In the 60s and 70s there existed a scatter of interesting writer/directors with leftfield ambitions that failed to exploit their true potential because they weren’t given the plums by the film industry establishment, and who either died tragically young and artistically unfulfilled, or sought refuge (and employment) in the more financially stable but anonymous world of television and advertising. But with every new format that comes along, there is a window of opportunity for rediscovery thanks to the fetishistic diligence of niche and peripheral distributors who pop up shop with a three-year lease. The BFI’s Flipside label is one, intent on creating an arcane collectors’ film label of forgotten oddities that came too soon, from auteurs that never were.
Directed by Joseph Despins and William Dumaresq, Duffer is an American Dreamer in London, a mop-topped, spotty face eyeing up mini-skirts on Hammersmith Bridge. Yet he’s no Yankee Billy Liar - narrating his day-to-day musings, his life is less comic despair than Oedipal nightmare. A paternal grotesque, Louis Jack, routinely beats him and later sodomises him, and on one occasion films worms slithering over his naked chest for his amateur cine porn. However, the boy remains sympathetic to his abuser, seeking comfort in the bed of a prostitute, Your Gracie. It’s not quite the familiar rites of passage one might find at the Hogwarts franchise.
Perhaps a surreal cousin to the same year’s Bronco Bullfrog (also recently released on the Flipside label) or Jerzy Skolimovski’s Deep End (1970), with a lingering, hand-held camera and extreme close-ups of non-professional faces that we no longer see on the screen. It’s a mixture of vérité naturalism and magical realism, shot, í la nouvelle vague, at weekends on non-sync 16mm with a crew of three people, that suggests, very briefly, that our national cinema might have been heading in the right direction, were it not for the intervention, later that decade, of a group of young graduates from Collett Dickenson Pearce aiming Westward Ho for the midnight express train. Nostalgia enthusiasts will no doubt get misty-eyed at a scene showing the 28 Routemaster journey to Westbourne Park, and a John Menzies outlet at Paddington station.
Forming a late night double bill horror that would’ve played well in rotation at the Scala, the disc’s second feature, The Moon over the Alley, also shows Notting Hill when it was still a slum. A Brechtian musical for the multi-cultural dispossessed, with the ensemble cast breaking into Kinks-style kitchen-sink ditties, and cinematography by Peter Hannan, who would go on to shoot Withnail and I, this is far more than merely one of those council estate genre pieces that middle-brow critics have been sniffy about in recent times. It was directed by Despins and Dumaresq a few years later for the BFI Production Board, and with UKFC funding soon to revert back to the former, one hopes, albeit in vain, that British film can start dreaming like this again.