI's Flipside label has really gone to town on its DVD release. Digitally remastered to HD, this release includes a fascinating feature-length 2011 documentary, Starting Out: The Making of Jerzy Skolimowski's Deep End, containing recent interviews with stars Jane Asher and John Moulder-Brown as well as director Jerzy Skolimowski. Also featured is a 10-minute, rare Jane Asher short film from 1977, Careless Love. Directed by Francine Winham and inspired by Rainer Werner Fassbinder's play Bremmen Coffee, Asher stars as a woman who takes very drastic action to rekindle the fondness of a man whom she obsessively loves. The three-disc, Collector's Edition of Deep End presents all of the contents of the standard Dual Format Edition along with an extra DVD of exclusive content, including footage of Jane Asher and John Moulder-Brown being interviewed onstage at BFI Southbank with BFI Flipside curators William Fowler and Vic Pratt in May 2011, and the Deep End 2011 reissue trailer. The Collector's Edition is strictly limited to a thousand copies,

Requiem for a Village

Requiem for a Village is undoubtedly one of the strangest British films the Flipside have rescued from obscurity - and that is obviously saying something. Previously, David Gladwell was best-known for his celebrated work as editor on Lindsay Anderson's If.… and O Lucky Man!, but the Flipside's resurrection of his 1975 BFT funded Requiem for a Village will no doubt attract attention to his work.

The idyllic, rural past of a Suffolk village rises to life, literally, through the memories of an old man, an ageing local churchyard warden (Vic Smith), who tends a country graveyard. The old man becomes more susceptible to visions from his past life in the fields surrounding the village and the sight of the dead emerging from their graves, dressed in their Edwardian Sunday best, to be reunited with their loved ones. Intercut with these visitations, the current village of Witnesham is shown, a centre dating back to Medieval times sounded by contemporary bypasses teeming with cars and ever encroaching new housing developments. Seventies bikers roar through the village, symbolising the unstoppable shock of the new (the old man at point ineffectually throws a clump of earth at a massive earth digger which will be levelling the land upon which he once worked), with predictably tragic results.

With influences that range from the poet TS Eliot, author JB Priestley and William Morris, to the artist Stanley Spencer, and using real village residents of Witnesham, Suffolk, as amateur actors, the film powerfully suggests that history and memory are always ever-present in our lives, regardless of the unrelenting drive towards modernisation. Requiem for a Village can be seen to be part of the late 60s/early 70s movement in British cinema which celebrated the rituals and rhythms of rural existence, and old English culture in general.

During the same period, the British folk-rock movement was at its height, featuring bands such as Fairport Convention, Pentangle, Mellow Candle, Lindisfarne and solo artists such as Nick Drake and Fairport Convention singer Sandy Denny. Gladwell's picture is a weird and fractured mix of exploitation film (as Rob Young remarks in his notes in the DVD booklet, the motor cycle gang are very similar to the bikers led by Oliver Reed in Joseph Losey's 1961 picture The Damned), spooked documentary and juxtaposition of images (near forgotten skills of casting a cartwheel and shoeing a horse are lovingly recreated). Gladwell's vision is definitely an acquired taste but Requiem for a Village has an eerie, mesmeric quality, which lingers long in the mind after the film has finished.

Also included on the disc are a number of short Gladwell films. These include The Great Steam Fair (1964), an incredible 18 minute documentary, co-directed with Derrick Knight, focused upon a fair featuring archaic traditional fairground rides and steam engines in a Berkshire manor house, the avant-garde An Untitled Film (1964), focused upon serval beautiful and violent events taking place simultaneously on a farm, shot in Gladwell's beloved slow motion, and the self explanatory, black and white, 23-minute long Miss Thompson Goes Shopping (1958). Weird, eccentric and quintessentially English.

Went the Day Well?

Went the Day Well? is a black and white 1942 Ealing film directed by the legendary Brazilian director Alberto Cavalcanti at the height of the Second World War. Originally given the disastrous title They Came in Khaki, it is very loosely based on a short Graham Greene story. This comparatively severe film is an excellent work of British wartime propaganda about the meaning of resistance, yet it also transcends its War Office origins to deliver a hefty emotional clout.

The film opens in an English village graveyard with the verger telling how one gravestone in Bramley End came to bear a list of German names. Cut to flashback, and the arrival of army trucks filled with Royal Engineers, all of whom need to be billeted. At first relations between the villagers and the soldiers conform cordially to the stereotypes found within a typical Agatha Christie Miss Marple story - although one soldier reacts with too much force to a cheeky young cockney evacuee. Yet clues left clumsily in view of the vicar's daughter Nora (Valerie Taylor) - a card game score that uses a continental number seven and a bar of chocolate branded 'Chokolade Wien' - arouse her curiosity. She tells the nonchalant local squire (Leslie Banks), for whom she harbours amorous desires, unaware that he is the traitorous resident fifth columnist. The soldiers then reveal themselves: German paratroopers in disguise.

Cavalcanti makes much of the villagers' switch from geniality to murderous resistance. The narrative mainly concerns their efforts to escape the church, where the Germans have them under guard, to get a message to the real British army. As with many Cavalcanti films, the plot is less important than the question of the characters ethical preferences; each inhabitant, in a typical Ealing film fashion, has his or her own instant of crucial exploit. The Bramley End telephonist, for instance, doesn't hesitate to put an axe into 'her' Nazi while he's eating the 'tea' she's made him. She, in turn, is then stabbed to death.

Cavalcanti would later try and claim Went the Day Well? as a pacifist film, but though it's touching and quirky - and typically English - it is above all a triumphant propaganda piece carefully crafted to produce the correct defiant 'do or die' stance to a possible invasion (even if the German invasion was highly unlikely by the time of its release in 1942) and how society should be restructured after the war. The ideal community in Went the Day Well? is as much a self-defence killing machine as a symbolic group of considerate neighbours. Banks' character represents those in the upper classes who had sort appeasement with the Nazis and admired Hitler before the outbreak of war. Much of the film's peculiar sense of entertainment and capability to shock (the picture has the foreboding appearance of a film noir) originate from that dual reality. One can also marvel at the site of a young Thora Hird excitedly shooting down Nazi troops.

Comments (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Great article as always, Ian. I really want to see Deep End now.

There are no comments posted here yet