Dreamers

There are entire areas of ordinary human conduct which the movies rarely seem to touch, which is only Reason #313 for us to hope for better ones. A lot of those areas involve sex—duh!—and on that score Jerzy Skolimowski’s Deep End from 1970 is just superb. A 15-year old kid (John Moulder-Brown, who was like a British Jesse Eisenberg with manageable hair) takes his first job as an attendant in a public bathhouse; one of his coworkers is an exquisite red-haired goddess (Jane Asher, Paul McCartney’s one-time fiancée) who begins pulling on his gonads like they’re taffy. He falls in love with her, partly because of the mind-games she plays with him, and his growing obsession with her causes his sense of reality, and the movie’s, to become extremely porous. Like Skolimowski’s Moonlighting, Deep End is slightly absurdist, completely unpredictable, and very, very funny—until it suddenly isn’t funny at all. Bits of the strangest, and sometimes bleakest, beauty come out of nowhere, and its way of testing Mike’s sexual boundaries in different dreamlike situations reminded me of Eyes Wide Shut, though it’s a livelier, less intellectualized journey than the forced march through Kubrick’s sex-maze. Whatever you do, don’t confuse it with The Deep End, Tilda Swinton’s dire remake of The Reckless Moment. A new restoration of Skolimowski’s film has just been issued, and the damn thing looks so good I had to rewind a couple times because I’d stopped listening to the dialog.

Another area that could use more exploration is our attitude towards work, especially in America where people are crazy enough not to mind spending a third of their waking hours handling manila folders with a bunch of strangers. In Irvin Kershner’s The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1964) we can tell from the opening shot what kind of man the protagonist is just from the dutiful way he does his morning push-ups. Ginger is a go-getter who’s moved his wife and daughter from Dublin to Montreal believing he’ll get his big break in the New World, but he can’t get ahead because he keeps walking off from the meager positions he’s qualified for. He’s like a cross between Walter Mitty and J.P. Donleavy’s Sebastian Dangerfield: a dreamer, but an aggressive one, with a fixed idea of the type of job that’s good enough for him. He talks his way into a post as a proofreader for a daily paper, clinging to the hope of a fast promotion to reporter; in the meantime, his wife, fed up with his empty promises, is in the process of leaving him. What Ginger really wants is the recognition accorded to great artists, but he doesn’t understand that he must take up an art to even begin the journey. Like Mike in Deep End, his desire winds up taking him to some unexpectedly dark places: the “luck” in the title refers to the opportunities we open up or, in Ginger’s case, close off through our own actions. Robert Shaw stars as Ginger, and unless I’m forgetting something it’s the one bit of full-on dramatic acting I’ve ever seen him do. The man didn’t let me down. Shaw’s real-life wife, Mary Ure, plays Vera Coffey, and their scenes together are vivid and lived-in.

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