Saturday, 25 February 2012

Home Before Midnight

Home Before Midnight is, for me, Pete Walker's best film. It's certainly his most mainstream, moving away from his previously exploitative style whilst still telling a highly controversial story, that of a twenty eight year old man falling in love with a (unknown to him) fourteen year old girl.

'Music Man on Teenage Sex Charge' screams the press
No, not Gary Glitter!

The trailer makes it plain; "Mike and Ginny are in love" it announces "The law has another word for it : Rape" And thus the plot is set. Mike, a songwriter for popular band Bad Accident, stops for hitchhiker Ginny early one morning and whilst giving her a lift, asks her out on a date.
His mistake? He didn't ask her age.

Ginnny spends the night with him and a follow up date is arranged, sailing at the weekend, and at this stage Mike discovers the truth; Ginny is only fourteen.

But he's in too deep to give her up however much he'd like. 

However, it's only a couple of weeks before Ginny's parents come to their senses and start to query the relationship and the authorities are called....



In love

It's a bold film and a contentious subject matter, even for today's standards (indeed, possibly even more by today's standards) but Walker and his screenwriter Murray Smith (Cool It CarolStrangers, Bulman, The Paradise Club) address it from an intriguing non condemning point of view; that society is out of touch with the behaviour and sexual desires of it's mid teen age 'children'. They present a story in which Mike, far from being a predatory sexual showbusiness monster, is actually a sensitive, albeit foolish young man who genuinely loves Ginny and as such the crime presented is victimless, whereas the reaction it garners from society -  the determination to accept Ginny is an innocent non sexual child who is attacked by an unsympathetic cruel male predator- is indicative of a more widespread and pressing problem.

Sadly it's an argument that the film is only marginally successful in exploring. Ginny, on being confronted by the police and the threat of being placed into care, regresses and resorts to the perceptions others have about the child she is, and lies about the relationship, claiming Mike raped her; which is of course what the authorities wanted to hear all along, and the case goes to trial.

In having Ginny twist and turn at each moment, the viewer is uncertain just what Walker is trying to say. For me, part of me thinks that despite the intentions Walker clearly has, as stated above, there is also the suggestion that a fourteen year old like Ginny cannot know what she wants, and if she did she'd have remained honest to Mike and her feelings for him, and this ultimately detracts from the other argument. Certainly the fact that she has five men noticeably lusting after her in the movie; two of whom she dismisses straight away (the lorry driver who offers her a lift and the band's manager, both of whom are played by distinctly unattractive actors) whilst the other three, Mike and two schoolboys, she submits to. Cruelly dropping one of the schoolboys upon meeting Mike, and the ultimately dropping Mike when she cries rape and falling for the second schoolboy.

Surely someone who is in love would not be so heartless and immature to those she allegedly gave her heart too, if she were mature enough to love in the first place that is? 
It muddies the message. Especially when she can baulk at the sexual advances of the boy her own age yet say to Mike "Is there anything I can do for you, sexually?" and this jaw dropping line "You're even hornier since you found out I'm fourteen"

The acting is rather good. James Aubrey as Mike had form playing in other sexually themed and controversial dramas such as ITV's A Bouquet Of Barbed Wire, whereas Alison Elliot, then eighteen/nineteen gives a good enough performance in the difficult character of the four or so years her junior Ginny, and is incredibly attractive to boot. 

Some men would do time for Ginny in a shot!

Walker shies away from the errors of other directors (such as the casting of the fifteen year old Linda Hayden in the Lolita like Baby Love and the equally fifteen year old Olivia Hussey in Romeo and Juliet) by casting the mature Elliot. As such the sexual scenes and nudity are in no way exploitative (itself a huge leap from his other works such as The House Of Whipcord, Tiffany Jones and The Flesh And Blood Show) even if they do on occasions feel like the dirty mac brigade's ultimate dream in that Ginny is clearly a capable and sophisticated lover. But in presenting such a tale anyway, you're bound to paint yourself into that corner. People will find what they want in it.

In placing Mike in the world of showbusiness and music, Walker gains two cameos of note; the first is DJ and Old Grey Whistle Test presenter Annie Nightingale, who interviews the band and Mike

Oh I wish I was a punk rocker with flowers in my hair

The second is that of DJ and Top Of The Pops presenter David 'Diddy' Hamilton. This was his second film with Walker, having previously appeared as himself in Tiffany Jones. Here, he is seen leaving a club with a young girl and congratulating Mike on his latest hit before pointing to his female companion and saying-and this will make your skin crawl; "Right now I've got to deal with this hot shot"
Mike replies "Good Luck" and 'Diddy' concludes with a chuckling "She may need it!"

Diddy in a God awful outfit

Adding an air of authenticity to the band, or at least hoping to is the casting of Mick Jagger's younger brother Chris as Bad Accident's frontman

He's got the moves like (Chris) Jagger!

Unfortunately the band-whose music was provided by 'Jigsaw' (no, me neither) completely fail to convince as hitters in London's post punk scene. Indeed their music, which provides the soundtrack across many a scene of Mike and Ginny's lyrical courtship, is schmaltzy and twee. And, if you ask me, the name Bad Accident sucks like Jenna Jamieson. 

Juliet Harmer (Adam Adamant Lives!) and Mark Burns (A Day At The Beach) play Ginny's parents. They're a rather odd middle class suburban couple who at times seem to encourage and condone out of hand Ginny's gallivanting with a young man in a Jensen, or her staying out all night to see a fashion show which she has to hitchhike home from. It's staggering to see such lack of parental concern one moment-they pore over Ginny's photo alongside Mike in the NME as if it were an especially good school report!- and then outright horror and alerting the police the next. Indeed, a more blunt person may say what else did they expect? 
Also there is some suggestion of Burns being somewhat creepy, and possibly, given half the chance, the type who really would be a predator on young girls. He smacks the bottom of Ginny's more carefree friend Carol (played by 'Page 3 Stunna' Debbie Linden, who tragically died a drugs related death in 1997 at just 36) and even smacks Ginny's bum and calls her sexy at one point.

Juliet Harmer and Mark Burns

Debbie Linden as Carol

Also in the cast are veteran actors Richard Todd (a bloody hero) and Patrick Barr as the defence and presiding judge at Mike's trial respectively. The latter being a tongue in cheek payback to his previous role as a senile retired judge manipulated to sentence corporal and capital punishment to young girls in House Of Whipcord

Richard Todd, adding class

Patrick Barr as a sane (enough) judge, this time!

There's also a nice turn from virtually everyone's comic foil Ivor Roberts as the investigating policeman, playing it dead straight as befits the story

If this policeman liked Bad Accident but hated the crime Mike was guilty of,
would we have an example of the fan hitting the shit?!

It is a surprisingly mature film from Walker, one in which as I've said before he seems to be stepping away from, or at least changing the perception of, his exploitation roots (something he'd do again in his final film, 1983's affectionate horror spoof The House Of The Long Shadows uniting veterans Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price and John Carradine alongside his own 'bogeywoman', Sheila Keith) 
There is no violence within this, and the nudity is in general key to the film. Indeed the sex scenes, by today's standards, are very tame. There are however occasions where we see a pointless pub stripper and Ginny and Carol have a conversation in the changing rooms starkers which does seem to suggest he couldn't shake off his fondness for pure titillation completely.
It's a film that has some genuinely good dramatic moments; notably the sheer creepiness of a paedophile calling the bailed Mike to congratulate him and ask for all the details. And there's a real feeling of deeply unfair doors being closed on Mike as the story progresses.
It's beautifully shot too, with wonderful cinematography from Peter Jessop who seems to construct the whole film with a hazy glow suggestive of a waking dream (or nightmare for Mike) This stands up very well today, as such soft focus now suggests a rosy nostalgic glow for the late 70s too.

Peter Jessop's lovely dreamy cinematography

In summary, if you're open minded enough for the argument and the sometimes flawed depiction and you have a fondness for 70s British cinema I heartily recommend this film. It's available via Odeon's 'Best Of British Collection' and is reasonably priced on several websites.

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