When I was 13, on Christmas, I received a book profiling great cult movies. Most were from the 60’s and 70’s, many were horror films and a good number were vaguely pornographic. One in particular jumped out at me. Called Deep End, it concerned an adolescent protagonist undergoing a sexual awakening who spent a great deal of his time near a swimming pool. I was sold. Last night, a decade after learning about this movie, I finally had the chance to see it for myself.
Deep End is the work of Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski. The art house cinema on my block is conducting a retrospective of his work, most of which is in Polish. Deep End, however, is in English and set there, in a dreary neighborhood on the outskirts of London in 1971. Mike is a 15-year old who begins work at the local bathhouse. He falls in lust with Susan, a co-attendant who is several years older than he. This is a pretty thorough encapsulation of the movie’s plot, as it is essentially a sustained cinematic rendering of a sexually anxious fever dream. All of the major adult characters, male and female, are carnivorous sexual predators. Mike encounters one old cow (the Brit slang left a mark) who brings herself to climax by clinging to him whilst breathlessly reenacting sportscaster commentary from old football games. There are the requisite saggy prostitutes and leering male teachers and the nubile young bodies to which they are drawn.
Luckily, the relatively boilerplate tableau is redeemed by the camerawork, the performances and the score. The characters are flawlessly framed. The lens at times creates a gauzy effect which mirrors Mike’s cloudy naiveté and perpetual dream state. And there are a couple of instances where successive jump cuts, an often annoying indie affectation, are employed effectively. The actors are all strong, including Jane Asher, who played Susan in the movie and was Paul McCartney’s muse in the 1960s. Perhaps best of all, the score is subtle but still atmospheric and, I’m convinced, served as inspiration for Tangerine Dream’s ambient work in Risky Business. And it was composed done by Yusuf Islam, nee Cat Stevens (born Steven Georgiou)!
Deep End ultimately provided me with yet another opportunity to indulge in my (perhaps foolish) nostalgia for eras I never experienced. I especially seek out films and books pertaining to the 70s and early 80s. They often include rampant boozing and drugging and indiscriminate, if not anonymous, sex. And while I might not necessarily wish to replicate such behavior in my personal life, I would be thrilled if the staid, paranoid culture we find ourselves in today could rediscover some of the hedonist joie de vivre so abundant in those heady post-sexual revolution, pre-Age of Paranoia times.