It’s 1984, and somewhere in England there is a rain-lashed, crumbling house called Albion where the Britains live. Marion (Heather Page) and Alex (Bill Douglas) are a pair of siblings whose already fractious relationship is clearly tested further by the power cuts, leakages and broken windows inflicted on their inherited property. They are visited by the Paradises, Angela (Joanna David) and Richard (Nickolas Grace); he’s an utterly appalling yuppie type given to cracking AIDS gags, she’s a bit of a doormat enduring his hot-and-cold running abuse. Richard and the ineffectual, leftish Alex take an instant dislike to each other and so follows an excruciating drunken evening of unbridled hostility and resentment, with Marion taking the opportunity to aim various digs at her brother (‘he’s not a writer, he’s a translator… writers have style’), also revealing that he once tried to strangle her in his sleep. After an uncomfortable meal at a restaurant, the quartet return to Albion where relations deteriorate further. They all go to bed. And then things get nasty…
Saxon Logan’s Sleepwalker (1984) is genuinely odd, and remains so after repeat viewings. A 50-minute-long state of the nation, four-hander play whose genes have been spliced with a stylised giallo slasher. It’s full of overt symbology, the characters are clearly archetypes, the performances are exaggerated, and given this, one might expect Sleepwalker to hit its viewers over the head with a well telegraphed message, but it’s a bit slippier than that. The doomy synth chords and Bava/Argento gel shots (and blimey, there’s a lot of blue here) suggest one type of cinema; the intricate emotional dynamics, political wrangling and oneiric imagery suggest another. The result is disquieting and elusive. A card at the end of the credits reads ‘this film is dedicated to imperfect cinema’, which seems accurate. There’s something not quite right about Sleepwalker, which, as I write this, makes me want to see it again
The BFI disc of Saxon Logan’s film is part of its Flipside line, a treasure trove of vintage British weirdness. It comes with a lengthy, and ultimately moving, interview with the director, plus the two short films he made before Sleepwalker, which are witty and visually inventive, and suggest, once again, that Britain tends to squander and ignore its singular talents. Logan had the good fortune to work as Lindsay Anderson’s assistant on O Lucky Man!, and the bad luck to emerge as a filmmaker just as the UK industry entered one of its most barren and moribund phases. He recounts in the interview a painful screening of Sleepwalker for Rank distribution executives, in which his film, which had been received with enthusiasm and a Special Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, was met with disapproving bafflement. He moved into documentaries. And it looks like we missed out on some idiosyncratic cinema.
Also on the disc is Rodney Giesler’s The Insomniac, a delightful 45-minute curiosity from 1971, wherein an everyday working stiff (Morris Perry) achieves a kind of freedom in a sunlit, nocturnal dreamworld, including some X-certificate loving with Carry On starlet Valerie Van Ost, before reality rears its ugly head. Great stuff.