Tuesday, 26 April 2011


I’d religiously bought all the BFI/Flipside series of weird and wonderful British films from the 60s and early 70s but stopped with the all-too-familiar Bronco Bullfrog and Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush, which also altered the packaging and screwed the symmetry of the DVD shelf. All that is now forgiven thanks to Duffer, number 15 in the series and one of the best. Wonderful wouldn’t be the right word but weird most certainly is.

The title character (played by young Martin Freeman lookalike Kit Gleave) is a sensitive youth who divides his time between the dominating Louis Jack, who in his grubby hovel tortures him, buggers him, stars him in dodgy home made films, sticks worms over him and even attempts to get him pregnant; and a cuddly prostitute, Your Gracie, who offers him candlelit bangers and mash and warm protection in her flouncy sheets and jelly breasts. The parent-less Duffer narrates the film throughout and the relationship with his older companions is, as he says, “one for you with your psychology books”. Of Your Gracie he unconvincing offers “My mother and I never had sex together, it never entered our heads” and whilst Louis Jack performs one disturbing routine after another on Duffer he doesn't leave him. “He needed me. I knew it was important to have human sympathy for other people. I had to let him do what he liked to me because it gave him so much pleasure. Who was I to deny him his little pleasures?”

Duffer knows he can’t be pregnant yet his stomach swells (possibly down to being force fed endless jars of apricots). When the “birth” turns out to be a phantom pregnancy, events spiral out of control as a disturbed and confused Duffer struggles to separate fact from fiction, seeking refuge by Hammersmith Bridge where “Louis Jack was a dream, not a reality at all”.

Duffer was made by directors Joseph Despins and William Dumaresq for only £2,500 and shot to a Galt MacDermot (Hair) piano accompaniment in grainy black and white throughout crumbling West London streets inhabited by shady stalking characters and feuding couples. It’s not comfortable viewing but totally absorbing and unlike anything else I’ve seen. Many period details stick out: the deliberate placing of a box of Omo washing powder in Louis Jack’s flat gave me a childish titter; as did the billboard poster “Talk Him In To A New Gas Cooker”; whilst I’d completely forgotten about open air urinals at the side of roads.

The set includes another Despins/Dumaresq film, The Moon Over The Alley (1975), which far from being a tacked on “extra” is worthy of its own billing. Centered around the lives of the multicultural residents in a Notting Hill boarding house it looks and feels like a kitchen sink drama from ten years earlier, albeit one where the characters occasionally sing their stories. That sounds like a terrible concept but mercifully doesn’t detract too much from a warm yet ultimately depressing tale.

Duffer/The Moon Over The Alley is released as a combined DVD/Blu-Ray set by BFI/Flipside.

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