Sleepwalker Review

The Films

BFI's latest flipside release collects together three short films from Saxon Logan and one, The Insomniac, from Rodney Giesler. I'll review Logan's contributions first before moving on to the final film:

Stepping OutimageAfter being awoken to cinema by the likes of Antonioni and Lindsay Anderson, Logan wrote to whatever film-makers he could to get advice about how to pursue a career in film. Most wrote back with set rejection letters but Anderson took an interest and took Logan under his wing whilst he made O, Lucky Man. After this experience and employment with the BBC as a film Editor, Logan decided to make his first film and Stepping Out is the short rather distinctive result.

It follows a couple waking up and getting ready for the day. Subtly, gender roles are subverted and the seemingly conventional subject matter is taken in a fresh and rather intelligent direction. Ahead of its time, the film supported Polanski's The Tenant at UK cinemas and upset entrenched attitudes with its novel approach.

Working Surface: A Short Study (with Actors) in the 'Ways' of a Bourgeois Writer
The late Bill Douglas turns up as actor in the final Logan films included here - firstly, he stars as the "bourgeois writer" of the title struggling to develop a story of two women, played here by Joanna David and Heather Page. Working Surface is a witty satirical piece well worth your attention. imageLogan put the film together as part of a BBC director's course and it cheerily debunks the pretensions of male writers trying to show women's perspectives. He cast the two actresses he would later use for Sleepwalker and he chanced his arm by asking Douglas to take part but he agreed and even sat in on the edit with Logan.

Sleepwalker
Marion and Alex, the Britains, live together in their inherited and dilapidated home, Albion. Marion sleeps all day wracked with nightmares and Alex secludes himself in his historical research. Marion has invited guests for dinner, Angela, whom she met in hospital, and Richard, her Thatcherite entrepreneurial partner. Forced to the local inn because of damage to the house, Marion lays bare Alex's problems and Alex fights with Richard over politics and leery drunkenness pervades all. They return to Albion for a night of dark dreams and blood-letting.imageSleepwalker is a peculiarly British beast, an art film with political overtones and a degree of gore and horror to boot. Telling both a particular story of sex, class and rivalry, and attempting to sum up British society at the end of the miner's strike and the Falkland's war, the ambition and sheer courage of the director is to be admired as much as his execution.

As a psychodrama, his film is acutely uncomfortable with the dinner playing out as a not so civil war. As horror movie, the style and the confidence to go for the jugular is also impressive - I can imagine fans of Italian horror flourishes like noirish lighting and abrasive music being satisfied with what they see here. imageIt is perhaps the singularity of this film which is both its strength and major flaw. Rid of the need to develop characters beyond allegory, insight is focused upon their meaning rather than their persons, and grounding the horror within the politics may seem a bit lumpy to some (calling the house "Albion", and the cast "Britain" and "Paradise" lacks subtlety).

Yet to my mind, the balance is overwhelmingly positive as the sheer distinctiveness of the vision is compelling. I regularly find myself criticising British film-makers for not taking risks or being individual, kowtowing to good taste, and Saxon Logan avoids that splendidly here with creating a special film all of its own genre. Sleepwalker is something of a discovery thanks to this release.image

The Insomniac
The final film included here again deals with a sleep disorder as we follow Morris Perry through his night and day as they become garbled between dream and reality and routine and escape. Falling asleep in the evening traffic and then staying awake in the marital bed, our insomniac succumbs to a seemingly pastoral reverie driving around in the small hours, but in blazing sunshine. Running out of fuel he finds himself at a party where all wear sunglasses and then eloping with the party's hostess into the light of the night.imageEssentially, a tale of liberation brought down to earth, The Insomniac has a sweet intoxicating quality which made it every bit as great a discovery as Sleepwalker. The equation of the everyday with an inability to dream is perfect, and the final guilty conclusion is a particular delight after the joyous reverie before it.

The Disc

In addition to the short films listed above, an excellent 70 minute plus interview with Logan is included. He takes us through his history, his good luck in befriending Anderson and Douglas and the failure of Sleepwalker on release in the UK leading to him going back to documentaries. Rather movingly, Logan chokes up when talking about Sleepwalker being rediscovered and its audience catching up with it at last.

The films are organised on the region free Blu-ray disc with the option to play all the Logan pieces together or to have a double bill of Sleepwalker with The Insomniac. Each film is presented in 1080P with lossless LPCM mono sound and at a frame-rate of 24 per second. All of the pieces are in 1.33:1 bar Sleepwalker which is framed at 1.85:1. The transfers are all sympathetically done according to the base materials with The Insomniac particularly stunning in its detail and the clarity of the image. Sleepwalker shows much more in the way of wear and tear, and this is present in the lossless audio track with a few pops and hisses. Still given the low profile of all of these pieces, the quality is excellent with no excessive filtering or over zealous restoration hurting the excellent black levels and colour balance.

For this review, we were sent the Blu-ray element of the dual-format release along with the booklet which will be included in the retail version. We are assured that the standard definition release contains all the features of the Blu-ray. In the accompanying 20 page booklet, Julian Grainger chooses to address the misunderstandings of genre that the film's original release caused, Vic Pratt helpfully fills in some background around Rodney Geisler, Alex Davidson does the same for Logan's debut and Sam Dunn considers Working Surface and the loss to feature films of the director.

Summary

The BFI's Sleepwalker release is a real prize, rediscovering two fine films in Sleepwalker itself and The Insomniac. With the excellent Logan interview and the inclusion of his early films with the fine booklet, this is one of the releases of the year so far.

Film
9 out of 10
Video
8 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
9 out of 10
Overall

9

out of 10

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