Friday, September 3, 2010

STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING (Peter Collinson, 1972)

A shy young woman leaves home seeking the joys of motherhood only to discover the hysteria of pregnancy, her life aborted and preserved forever on magnetic tape: a real voice relegated to the reel. Peter Collinson’s psychedelic thriller projects a Nicolas Roeg LSD unreality, utilizing flash-quick cross-cutting and juxtaposing disparate imagery and overlapping dialogue, creating a disorienting sense of a timid young girl lost in a grave new world.

The first half-hour is a montage of dreamlike imagery as Brenda takes flight, leaving her lonely mother to wander restlessly like a ghost in an abandoned cemetery. Brenda lands in swinging London and is taken under the wing of the beautifully promiscuous Caroline, who truly seems to care for our lost and rather physically mundane protagonist. Brenda is pregnant with the idea of being pregnant, and searches for a man to bed her: unfortunately, her attempts lead to rejection and emotional abortion. That is, until Tinker leads her to a man relegated to eternal youth, a blonde haired Peter Pan whose physicality reflects a fractured and ageless androgyny. Peter christens Brenda with a new identity, and she becomes Wendy, lost in a fabled imagination of children’s stories scratched into her notebook.

The bleak story shows very little blood or gore, and eschews the Hammer formula with its modern setting and filming, taking to the chaotic streets where the flats become organized like prison blocks. The final act becomes a static set: Peter’s apartment where “Wendy” discovers the true nature of her nurtured donor. The film doesn’t explain Peter’s motivations and therein is birthed the real horror, a killer who stalks London that isn’t the typical cinematic hebephrenic maniac. It’s compelling though not completely successful in sustaining suspense, as the characters become less sympathetic as the story progresses. Collinson’s cinematography is exciting and the quicksilver editing lends an artistic flair, otherwise the film would sink into a morass of structural cliché.

Wendy’s journey begins straight on till morning and ends with the dark night of the soulless. This may be the most nihilistic denouement in the Hammer filmography.

Final Grade: (B)

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