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On at the BFI until next week, is the restored version of the 1970 film Deep End that was thought to be lost forever – what a find! Directed by Jerry Skolimowski, starring Jane Asher and John Moulder-Brown, the film is nothing short of bizarre, and in this quality lies it’s brilliance.

This is – you will note – the first film I have written about here. It’s not because this is the first film I’ve seen since I started writing this blog.. but because I was trying to steer clear of writing about EVERYTHING I’ve seen and done, and just keeping focussed on the stuff that seems worth writing about/interesting enough to sustain, well, interest.. So here goes: Deep End at the BFI.

It’s string of ever-increasing strangeness from start to finish, with a few discernable threads of well-trodden plot development to keep the audience on the straight and narrow: boy meets girl; flirtation ensues; girl has fiancée/is unattainable; boy driven wild with longing; boy engineers a situation where the two can be alone together. There’s nothing really likeable about either of the main characters except their winsome good looks; both engaging in a kind of adolescent kiss-chase which gets nastier and more grown-up – and therefore painful and destructive – as the film progresses. However, the saving grace of the film is that it is undeniably and often laugh-out-loud funny.

The grace and innocence with which characters skirt around the oddities of the plot and dialogue lends the whole film a sense of art-house otherworldliness – treading a fine line between hyper-real and surreal – which is very enjoyable. The fact, for instance, that the film is riddled with ludicrously predatory women, all circling around this hapless – and increasingly deranged – 15-year old boy highlights and heightens the almost apocalyptic significance given to sex and sexuality in this film. Make no mistake about it – this is a film about the end of the 60s – sex has Happened to society and left a trail of neurotic/savage carnage in its wake; young virgin boys beware! The pool and public baths at which the two main characters meet is a crumbling ruin of a building clearly crying out for demolition. Occasionally workmen appear in the background of key scenes to paint the walls red; (red! In a swimming pool?) perhaps one of my favourite ‘SYMBOLISM!’ moments – one of many odd moments to define odd moments. Stylized and sex-crazed. Subtle, it aint. But that’s where the beauty of it lies. Go see it.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS: how nice it is to see snaggly teeth and poorly done make-up and large middle-aged women in films. Really. It’s sad that it’s so refreshing.

I read this on a recommendation from a friend and because of this I knew, even before I opened it, some of the themes I was likely to hit upon here: non-white/non-Western/marginalised narratives, strong women, wronged women; perhaps immigration and diaspora; almost certainly this novel would be defiantly Modern. My instincts were correct, but how could I have anticipated such a depth and breadth of brilliance (even with the legend ‘Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction’ splashed across the cover)? I am still reeling from this book, which drew me in and forced me to read it for two days straight, stopping only for work, toilet breaks, sleep and food.

Let’s try to summarize: there is a boy called Oscar, who lives in the Dominican Republic, is very fat and lonely, and very into reading and writing sci-fi. He dies young, slightly less fat and lonely. He has a family, which may or may not bear a curse, or fuku. We learn more about where this belief comes from; about the Dictator Trujillo (who, to my shame, I knew absolutely nothing about before this book) and Oscar’s Grandfather’s dealings with him and the consequences for his mother, his sister and his aunt… It’s a novel with so much in it that perhaps this is the worng angle to approach it from.

Let’s talk about how it’s done. The narrative voice is Oscar’s roomate from University and his sister’s lover, but he seems to have an omniscient perspective which makes one think perhaps his identity is more fluid – perhaps there are more voices at work here. This would fit, because if you take anything away from this work, it is an astonishing multiplicity of perspective; a loose grip on reality that seems somehow more all-encompassing and reasonable than pure realism could ever be. In this respect it reminded me of Toni Morrisson’s Beloved which insists that magical realist/supernatural fiction is the only possible way to tell a story so filled with atrocity and hurt; the subject matter transcends what is know-able or understandable. So it is with Oscar Wao. Love and death; black and white; violence and tenderness; good and evil; women and men – talk about big themes. No wonder Oscar loves Sci-fi. One feels that his life and his family’s life, and their people’s life is almost as dramatic and fantastical.

This is a text that has no qualms about making the reader uncomfortable, about calling the enlightened Western reader’s bluff, about taking him to task about how little he knows about this writer’s national history. I’m sure I’m not the only person who felt the sting in the footnotes which set out Dominican political history: a rough guide. I’m sure I’m not the only person who keenly felt their own ignorance of Spanish, faltering through speech and grasping at familar sounds in an effort to comprehend. You’ve got to appreciate Diaz’s gesture – to alienate/linguistically shut out a large portion of one’s white Western readership is no small act of courage and defiance.

Hats off. On all counts. A bloody good read.

Using the intonations and rhythm naturally present in speech, interview material is transformed into musical theatre. It is not straightforward ‘musical’ material – there is always a sense that reality wins out over one’s expectations of the musical theatre genre, which is fitting for such gritty subject matter. Perhaps ‘gritty’ is not a suitably descriptive word. When I tell people what the play is ostensibly ‘about’ – the murders of five prostitues in Ipswich between 2006-7 – there is a certain amount of recoil. When you consider the actual content of the script, however, one cannot avoid the realisation that this is a play about community in all it’s most unflattering and mundane guises, infused with a frisson of morbid excitement. The fallout from this unwanted ‘excitement’ is a heartening mix of community cohesion and press-bashing.

The wonderful characterisations by a highly versatile cast alone makes London Road an enjoyable excercise in theatre-going, but the script is the star of the show – hovering as it does between art and reality. These are, after all, the words of real people; residents, prostitues, shopkeepers, TV presenters, that are being crafted and re-worked into melody. We are occasionally reminded of this throughout the performance, never so powerfully as when phrases that have just been sung on stage are replayed in their original form – an interview with a prostitute from Ipswich. It’s a real feat of musical and theatrical invention, which continues to be surprising and touching until the end.

One quite important criticism would be that the second half seems unnecessary. The play could have been run as a piece of short theatre and maintained it’s energy and momentum much better. The real impact lies in the audience’s examination of the residents and their reactions to the unfolding events, and the second half is largely focussed on the news coverage of the verdict, which is less engaging and feels less directly related to speech patterns. Perhaps this is something to do with the flat language of the media.

A fascinating idea. Perhaps a little over-long.