Having watched the film as a student on my tiny black and white TV it left an indelible mark for its strange and unpredictable story of young love and obsession. Now, seeing the BFI’s Blu-ray in glorious full colour, I can appreciate the full depth of Jerzy Skolimowski’s extra-ordinary film.
The poet, painter and soccer fan had come to the fore in co-scripting Polanski’s Knife in the Water and went on to make his own films, including the polemical Hands Up! which effectively got him exiled from his native Poland. He came to London where he rented an apartment next to Jimi Hendrix and produced Deep End from his own script. Inspired by the story of an incident in a swimming pool and a couple who lost a diamond in the snow… he ties the two events together very well: how would you look for a diamond in a hundred-weight of icy snow?
The film was based in London but was actually filmed mostly in Munich using a lot of German actors with English overdubs.. Skolimowski expertly blends exterior shots of Soho, Leytonstone and Fulham Public Baths with customised German interiors. Great credit here to designer Anthony Pratt (who is the nephew of one Boris Karloff…) who took the elegant public baths of Munich and converted them into run-down, paint-peeling, garishly coloured, British ones…
He has a job as an attendant at the local public baths, hardly salubrious but it’s a step up from school. He’s met by the manager who tells him that he could be sitting behind his desk if he applies himself…Mike is non-plussed. The film is full of this gentle humour and it acts to mask some of the darker themes which, as in life, are always there if we but look.
There’s a very pretty red-haired girl, Susan (Jane Asher) who shows Mike the ropes in suitably perfunctory style… she has no ambition to inherit the boss’ office but she knows there’s something else out there for her.
|Jane Asher and Karl-Michael Vogler|
This scene was largely improvised and shot in two takes leaving Moulder-Brown slightly bruised and bemused. 17 at the time and not quiet the novice that his character is, he was still overwhelmed by the intensity of Dors’ moment.
|Diana Dors and John Moulder-Brown|
The two youngsters quickly become allies but Mike doesn’t know how to read Susan and he certainly doesn’t know what she wants or how to give it to her. The story is set over a mere seven days but things move very quickly in the minds of youth and Mike is soon besotted with Susan.
|John Moulder-Brown and Jane Asher|
Mike follows the couple home where they share a half-hearted goodnight kiss before Susan sends Chris on his way. He walks off disconsolate behind the spying Mike who then tells a policeman that Chris is importuning him… childish tit for tat, but there could be adult consequences.
|Christopher Sandford, Jane Asher and John Moulder-Brown|
But Susan is half-way to being the kind of adult she despises. Chris buys her an expensive diamond engagement ring and takes her on another date. Mike follows again and tries to find a way to get closer to Susan… he doesn’t have a plan just an instinct.
|John Moulder-Brown and Warrington's finest, Burt Kwouk|
He takes refuge in the flat of a prostitute (Louise Martini) who has broken her leg but still worked out a way of carrying on working… Another football fan, she’s kind to Mike but only wants his money in the end. Mike escapes with his cardboard cut out and confronts Susan on the train. She refuses to confirm or deny whether it is her and Mike smashes it into the lights – his first real display of anger towards this girl whom he loves but cannot understand (they had to reimburse London Underground later for that inspirational accident).
He escapes back to the pool and takes a swim with the cut-out which morphs into Susan in his mind… he is becoming enveloped in obsession and reality is blurred around the object of his desire.
|John Moulder-Brown and Jane Asher|
Back at the pool they begin to defrost the snow using a kettle… Mike finds the diamond and tries to use it to make Susan have sex with him. The couple have a union of sorts but it doesn’t appear to be consummated either physically or in terms of the intimacy Mike so obviously craves. Susan is in control and he cannot understand why she appears to want him and then not at all. I won’t reveal the end as it is such an important part of the film: the reason Skolimowski reveals, that he made the film.
Deep End benefits from extraordinary camera-work from Charly Steinberger who worked with a hand-held camera for most of the film. This adds a great deal to the immediacy and uneasy reality of the film and must have taken a huge amount of strength to carry off in the days before “steady-cams”.
He also perfectly captures Asher’s incredible red hair turning it into one of the running colour motifs for the film. When Mike and Susan finally connect in the swimming baths, the hair is swirling around both of them… a rainbow of glorious golds. But Mike's fingernails are dirty...it's an imperfect moment.
|Jane Asher, Erica Beer and painter man...|
This is also epitomised by the two mesmeric leading actors, who part-improvised their way through proceedings in a way which challenged their formal training and gave an unpredictable freshness to their portrayals. Both had been acting since their childhood and yet they could easily have been making their first movie here… vibrantly awkward.
The BFI Blu-ray/DVD set is accompanied by a 74 minute making of documentary which is one of the best I’ve seen with main actors, director, set designer and cameraman all still proud and enthused by their work decades later.
It’s also very interesting to see Jane Asher discussing her character’s motivations with John Moulder-Brown. Both have different viewpoints and clearly this was true at the time as they improvised key scenes…But, whilst Deep End may be a tale with lots of accidental meaning there are clear and deliberate messages about the enduring truths of youth, sex and communication.
Deep End is available from all good Amazons and the BFI themselves. In addition to the making of feature, there's a full-some booklet of essays and a short feature, Careless Love (1975) featuring Asher.