Deep End (Skolimowski. 1970)

 

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It is odd that a film shot in Germany by a Polish director should be considered a piece of cult British Cinema. Yet, this bizarre, dreamy and stylish creation is something of a national gem.

A darkly comic,  visceral tale, the story follows fifteen year old bathhouse worker Mike (John Moulder Brown), and the obsession he develops for his older colleague, Susan (Jane Asher). A figure of modernity and sexual freedom, Susan becomes an object of desire for the young boy. As he tries to take on responsibility with his job, his fixation with Susan inevitably takes over.

Only  recently restored by the BFI, the 1970 coming of age drama is something of a delicious oddity. Somewhere between kitchen sink drama and French New wave, it’s stylish and abstract. And the fact that it is so hard to place is its charm. A German/US co-production shot largely in Munich and written by a man with minimal English language skills, it is a film of no discernible national identity. the outcome then, is genuinely strange. Although it may be set in London, it doesn’t feel like London. It’s also immensely funny, but not in a traditional British way. There’s no such thing as a punchline. The humour comes from bold, outlandish moments that are punctuated by heavy sadness. Diana Dors’ cameo as a sexually frustrated customer is hilarious until her depression and loneliness is made clear. Skolimowski seems unwilling to label any particular moment as funny or sad. The unpredictability and strangeness of it all is tremendously fascinating.

Deep End‘s visual nature is also something to be marveled at. For a film about a crumbling swimming pool in London, the sense of colour and vibrancy is stunning. Susan, with her flowing yellow jacket bursts through the grey, and the vivid blue of the swimming pool really breathes life into the story. Although this is a film about bland, normal, working class Britain, the colour and sheer elegance of the piece suggests otherwise.

An odd film at heart, Deep End is a curious but enjoyable drama about adulthood, first love and sexuality. Full of flair, it’s a strange, rock and roll piece of European cinema.

Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater. 1993)

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The last moments of youthful freedom, becoming a man or a woman,  determining what paths you want to walk down in your future.

The coming of age story offers an indefinable opportunity for poetry and deeply contemplative moments. Now it may be solely because I’m of that age where a boy turns into man (or boy in to larger boy), but I adore coming of age stories. The Catcher in The Rye, Huckleberry Finn, The 400 Blows and Rebel without a cause. These are all classic stories in capturing the state of confusion and dizziness brought upon a person in the process of growing up. It’s messy, fraught with internal conflict and buzzing with judgements, anger and sheer energy.

Coming of age stories are not easy to get right though as a filmmaker. It is highly difficult to create that energy and that questioning nature of youth without succumbing to indulging in long, rambling philosophical monologues or bold visual metaphors about life itself.

Richard Linklater’s Dazed and confused has no difficulty with this hurdle though. A pure, beautiful snapshot of a specific time and a specific youth mentality, it’s disappointing that it’s not as highly regarded in the world of teen drama as say, The Breakfast Club. Although, that’s maybe because Dazed and Confused is not the same breed of teen drama. Linklater doesn’t aim to create an obvious moral point on identity or individualism as The Breakfast Club does. Instead, on the last day of school, his characters are just ordinary people trying to get through the summer either stoned or drunk – or indeed both. They’re glimpses of boys and girls enjoying freedom and youth. And while there is a point made about the danger of not letting go of teenhood in the character of Matthew McConaughey’s creepy Wooderson, the beauty of the film is its simplicity and the range of subjects it captures while retaining this simplicity. There’s first loves, anger towards authority and uncertainty of what lies ahead. It’s truly a film every teen needs to see before they become an adult – whatever the hell that entails.

Closely Observed Trains (Jiri Menzel. 1966)

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It’s a shame that the Czech new wave movement was such a brief moment in cinematic history. Closely Observed Trains is from that European art cinema mold of the 50s and 60s. It’s risque, sexy, political and altogether quite funny.

It’s also one of the best coming of age stories in cinema. The tale of Milos the train signalman is a wonderfully compact and lean document of a young man trying to understand the transition between boy and man. His position as an apprentice signalman also offers a sort of line up of (all fairly flawed) male bosses and role models, creating a question about whether there is even a change in maturity or whether it’s just an imaginary construct.

The dialogue is sharp and witty. However, amongst the hilarity and the youthful energy, there is a darker, more sobering quality to Menzel’s film. Milos’ involvement in the fight against nazi Germany’s forces leaves a bitter taste in the mouth about human mortality and how impressionable both adult and child can be.