Odeon Entertainment yet again delve deep into the archive and this month offer up perhaps one of the strangest British films of the 1970s. A definite cult classic, Goodbye Gemini is a bewildering mix of kinky exploitation thriller, bleak 'fin de siècle' social realism and gender bending camp. Based on a book Ask Agamemnon by Jenni Hall (never heard of it, dear), the film's jazz funk soundtrack and opening titles, all fish eyes lenses of a coach hurtling down a motorway into a London cityscape with the two leads, Martin Potter and Judi Geeson grinning manically out of windows whilst clutching a teddy bear, tell you you're in for an interesting and often extremely funny ride.
Directed by Alan Gibson, at the time taking his first tentative steps away from TV directing and who would go on to explore more of this 1970s exotica in Hammer's 'modern' Dracula films, Dracula AD: 1972 and The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (both favourites of mine even though they're terrible examples of late Hammer output), here seizes onto the seedy, faded pop art fag end of the 1960s to tell an equally seedy story. Twins Jacki and Julian, wide eyed and innocent and regressively childlike in their outward communications with the world, arrive at their father's London residence (both dressed in fetching yellow coats) to stay with housekeeper Mrs. McLaren (the superbly dour Daphne Heard). Not impressed by her manner, Jacki (the lovely Judy Geeson) deliberately leaves the teddy bear at the top of the stairs and before you know it Mrs. McLaren's being carted off to hospital, the twins have the house to themselves and decide to hit the town.
They fetch up in the Vauxhall Tavern and the most extraordinary scene plays out. A stick thin drag queen cavorts and dances along a semi-circular bar and does a strip to a blazing medley on the soundtrack as pretty Jacki and Julian are eyed up by the strangest looking load of punters. They meet the seemingly charming Clive (the divine Alexis Kanner sporting the biggest set of sideburns you've ever seen) and Denise (Marian Diamond). Clive invites the two to a house boat party. Our introduction to the party is then a brief scene of Carolyn Jones (later Sharon Metcalfe of Crossroads) flashing her tits and telling her companion to go and brush his teeth!
Before we get to the party sequence, the film hints at the incestuous undercurrent between the two youngsters with Julian (Potter offering a quiet naturalism) very possessive about his sister and clearly wanting her for himself. Jacki rejects him here and constantly throughout the film so the promised incest luridly used as the bait in the film's publicity never really materialises. Julian's desire for Jackie is underscored by Gibson's frequent use of their reflections in mirrors, with a brief shot of twin figures in stained glass, entrances and exits, dramatic reveals all not so subtly emphasising the 'gemini' of the title.
At the party (the houseboat decked out in searing white and red colour scheme) the twins catch the attention of several guests as they dance together. One of them is David Curry (the legendary Freddie Jones) lounging in a hammock (yes, that's right), purring away whilst Gibson shoots the twins in slow motion and soft focus as Christopher Gunning's theme for the twins provides a whiff of Satie's Gymnopédies. There's also Terry Scully as Nigel Garfield, in a very vivid pink shirt, camping it up rotten as the host of the party and, along with Freddie Jones, bitching away hilariously (Nigel describes Clive as 'an ectoplasm with appetites').
James Harrington-Smith MP (Michael Redgrave) turns up and is equally entranced by the twins. 'You're cheating', purrs David, 'You should be in some studio somewhere wringing every last drop out of your conscience. Never make an MP lying round here drinking with a slag like this'. James pithily retorts 'Don't do yourself down, David. It doesn't suit you.' Their scenes together carry on in this barbed and witty manner and are an utter joy.
Anyway, we learn that Clive is a pimp and owes a great deal of money to the rather 'Bill Sykes' looking gangster Rod Barstowe (played with enormous relish by the wonderful Mike Pratt). There's a terrific scene between Pratt and Jones where Nigel spots Rod's arrival and clearly fancying a bit of rough gets out of his hammock to speak to him and share an olive. After Rod demands his money, Clive decides to blackmail Julian. At the same time Julian bitterly resents Jacki's violent rejection of him in favour of the attention Jacki is getting from Clive and other men.
In what is one of the most bizarre scenes in the film, Clive gets Julian completely pissed and hauls him off to a seedy hotel room (a hotel run by Joseph 'nozzink in de vorld can schtop me now' Furst) where it is implied that two drag queens rape Julian as Clive takes a set of photographs for his purposes. Gibson imbues the scene with a feverish and nightmarish quality, gradually shifting the appearance of the two drag queens into gurning, over made up harpies seducing the poor Julian through weird camera angles and lenses.
When Clive is confronted by Rod, Clive shows the photos to Julian and tries to extort the money from him. The film takes its next rather strange turn. The twins decide that the best way out of this mess is to play a game with Clive and dress up in bedsheets to fool him as to who is who (yes, that's right, bedsheets). The game turns to murder and Clive is stabbed to death. It's a fantastic sequence as Gibson shows their preparations inter-cut with what looks like a portrait of Oscar Wilde, with close ups of ornate Japanese knives, scored with a very lounge-funk track and the final reveal, as Clive removes his blindfold, accomplished via one of Gibson's signature mirror shots. The stabbing is suitably gory with lots of inter-cuts between Clive, knives, blood and the mirror and a final shot of the teddy bear observing it all.
Jacki seems to go into shock and runs off into the night whilst Julian disappears. By a stroke of luck Jacki is rescued by well meaning, socially conscious MP James Harrington-Smith (Redgrave puts in a beautiful performance) and gradually pieces together what happened. Detective Inspector Kinglsey is on the case (Peter Jeffrey almost repeating his role from The Abominable Dr. Phibes) and questions the MP. The film takes a very bleak turn with James wrestling with his conscience to protect Jacki from the police whilst also unwittingly sealing both Jacki and Julian's fate. It certainly completes the audience's own journey from the excess of 1960s hedonism at the beginning of the film, via the way innocence is corrupted and corrupting and to the final scenes that suggest the moral bankruptcy of the period has led to a deeply cynical, uncaring society where even a well respected MP fails to take action to help a pair of corrupted innocents and the gays are just simply thrilled that they've had kinky murderers to one of their parties.
Imagine a more Wildean version of Performance crossed with an episode of Hammer House Of Horror and you'll have the measure of this. It is by turns hilarious, bawdy. camp but shot through with a vision of the then new decade of the 1970s that's regressive, unflatteringly insular and unwelcoming. The performances are genuinely good - Geeson and Redgrave really do stand out, Kanner is suitably counter-culturally unhinged (almost a darker extension of his character from The Prisoner) and there are smashing cameos from Freddie Jones, Mike Pratt and Terry Scully.
Whilst the gay characters are hyperbolic stereotypes they do get some of the best lines and, along with Julian and Jacki, they inhabit an acidic pop-art set of interiors (good production design from Wilfred Shingleton) that, like the fag-end of the 1960s, are slightly soiled at the edges. That world is later torn down in favour of a grey and grimy London populated by grotesques and department stores with huge displays of teddy bears as Jacki goes in search of Julian. This is all superbly photographed by the late great Geoffrey Unsworth using his customary softening and highlighting filters. Gunning's score is a stand-out too with its mix of jazz-funk, lounge, folk rock and soul amongst the standard horror film cues.
The DVD presents the film in the 1.78:1 format with a vibrant transfer capturing flesh tones and the saturated colours of Shingleton's interiors particularly well. There is some uneven detail and stability and occasional patches of damage but it is, for the most part, crisp and clean. The commentary from Geeson and producer Peter Snell has been ported over from the Scorpion Region 1 release (it's a little bit dry and sporadic but welcome nonetheless) but the best thing by far is the 'on set' featurette which features mute footage shot for an edition of World In Action but never subsequently used. It shows with related text commentary Gibson at work on location with the cast and crew. Plus there's a short gallery of publicity stills, lobby cards and posters and the trailer.
A little gem well worth picking up.
Goodbye Gemini - Digitally Remastered Special Edition (Odeon Entertainment DVD ODNF172 - Region 2 - Released 10th May 2010 - Cert 15)