Deep End (1970)
What is it about a film that seems to be failing but holds your interest till the last frame? I’m not talking about a guilty pleasure or a train wreck that you can’t look away from. I’m pointing to a peculiar kind of picture that is so unique and ambitious that even if it doesn’t quite work, it is in fact more captivating and engaging that “perfect” movies.
Deep End, directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, is one of those for me. A bizarre film with an unusual tone and an unpredictable air which never quite comes together but nevertheless remains one of the most fascinating cinema experiences I have had in recent times.
Skolimowski may still be most known as an early collaborator of Roman Polanski, co-writing Knife in the Water. But the Polish filmmaker soon paved his own way, directing many films from the 70s till now (all of which I have not seen except for his latest, a relentless survival tale with Vincent Gallo called Essential Killing). He has also appeared as an actor in a wide variety of movies including Eastern Promises, Mars Attacks, Before Night Falls, and most recently The Avengers.
Back to his 1970 film, Deep End is the story of a young man (John Moulder-Brown) who gets a job at a public pool/bathhouse where he meets Susan (Jane Asher), a sexy attendant who captures his virgin fascination. This is probably one of the most erotic films I have seen, not in the sense of explicit sex or nudity portrayed but in the way that the whole movie permeates lust.
The setting is the perfect atmosphere for this sexual tension to play out, with horny older women using the young man’s affection to satisfy their desires and Susan whoring herself out in a variety of ways (except to our protagonist).
The film bounces between a coming-of-age tale, an absurdist comedy, a rock ‘n’ roll/punk film (with the soundtrack by Cat Stevens and Can), and finally a thriller. Because of these shifts, along with a poorly dubbed English dialog track (all that’s available on my Region 2 copy) and some outrageous moments which don’t quite fit, Deep End does not “work” in a formal sense of the word.
But it doesn’t matter. This is cinema. Pure cinema. It doesn’t have to make sense, it just needs to be experienced. And what a haunting one Skolimowski created. A movie that will surpass its faults and reside in my memory and imagination for a long time.