Saturday, 16 February 2013
'Negatives' is an obscure film about role playing, both in terms of sex and life, if the two things can be considered mutually exclusive. Vague Peter McEnery plays a used furniture dealer embroiled in a toxic relationship with an angry actress (Glenda Jackson). Their home life is fraught and full of bitterness, but they are able to transcend this with sex, but only after an elaborate set of rituals. Their favoured roles are as Dr. Crippen and his mistress Ethel Le Neve, although Jackson occasionally plays his ill-fated wife, Cora, too. It’s a bit of a mess, but it’s their mess, and they really go to town on this, wearing period costumes and staying in character until they reach the satisfaction apparently denied to them when they’re being themselves.
Into this ménage a doux comes a trois, or rather a drei, in the form of German photographer Reingard (Diane Cilento). As you might expect, things start to get rather awkward, especially when Reingard begins to steer the impressionable Theo towards a relationship and a new character, The Red Baron himself, Manfred Von Richthofen. From here on in, it gets weird.
The directorial debut of Peter Medak (later to direct the chillingly nutty ‘The Ruling Class’ and, much later, ‘The Krays’ with the non-twin Kemps), the film, ultimately, has little to say, although the performances are good (Glenda is great, as always) and the music is by much beloved bearded genius Basil Kirchin.
'Negatives' is a fairly minor and under-seen work, but it typifies a certain type of UK film prevalent in the late sixties: slightly dingy psychodramas where the characters torture themselves and each other because of their inability to balance their relationships against their sexual desires, a sort of ‘La Ronde’ infused with the ambiguous language and motives of Pinter.
I like these films very much, but you need to be in the right mood to watch them - drunk, perhaps, if that’s a mood. The problem is that, unless you’re in the right frame of mind, you can easily be overcome by the sheer self-indulgence of it all and start shouting at the screen. I resisted this temptation with ‘Negatives’ but still wished the characters would just get over themselves and stop wallowing in a mire of their own creation, only to realise that, if they did, I’d just be left with a story about a bloke in a shop who splits up with his girlfriend then, a bit later, gets a new one.