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« DVD Review: Gainsbourg (2010) | Main | The Flipside presents The Terrornauts (1967) on the big screen »

DVD Review: Duffer (1971) and The Moon Over The Valley (1975)


Have you ever seen a film, then about half an hour later, thought to yourself 'did I really watch that?' I have - and that film is Duffer, part of the new BFI/Flipside double header that also features the related movie The Moon Over The Valley. Want to know more? Read on.

Duffer is perhaps the headline act, a weird independent Brit flick, dating back to 1971 and the work of Joseph Despins and William Dumaresq. It's a black and white movie set in a declining Notting Hill with pretty much no dialogue spoken by those taking part in it. Everything is spoken as a 'commentary' by Duffer, a lost teenage boy whose life bounces between two domineering presences.

The first of those is the demented Louis Jack, who spends his days abusing Duffer in every way possible - torture, beatings, inserting things into him, pretty much anything that the twisted mind of the 'father figure' can think of. He even films the abuse with a stolen video camera, forcing Duffer to watch them at bizarre cinema nights. Why doesn't Duffer just leave? Because Duffer doesn't want to. He think it's unkind to begrudge Louis Jack his 'pleasure', so lets the abuse continue, even when it turns more into serious abuse and most alarmingly, when Louis Jean decides he can get Duffer pregnant. Yes, you read that correctly.

But it's not all hell for Duffer. On the other side of the fence is kindly middle-aged prostitute Your Gracie, who lives out of a Notting Hill basement flat. She spends her days sleeping with 'old men', using youthful Duffer as her sexual pleasure. He doesn't mind - her flat is a stark contrast to the pit of Louis Jack, with soft sheets, good food, fine wine and the comforting pleasures of Your Gracie. But it can't last, with Duffer feeling obliged to go back to help Louis Jack, whose abuse gets steadily worse as the movie rolls on.

Indeed, Duffer's stomach swells up as a phantom pregnancy and when the baby doesn't appear, we're led to believe that Duffer steals one for Louis Jack, who eventually kills the baby in a fit of sadism. It's not pleasant, although much of the violence and abuse in inferred rather than obvious, Duffer's voice stating it all in a matter of fact way.

Happy ending? I think you can guess what happens there, it's not pleasant, that's for sure.

Yet despite all that, there's much to recommend in Duffer. It's a brave reissue by Flipside, certainly not commercial and even with a screen makeover, this black and white flick still isn't high quality on your TV. That grainy footage and the derelict buildings of early 70s London just add even more grit to the movie, which is pretty relentless in its misery, aside the odd chink of light down by the river and its unusually quirky soundtrack.

But Duffer is incredibly striking and almost certainly influential - it reminds me very much of David Lynch's Eraserhead, but was well ahead of it - it's that level of intensity. It's also as much a psychological study as a movie, with obvious inferences of Your Gracie being the mother and Louis Jack the father for the parentless Duffer for example.

It's not the most comfortable of viewing, but from me, Duffer comes highly recommended. As does the other movie on this disc, The Moon Over The Valley from 1975.

A more traditional movie, even if the characters occasionally break out into song (not in a 'musical' way though, you'll be pleased to know), The Moon Over The Valley is a film about people and a places - Notting Hill in 1975 for the latter. That are is the verge of changing. Soon to go are the large decaying houses and one-room tenants. Instead, the concrete blocks rise in the background, threatening to take away the life and the characters of the area.

The camera pans over the main characters briefly, eventually coming back to each one to tell their story in varying degrees. The couple sleeping rough in the backstreets, the German landlady packing the boarders into her house, those self-same boarders, all landing at the house with their own dreams, the man at the corner shop, his daughter and the son of the landlady as teenage sweethearts, the local pub and the menacing gang of teenagers hanging round the street corners. All having a tale, some even having a song, courtesy of Galt MacDermot, who was behind the musical Hair amongst other things.

It starts off fairly lightly, with the landlady singing along to the radio, as well as sending the man from the council (who wants to talk compulsory purchase) packing. But he's actually the beginning of the end. Soon after, we see the teenage sweethearts hold hands, an American wannabe pop star takeing a room under the stairs, the homeless couple sauntering around, making money singing at the market and at that same market, a community of different ages and races mixing happily, looking for a bargain and sharing stories. But when night falls, it turns darker. In light and tone.

The homeless couple are robbed of the few things they have, the Irish tenant discovers his fiancee is working in a sex club to earn them enough money for a house, the young sweethearts walk down the wrong street at the wrong time and the old man with an eye for young girls is targeted by the teenage gang. Oh yes, to top that all off, the day of reckoning with the council is approaching.

Personally, I really enjoyed The Moon Over The Valley. It's sentimental without being overly so, it's hard-hitting without being sensationalist and it also captures an era that was about to die. The closing shots seeming to draw a line over old London, ushering in the dawn of the new, for better or worse. I even enjoyed the songs, which thankfully aren't forced in, they just find a neat little place within the storyline.

If you're a fan of old London or 70s British cinema, you'll be a fan of this too. As I said earlier, not the most commercial of releases, but for me, two movies that fit the original remit of Flipside more so than recent, more obvious offerings. Well worth picking up if you have an appetite for something 'different'.

Find out more about the DVD/Blu-ray at the Amazon website


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