Even Truffaut made his first film in English, Fahrenheit 451, at Pinewood and on location in Berkshire and London in 1966 and Deep End seems to have been equally feted through its collision of European art-house and 1960s pop zeitgeist, with Skolimowski linked to Polanski through his screenwriting on Knife in the Water (1962) and star Jane Asher's credentials as a Beatle's former girlfriend. And yet, despite critical praise, the film vanished shortly after release, doomed by its brief appearance at an art house cinema, the Academy, and poor release across the UK. For years it was considered lost but now Bavaria Film have completely restored it, it has enjoyed a successful re-release and the BFI have released it as part of the Flipside imprint. Rightfully, Skolimowski's idiosyncratic view of British life is revealed to be a rather vital link in the cinema that depicts the unraveling of the 1960s and looks pessimistically towards the next decade.
And yet, even Deep End's British status is at best tenuous. Its lead actors John Moulder-Brown and Jane Asher, with support from Christopher Sandford and cameos by Diana Dors and Burt Kwouk, location shooting in Leytonstone baths not withstanding, much of the film was shot in Munich with German actors and crew. With a Polish director, lauded for his recent Le départ (1967) which shares some similar themes with Deep End, and a mix of German and English actors and crew you'd think it was a recipe for disaster.
What emerges is to the contrary, where the dubbed German performers add a distinctly off-kilter vibe to Skolimowski's colourful and surrealist vision of the inevitable come-down from the hedonism of the late 1960s and where the blending of Munich and London locations symbolises a dark fairy tale of distinctly European origins and a distancing from the media manipulated spectacle of permissiveness. There is a tension right at the heart of the film, suggested not only by it being on the cusp of the end of one decade and the beginning of another but also in its exploration of the interior psychological territory of young men and women, the consumed and consumers of an elitist fantasy of Britain. Those tensions form within Skolimowski's own attempt to deconstruct desire, sexuality and gender, class and social mobility.
Blood and the colour red, signifying danger, will symbolically resonate throughout the film.
Like the opening of Clive Donner's Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1967), Mike is introduced to us as a carefree young man, cycling with abandon through empty streets but, unlike the Barry Evans character in Donner's film, he's not travelling under blue skies and optimism. Rather the sky is heavy and grey, Stevens's song is both a schizophrenically tender ballad and edgy rant and the red liquid we saw in the psychedelic titles is blood from a cut on Mike's finger. Blood and the colour red, signifying danger, will symbolically resonate throughout the film.
15-year-old Mike has come for a job at the local pool and slipper baths in Fulham. Even in his brief meeting with the manager (Karl Ludwig Lindt), the danger signs are all around him in the drab office with its trailing light flexes punctuated with bright orange insulating tape just as Susan slopes into shot, Asher's flame coloured hair framed by a blood red noticeboard. From here, the young and innocent Mike enters a demarcated world of peeling green corridors, with "men's on the left, women's on the right", but will find that sexual favours are easily traded as a commodity for patrons' generous tips and that Susan will pimp him out to her female customers while she amuses herself with her affair with a school teacher who has a penchant for molesting his school girl charges when they have their swimming lesson.
"I thought it would be all white" observes Mike of the dark green and yellow corridors, again underlining the psychological significance of colour in the film. As the film slowly yields itself to you, you'll also notice the stepladders and pots of paint lurking around the building and the gradual changes of colour on the walls. The scheme here suggests something rank and unpleasant lurking beneath the surface and it's significant that as Susan takes him on a tour of the baths, he slips and literally falls into the deep end, his sober collar and tie then replaced, in a swift edit from his watery dive, to a white towelling robe and, later, regulation white coat. The white coats also suggest that the slipper baths are in fact some kind of sanitarium and that Mike and Susan are the doctors providing their patrons with a 'rest cure' from their sexual anxieties.
"Ladies of a certain age tend to favour polite and obliging young boys... so do some gentlemen" offers Susan as she shows Mike the extent of his duties. It's here too that Susan conflates the sexual daydreams of patrons with the film's central concern about Mike's own dreamlike desire for Susan, where "they'll tip you ten bob for nothing really... just for imagining things." Does this suggest that what we see later is part reality, part Mike's fantasy?
What follows is a conflation of sexual fantasy and wish fulfillment as it becomes clear that it is not just the female characters onto which men transmit their desire but also that this can be reversed, with Dors physically grabbing at Moulder-Brown, in a partly scripted - partly improvised scene, while the character drives herself to orgasm by fantasising, with much ripe innuendo ("it's always tackle, dribble, dribble, shoot"), about Georgie Best hammering in several goals at Northampton. Best of course was one of the first celebrity footballers, opening fashion boutiques and nightclubs, an icon of masculinity in the late 1960s. It seems highly appropriate he should be used here as the symbol of the era's sexual wanderlust. Dors is extraordinary, transmitting vulnerablity as well as frustration.
As this happens, the teacher similarly leers and gropes at the school girls to whom he is supposed to be giving a swimming lesson. As Susan rather offhandedly remarks to him, "Having a good time, hmm?" it is surely by way of criticising activity that would now be seen as an arrestable offence. In essence this perhaps shows that even for its supposed advances in the 1960s, society was still incapable of recognising and rejecting the inappropriate public behaviour of men towards women.
The inappropriateness extends to Susan's treatment by her fiance, Chris (Christopher Sandford), who thinks a perfectly acceptable good night out is to plonk her in front of a porn movie to absorb even more exploitative imagery of women made by men. The Western European attitudes of the 1960s don't emerge unscathed from Skolimowski's surreal vision. Rather he seems to observing how men and women exploit one another regardless and more as an effect of the alleged freedoms gained by 1970. Susan herself is this attitude writ large, two timing Chris with her relationship with the school teacher and sadistically manipulating Mike, whose innocent crush on her gradually becomes a somewhat unhealthy obsession. As she suggests to Mike later about dealing with clients, "just go along with the gag, that's all they want."
"... to the highest level of sexual satisfaction"The first act of the film ends with Susan sweeping down the green corridors in white go-go boots, a mini-skirt and a voluminous, bright yellow plastic mac. Yellow's contradictory symbolic nature as a colour rather summarises the character of Susan here. Joyfully confident and yet deceitful, a young woman who takes great pleasure in stoking up Mike's desire for her, eventually twisting it into jealousy and violence. We see her egging him on, as they eat their lunch by the pool, when they watch as a man leaps into the water from the diving board. "Bet you can't do that Mike," she chides. When he acknowledges that he's never tried she pointedly retorts rather salaciously, "There's always a first time." This crosses over into fantasy as he remonstrates with a group of young lads (who also enquire as to whether he's "had" Susan yet) and is pulled into the pool. Mike's pent up desire for Susan is translated into a brief vision of her swimming naked underwater.
It is ironic that the pregnant man poster is pinned up next to one that declares 'mixed bathing' and is then used by Susan, in a completely improvised scene between Asher and Moulder-Brown, to remark on his own potential promiscuity and sexual licence. The poster layered onto his body is a motif repeated later when an image of a woman that looks like Susan is laid on top of the prostitute Beata's prone form in the highly surreal Soho sequence. It is here that he also reveals that he is a virgin as she teases and coaxes him, using horseplay with one of her stuffed animals (these bizarrely coloured cube like creatures are another surreal ingredient to the film's psychedelic palette) to suggest he perhaps should have his first experience with the receptionist as she clearly has her eye on him.
The next section of the film sees Mike stalking Susan and Chris as they go to the porn cinema to see 'The Science of Sex', the film's discussion of frigid women (the film illustrates this by literally putting a woman in a fridge) and erogenous zones again nodding back to the Family Planning poster and Mike's lack of sexual experience. Here Skolimowski goes for black comedy as Mike attempts to seduce Susan while the film drones on about bringing partners "to the highest level of sexual satisfaction." Susan knows perfectly well that it is Mike groping her and allows it to continue before giving him a slap and getting Chris to fetch the cinema manager (Eduard Linkers). With the yellow mac prominently on display, she kisses him and then rejects him in one move as he, in sheer delight, throws his leg over the mac hanging over the cinema seat. A game of cat and mouse ensues, with Susan demanding the police charge Mike and Chris blithely unaware of what has transpired in front of what is probably the least erotic porn movie you'll ever see, complete with Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries on the soundtrack. Perhaps a little in-joke on Skolimowski's part about the German origin of the sexological claims in the film, a subject matter Herr Hitler certainly wouldn't have approved of.
Mike's obsession with Susan boils over after he spies on her and the school teacher making love in the men's section of the baths. He deliberately sets off a fire alarm (more instances of the colour red as he lacerates his hand while breaking the glass on the alarm) and the coitus interruptus between Susan and the teacher is heavily underlined when, in a moment of broad comedy, the receptionist staggers in carrying a fire extinguisher and cries, "Ladies, ladies, return to your section. You're not allowed to mix with the men!" and she lets it off in the corridor, foam ejaculating all over the floor as she observes the extinguisher as a "monster [that] goes on forever!"
Later Susan uses the teacher's car to crush Mike's bike (note again it too is painted yellow and red) in angry response to his antics at the baths. There's also a suggestion that she arranges for a former school friend, Kathy (Anita Lochner), to divert Mike's sexual attention and perhaps also encourages the receptionist to use her womanly wiles on him too. There's a great deal of animosity between her and Susan as can be seen in the celebrated sequence when Susan goads the receptionist about her weight while eating a chocolate desert in front of her just as Skolimowski shows a painter slapping red paint over the wall behind them, again continuing the colour symbolism of the film and pre-empting the presence of the red paint and blood shown in the film's climax.
"Where do you need her? There? You just want to see her when you do it, is that it?"Mike continues to stalk Susan and Chris and follows them to a nightclub in a sequence that heralds one of the oddest and most surreal sections of the film. Set entirely in a Soho street this is where another complicated game of cat and mouse plays out and it begins with a dizzying sequence in the nightclub's reception area, decked out like the Beast's castle in Cocteau's La Belle et La Bete, where Charly Steinberger takes his prominent use of handheld camera to new heights and spirals 360 degrees around Mike and the girl on reception (Anne-Marie Kuster) as he attempts to get into the club. Failing, he waits in a street filled with shops and strip joints, dominated by a hot dog seller (Burt Kwouk) with a yellow and red canopied stall postioned opposite the bright yellow and red walls of Bishop's Sandwich Bar.
His interaction with Beata is another moment in the film where his understanding of sex is framed by its commodification and exploitation, learning from women who know the value of their bodies and what the desire for them is worth, as she explains, "Do you know how much I'm worth? I used to take five quid for a short time." Beata also manipulates his fantasy of Susan, placing the photographic blow-up of 'Angelica' over her own body and suggesting, "Where do you need her? There? You just want to see her when you do it, is that it?" As she teases him, the camera tilts up to the mirrored ceiling, doubling the image, reflecting his inner vision back to him, foreshadowing the moment when the image of 'Angelica' is seen floating in the pool. Little does she know that she's gone straight to the root of his fantasy.
With Can's music still pulsing away in the background, Mike follows Susan onto the tube after she abandons Chris in a taxi, carrying with him Susan's doppelganger, 'Angelica'. When he confronts her with what appears to be her own, naked, exploited image she does little to deny it is her. "But you're not like this, Sue," he offers. Her revelation that she is "much worse than that" again throws out another signal that this woman is enjoying her cruel manipulation and at least tells the audience that they are right to assume that Susan is not a particularly likeable girl. Mike really doesn't want to admit that Susan is like 'Angelica' even though he's already glimpsed her true nature in the baths. His behaviour becomes irrational and violent when she challenges his desire to be one of her lovers, demanding that if he wanted to fulfill that role it comes at a very expensive price, emphasising this by thrusting a diamond ring under his nose.
'Angelica' is next seen floating on the surface of the pool as Mike, naked, dives in and simulates intimacy with the cut out image. His fantasy is again sublimated as briefly the real Susan is seen being embraced underwater, replacing the image he is holding. Ominously she does not appear to be moving or alive and this not only proposes that Susan has become the static object of desire that is 'Angelica' but it also foreshadows again her fate at the end of the film. The last act of the film shows us Mike and Susan in a snowbound park with Mike attempting to impress her by running in a race organised by her school teacher lover and Susan cruelly teasing a dog, encouraging it to get closer so that she can launch a snowball at it. It perfectly symbolises her manipulation of all the male figures in the film, pulling them into her orbit and then flinging them aside as they desperately try to impress her.
They have a fight when he deliberately punctures the tyres on her car and one of the inspirations for Skolimowski's original screenplay is included as the story of a Polish couple searching for a lost diamond in the snow is transposed to Mike and Susan's struggle where she loses the diamond of her engagement ring after thumping him in the mouth. The film takes on a bizarre fairy tale quality here as they both desperately search for the gem, at first believing Mike has swallowed it but then resigning themselves to picking through the snow to find it. As they concoct a plan to collect the snow and take it back to the pool to melt it, the film uses the idea of the melting snow to refer back to the cure for female frigidity, laughingly depicted as a woman sat in fridge in the porn film 'The Science of Sex', and how Mike might therefore kindle sexual desire for him in Susan.
She is now a folkloric snow maiden to whom he wishes to give his virginity but, by the same token, as soon as he accomplishes this then his innocence dies and he becomes the sinner rather than the sinned against. The magical aspect of this part of the film is also symbolised by Mike drawing a circle in the snow around Susan, an ancient and universal symbol of the goddess, and female power. To earth-centered religions throughout history as well as to many contemporary pagans, it represents the feminine spirit or force, the cosmos or a spiritualized Mother Earth, and a sacred space. Later, it is surely no coincidence that at an acute moment of sexual embarrassment Mike should call out for a mother figure. From here the film spirals off into a darker, more disturbing arena as she and Mike attempt to melt the snow with a jury-rigged kettle wired up to the lights of the swimming pool, again recalling the taped up light flex that greeted Mike at the start of the film.
Like some ogre searching for his princess, the school teacher interrupts them and after barking orders at her she throws a tantrum and eventually tells him to "piss off" whilst also exposing him as the "kinky for schoolgirls" pest he is. She also reveals a little history here and an ambiguity about when they first started their relationship when she tells him "you spoiled everything!... why the hell you had to be the first." Her bitter rant may also indicate why she treats men with such barely disguised contempt if he was the first adult male specimen to seduce her when she was herself just a schoolgirl who didn't know any better.
Sexual dysfunction as a theme achieves its climax, if you'll pardon the pun, when Mike is finally offered Susan's body after he recovers the diamond. These dual gifts - her body and the diamond, the moment and symbol of desire now perched on the tip of his tongue, are conflated when she demands hotly, "Give it to me, give it to me" before relenting and understanding that she will have to offer herself in order to get the jewel back. Embarrassed, Mike does give her the diamond back without, at first, getting his reward.
It's here that we finally see Susan's rather jagged exterior crack as pity or sympathy plays across her face and instead of leaving immediately, an act that would underline her coldness, she couples with him. We see closeups of his dirty fingernails stroking her orange hair, his calloused hands running over her pale flesh at the moment of his purest objectification of her. But it is a failed conquest, his premature ejaculation evincing a desperate cry of "Oh, mummy" and completing the symbolic image of Susan as virgin, mother and whore.
As the taxi to take Susan home pulls up outside, Mike desperately pleads with her not to leave. He is convinced that by talking to him about their intimacy, about what he could have done better, that she will change and will understand but he realises that she is only interested in "the bloody diamond" and leaving to meet with Chris. He wants to know how other men have performed with her but she simply is not a woman about to offer intimate reassurance. As this argument proceeds, the baths are filled again with water, perhaps representing a Biblical flood to wash away the sins of this couple.
The film comes full circle: Mike angrily swings the huge metal lamps of the swimming pool at her and simultaneously they make contact with her orange hair and a yellow and orange and red painted wall, knocking over cans of red paint that then mimic the blood running down the back of her neck. The symbols of colour and image come together superbly. It ends in silence as she sinks into the pool and the red paint runs down the wall. Susan becomes 'Angelica', her body now still, the silent object of desire caressed underwater by Mike amidst clouds of blood. A great film of the 1960s finally getting its due respect and a pleasure to again see the chemistry between Jane Asher and John Moulder-Brown, it fades out with the Cat Stevens title song briefly reinforcing the themes of the rejection of materialism, commodification and sexual objectification by the youthful yearning for meaning and experience.
About the transfer
A superb restoration and high definition transfer. Colour positively leaps off the screen. It is vibrant and bold, re-emphasising the importance of the colour scheme to the meaning of the film. Detail is fantastic, particularly on clothes, faces and hair and it's backed up by robust contrast and texture. Bavaria Films have done a truly splendid job. Sound is clear and bright and copes well with the musical interludes from Cat Stevens and Can and the quieter dialogue led scenes. Impressive.
3-Disc Collector’s Edition Special Features
I would say calling it the 'collector's edition' is stretching it a bit as the content of the third disc - the NFT interview and a trailer, amounting to about half an hour - really should have been included with the other extras on the second disc.
Starting Out: The Making of Jerzy Skolimowski’s Deep End (2010, 74 mins): a comprehensive new feature-length documentary including full interviews with actors Jane Asher, John Moulder-Brown and Christopher Sandford, director Jerzy Skolimowski, production designer Anthony Pratt, cinematographer Charly Steinberger. Literally takes you from script to screen, looking at the origins of the story, the casting process, an indepth 'now and then' look at the Munich locations and how Anthony Pratt transformed them. Superbly done and not a moment wasted.
Deep End: The Deleted Scenes (2010, 12 mins): short documentary exploring the scenes that never made the grade. Skolimowski, Anthony Pratt, Steinberger, Asher and Moulder-Brown recall the sequences they filmed and abandoned in the edit. Includes a look at those scenes dropped from the script and some that were filmed but none of the footage shot seems to have survived.
Original theatrical trailer
Careless Love (Francine Winham, 1977, 10 mins): rare and disturbing short film in which a woman (Jane Asher) takes drastic action to keep the affections of the man she loves
Recalling Deep End (2011, 25 mins, bonus DVD only): Jane Asher and John Moulder-Brown interviewed onstage with BFI curators William Fowler and Vic Pratt. An additional treat to see Asher and Moulder-Brown chatting about the film post screening at the NFT. Some of the stories do overlap with the interviews in the main documentary but it is still worth watching.
Deep End 2011 reissue trailer (bonus DVD only)
Illustrated booklet featuring new essays by David Thompson, Yvonne Tasker, and Skolimowski expert Ewa Mazierska. Informative and revealing about the background to the film, on Skolimowski's influence as a director and some interesting thoughts about how the sex industry is presented in the film from Tasker.
Maran Film - Kettledrum Films - Bavaria Film 1970
BFI Dual Blu-Ray and DVD 3- Disc Edition / Release date: 18 July 2011 / cat. no. BFIB1063 / BFI Flipside no. 019 / Cert 15 / colour / 91 mins / original aspect ratio 1.85:1 / region 0
Disc 1: BD50 / 1080p / 24fps / PCM mono audio (48k/24-bit)
Disc 2: DVD9 / PAL / PCM mono audio (48k/16-bit) (Extras Dolby Digital 320kbps)
Disc 3: DVD9 / PAL / PCM mono audio (Extras Dolby Digital 320kbps)