Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Review - The Swimmer (1968 - Dir. Frank Perry)




(Sorry the birthday celebrations are a tad on the late side but I've been mildly poorly the last couple of weeks. Anyway, let's rejoice three years of obscurendure goodness with Doccortex's review of The Swimmer - evlkeith.)

A cult classic and for years a film I thought was my all time favourite. It’s surprising that it’s taken me twenty years to return to a film that I watched many times in my youth, but what we find agreeable in our late teens seldom holds our attention as we enter middle age. So did The Swimmer fill me with a sense of depression in a similar way to watching Billy Liar recently? Or is this a timeless piece of film-making that comes with a free pair of rose coloured spectacles? Well the answer is a bit of both really.


It’s a journey film centred around aging suburban socialite Ned Merrell negotiating his way home via a ‘river’ made up of his neighbours’ swimming pools. As he visits each of the pools he meets characters, friends and acquaintances from his past life, reliving the events and attitudes that have shaped his current situation. There’s a colourful collection of his former golf buddies, girlfriends, baby sitters and even a couple of naturists. Slowly but surely the real story is revealed through these encounters.


Burt Lancaster is suitably gregarious and simultaneously confused. At times he looks like he’s in some drug induced state of bliss and at other times he looks absolutely gormless and I’m not convinced whether he actually intended to represent himself as either. There’s a slow motion scene where he trots around a horse’s show jumping pen in his swimming trunks with an attractive baby-sitter in tow (let’s face it who hasn’t), and it’s hard to tell whether it’s Ned Merrell or Burt Lancaster undertaking the smug middle aged dressage. It’s a great performance, but I’m not sure how much was acting, how much was meant and how much was showing off.


The crux of my confusion with the film lies in the difference of perception between my twenty-something self and my current self in the here and now. In my youth Ned Merrell looked like a avuncular old player, a wide boy who had fallen on hard times, and I pitied him. Now he looks creepy, an old has-been praying on women to boost his own ego, luring ex-baby sitters into his bizarre swimathon plot and he even throws in some mild racism. This is what becomes of the all American capitalist pin up boy, and at the end I feel no pity, just a feeling that he got what he deserved.


Yes, it’s still a great film, but it’s darker and weirder than I remember. Maybe great films grow and mature with us. Perhaps it’s a measure of personal growth or my personal cynicism. Whatever your age, gender or perspective it’s a seductive watch and a stretch of water we should all dip into from time to time.
9/10
Doccortex

If you like this you could also try:
Elmer Gantry, Story of a Love Affair.

1 comment:

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