Previous rambles have referred to the Flipside series and the great 'lost' films released through the BFI. My latest foray into this wonderful series is a rarely seen British 'horror' film from 1984 directed and co-written by Saxon Logan called Sleepwalker. The Blu-ray/DVD release also includes some of the directors short films and a very informative interview recorded in Cape Town, South Africa in July 2013 which gives a welcome insight into the short film career of a man whose work had been neglected until recently.
The story is in the horror genre. The film opens when we enter an old rundown house, seemingly tucked away in the countryside. We see a woman asleep having a bad dream that involves murder, blood and broken glass. A grey haired man enters the woman room and injects her with a syringe. It transpires that the women have been asleep all afternoon. The man and woman are called Marion and Alex Britain; the couple are brother and sister! Marion gets out of bed and proceeds to get dressed and make herself ready for her guests, Alec works on his computer unable to except the fact that visitors are there way, not a social animal our Alec! The storm, that has been raging since the start of our story, lashes the building. Richard Paradise and his wife Angela finally arrive having had problems locating the house. All four drive to a nearby restaurant that has only one other patron the Old Englishman (veteran actor Raymond Huntley). As the party of four begin to get a little loose tongued due to a rather large intake of alcohol the obnoxious Richard sets out to not only upset his fellow guests but also the Restaurant proprietor (Fulton Mackay) and the waiter (a role that Lindsay Anderson was to play until he was stuck in New York with a damaged ankle thereafter Michael Medwin offered his services). After the disastrous meal our four protagonists return to the house where, because of the storm and the age of the electrics, neither the lights nor the heating are working properly. More alcohol is consumed, pornography watched on the TV and Marion flirts with Richard which disgust's Angela - Alec storms off to bed. All but Marion have gone to bed, but eventually the house beds down for the night but by the time that day breaks nothing will ever be the same again.
Surprisingly the main male lead in this film is Bill Douglas a man probably best known for his directing and writing rather than his acting although he did start his career as an actor. I did have the privilege of see Douglas's best know work, the three films that made up his Trilogy (1972-1978) at the RBCFT in Dumfries in February 2011. Douglas had already worked with Logan on his second short Working Surface in 1979 the men had remained friends and Douglas readily agreed to appear in Logan's medium length debut feature film.
Logan admits that his influences for this feature film include the movies of Dario Argento and Mario Bava and James Whale's 1932 horror film, which starred Boris Karloff, The Old Dark House, and the political satire of his mentor Lindsay Anderson. 'The later point emphasising that the film is as much political satire as horror film, if not considerably more'. What Michael Brooke meant by this is that Logan's film is seen as a metaphor for Thatcher’s Britain. Logan claims that it was based on a true story of a friend who did actually sleepwalk and could be prone to violence when in this state. It's a film with atmosphere which I would readily admit comes from Logan and Michael Keenan's script and the cinematography of Nick Beeks-Sanders, who's still regularly works in Television as a camera operator.
Are we sure that what we witness is real or unreal? But what we are sure of is the movies barely hidden political motives. The characters and the house became the embodiment of Britain in the 1980's. The name of the house is ‘Albion’, which is the oldest known name of the island of Great Britain. Each character represents something different: Marion (Heather Page) is Britain, Alec (Bill Douglas) is the wounded socialist, Robert (Nickolas Grace) the veracious businessman who thrives in the free market climate set in motion by Thatcher and her government, with Angela (Joanna David)as the British middle class who dislike what's happening but comply without barely a whimper. The highlight of this political representation is indeed the restaurant scene.
The only reason that Logan was able to secure funding for the film was because of the vanity of his financier who provided the £40000 required when he found out that Lindsay Anderson was to appear in the movie and that he could meet him. Because there was not enough money for production design it was filmed on location in Hampshire at a house that had became empty when its elderly resident moved in with her family after she got to old to care for her self. Both the house and its contents were loaned to the film crew for a five-day shoot. The film took six weeks to edit. The local Fire Brigade provided the rain.
Saxon Logan was born in Rhodesia where he first saw Lindsay Anderson’s If… (1968) a movie that he rates as the biggest influence on his filmmaking. When he left the country of his birth to work in the UK he got an interview with Lindsay who employed him to work at the Royal Court Theatre in London. This opportunity gave Logan the chance to gain a broad experience of working in different disciplines and with different people within a theatrical environment. Eventually getting his own play to direct all by the time he was nineteen. His first entry into the world of the feature film was when he was invited to assist Lindsay with the production of O Lucky Man (1973). This appointment again gave him an induction to most aspects of filmmaking, working in various departments under the guidance of Lindsay who also made it possible for Logan to join the Technicians Union. Which in turn meant he could go on to work in the industry under his own accord and made it possible for him to join the BBC as an assistant editor. But it was the suggestion from the This Sporting Life (1963) director that he should make his own films that was to change his life.
|A scene from Stepping Out.|
The first short film he wanted to make involved a robbery and gender sex change but he was advised that this might well be too complicated for his first attempt! Finally making a less complex film about gender reversal called Stepping Out (1977) which unfortunately did not have universal appeal but did the cinema rounds as part of a double bill with Roman Polanski's psychological thriller The Tenant (1976) a film which also had a transgender theme. He followed this with another short that turned out to be quite a large stepping-stone to his first feature film. Working Surface: A Short Study (with actors) in the 'Ways' of a Bourgeois Writer was made in 1979 and as I have said before starred Bill Douglas as the writer. He fitted the role perfectly because the character called for an actor that looked like a writer and could type. Logan also used two actresses that would feature in Sleepwalker, and Douglas's own film Comrades (1986) Joanna David and Heather Page. Working Surface was programmed with The Lacemaker (1977), a French movie that starred Isabelle Huppert, and gradually gained a lot of attention.
This exposure lead to Sleepwalker opening the Berlin Film Festival that year, unusual for a film of this length and was repeated throughout the festival to great acclaim - but this is Europe! When returning to the UK the film was not accepted for a release not even on the Festival circuit, in fact the film 'disappeared' sinking without a trace completely, which after its reception at Berlin was quite a surprise. Logan returned to making documentaries never venturing into feature film production again.
Fourteen years after being shelved horror critic and writer Kim Newman rediscovered the film and arranged a screening where it was very well received by the invited audience. Following this it was shown throughout the country at privately arranged screenings. Saxon Logan's film was finally accepted a very long time after it made its debut at Berlin! Logan was contacted by Sam Dunn who informed him that the BFI wanted to release the film as part of its Flipside series which brings me to where I started, infusing over a film that was never given its rightful acclaim when if was first made. So thank you again BFI for all cineastes like my self who now gets a chance to see a movie that we would not normally be able to.