Deep End is one of those rare treats for an ageing cinephile, a never-seen but much-mentioned movie suddenly available to view. It has been mired in rights issues and needed reconstructing for its re-release last year (see here for more details). And it’s pleasing to report that the film does not disappoint.
Made in the same year as Performance, both films share a cynical view of the post-swinging ’60s era; though Deep End lacks the others pretension. Set in a seedy public baths, the film focuses on 15 year-old Mike’s growing infatuation with the slightly older Susan (Jane Asher terrific in both looks and acting). She is a not unkindly tease, however her affect on his hormones is quite catastrophic.
Like Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (UK, 1965) this casts the effects of ‘sexual liberation’ as horror, though not in such an obvious way as the earlier film. The Polish sensibility, Deep End‘s writer-director was Jerzy Skolimowski a friend of Polanski’s, seems to have been ideal to offer such a skewed vision of Swinging London. Most of the film is set in the seedy baths (actually shot in West Germany) that take on an increasingly surreal look as the putrid greens start to be replaced (by a painter) with blood-red.
Another key setting is a 15-minute sequence shot in Soho, then the absolute epiphany of seedy sexuality; this is accompanied throughout by Can’s Mother Sky, giving a psychedelic edge to the proceedings. This mix of realism, the location shooting and narrative where little happens, with the surreal, at one point a religious group pops up proselytising against sex, helps set the mood for the brilliant finale.
The realism is also evident in some of the scenes that are clearly improvised; such as when the protagonists play with famous ‘pregnant man’ public information poster. Other elements that seem surreal now, such as the teacher molesting his female teen charges on a visit to the baths, may actually have been more real then! Similarly, the scene in the porn cinema where a policeman has to remove Mike for molesting Susan, who’s with her boyfriend.
So, a ‘lost’ ‘classic’ ‘found’.