Deep End (1970)
Directed by Jerzy Skolimowski
In Jerzy Skolimowski's anti-steamy Deep End, John Moulder-Brown stars as Mike, a teenager whose puppy love for his older, redheaded coworker Susan (Jane Asher) leads him down a path of steady humiliation. Susan takes to Mike's devotion like a cat to yarn, perhaps because her actual boyfriends are uniformly leeches and schmucks. He is too, but his strategy is different: less free lover than white knight, he dreams of liberating her in a pure blast of Adonistic bliss. The unholy nexus of her jadedness and his soul-annihilating crush puts the comedic bounce in the movie's step. It actually doesn't hurt that the audio track is apparently 100% Additional Dialogue Replacement; although filmed in English, each and every line sounds like it was recorded in—you guessed it—an empty swimming pool.
Susan and Mike work together in a decrepit community bathhouse in "Swinging" London. He fritters away hours daydreaming, juxtaposing her against their clueless, toad-faced customer community, whom Skolimowski and cinematographer Charlie Steinberger seem to have enjoyed shooting (literally) warts and all. Mike and Susan are paid to tend to customers of their own genders, but she persuades him to swap because the tips are better that way. Surrounded by sagging flesh and faded pastel interiors, Mike's seething humiliation is telltale: an indignant welp here, a couple of hot dogs anxiously inhaled to kill time after yet another plan is foiled.
Deep End is simple, but only sometimes errs on the side of simplistic—if Antonioni and late-60s Preminger had teamed up for a satire of British life, perhaps this is how it would've turned out (the ultra-hip soundtrack features Cat Stevens and Can). Part of its refreshing vintage may stem from today's paradoxically more prudish film culture in comparison to 1970. The actors alternately mumble their lines and screech theatrically, maybe suffering the still-new strains of performing risque material. The film's central joke, about how Mike is overwhelmed at every turn by other people's sexual liberation, can barely sustain its length, and its true colors arise mostly in minor, emblematic entanglements.
Nearly every square inch of the bathhouse is covered by the camera; long, rudderless takes morph into nightmarish mini-travelogues, like when Mike is rebuffed from an adults-only nightclub, knowing Susan is inside. He happens upon a life-size nudie cutout of her in the street, which he steals before bumbling into a brothel and finding himself shooting the breeze with a significantly worked-over elder madam. After several agonized minutes he attempts to extricate himself—leaving her the cutout—to which she replies, "You think you can just leave a girl in this state?"
Opens December 16 at BAM