Under Water

Jerzy Skolimowski

Jerzy Skolimowski’s “Deep End” (1970), begins as an unconventional comic coming-of-age story but moves relentlessly toward deadly sexual obsession.  Mike, a suburban teenager (John Moulder-Brown), gets his first job, as an attendant at a seedy public London bathhouse/pool, and falls in love and lust with his beautiful, slightly older co-worker Susan (Jane Asher).

Unlike other films of the era, the swinging London shown in “Deep End” is dour and joyless.  Mike’s adventure in Soho has him consuming endless hot dogs from a street vendor and hiding out in an aging prostitute’s room (he has stolen a life-size cardboard cutout of a naked sex industry worker who might or might not be Susan).

Skolimowski uses vibrant, almost menacing color (throughout the film the walls in the bathhouse are being painted over, from watery greens and blues to hot tones, mostly red) and intense hand-held camera work to heighten the emotions and conflict between Mike and Susan.  And the final sequence which begins with bags of dirty snow transported from a sports field being dumped into to the empty pool, where Mike and Susan melt it to search for her lost engagement diamond, ends with blood swirling through water.

Long kept out of distribution because of rights issues, “Deep End,” was made after Skolimowski left his native Poland, following the banning by the government of his 1967 film, “Hands Up!” and subsequently settled in London.  Returning to Poland after the fall of communism in 1989, Skolimowski made several films, including the impressive (but rarely seen) “Four Nights with Anna,” another story of sexual obsession.

(I didn’t remember, if indeed I ever knew–TV and magazine photos were then b&w–that Jane Asher was a redhead.  Abby, Stephanie and I certainly paid lots of attention to Beatles girlfriends–to us, they were the first glamorous adult women that didn’t seem like they were part of out parents’ generation and admired their long, straight hair and bangs that started from the crown and ended in the eyes.)

“Deep End” is showing at BAMcinématek through Thursday, December 22.

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