Sunday, 15 September 2013

Blu-ray Review: Saxon Logan's Sleepwalker

"Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?"
Edgar Allan Poe

Driving rain, the ominous sound of thunder and an old dark house provide a perfect setting for the cinema of unease, and that's exactly what we get in the opening sequence of Saxon Logan's Sleepwalker.
The house of Albion - the oldest known name for the island of Great Britain - is rather appropriately populated by Alex and Marion Britain (Bill Douglas and Heather Page), and old school brother and sister act who are soon to welcome Richard and Angela Paradise ( Nickolas Grace and Joanna David) as their guests for the weekend. The Paradise couple couldn't be more different than their hosts, with Richard immediately marking himself a a rude, totally insensitive bigot views and 'Only person is me' attitude will later clash with Alex's own beliefs and principles. Initially, the Britain's had planned for a cosy candlelit dinner, but the storm breached the windows of Albion, forcing this party of four to visit the local restaurant, where Fulton Mackay and Michael Medwin await as hosts. Once there, Richard's homophobia and absurd political views ("mass unemployment is good. Sucks the poison out of the system") result in a fiery clash with Alex, who represents the polar opposite of his opponents view that the unscrupulous chase for wealth really does lead to a personal paradise. Small wonder that the confrontations continue back at the house as more alcohol is consumed, leading to sibling arguments, jealousy, sizzling sexual tension and talking point murder scenes that would fit perfectly into the great Italian horror films of Dario Argento and Mario Bava. The stylish sequences of bloodletting provide an astonishing finale, and this mid-length feature (made in 1984 and running 47 minutes) has more absorbing themes and ideas within its running time, than many films three times the length.

Sleepwalker is beautifully directed, with the screenplay - a tripartite affair from Saxon Logan, John Vernon and Michael Keenan - is a triumph and the performances are exquisite. A word of praise, too, for Phil Sawyer's score which is enormously disconcerting, and perfectly in tune with the onscreen events. There's a lot more to Sleepwalker than meets the eye, and I'm simply itching to discuss the film's final image, but will instead wait til the dust has settled and more people have seen the film before I return to it on this blog.
The same can be said of Saxon's 'Stepping Out' and 'Working Surface', both of which are featured on this Blu-ray/DVD combi pack. 'Stepping Out' is a 5 minute short, and played with Roman Polasnki's The Tenant at UK cinemas. I still believe The Tenant to be Polanski's finest work, and Stepping Out is a perfect companion piece with its themes of gender, role reversal and becoming someone else. Stepping Out was actually shot inside 24 hours, and the same time frame was allocated to Working Surface - a 15 minute short starring Bill Douglas, Heather Page and Joanna David. Dedicated to Lindsay Anderson, this, like Saxon's other work, has endless replay value, using dislocation of time and the age old disease of writer's block to construct a thoroughly absorbing account of characters departing from their written word confines. The BFI have also included Rodney Giesler's 'Insomniac', a 45 minute mid-length piece that justifies its inclusion here with a lively tale of sexual fantasy and dread behind the walls of sleep. The Insomniac would be a great way to sign off this very special Flipside releases, but there's one more item to tell you about. Shot in Cape Town in June of this year, 'O Lucky Man' is a 75 minute interview with Saxon Logan, taking in his friendship and working relationship with the Great(s) Lindsay Anderson and Bill Douglas; his persistence at striving to find work in the industry and the stories behind Sleepwalker, the aforementioned short films and Anderson gems such as O Lucky Man. It's also the story of a man who sees filmmaking as a vocation, and who suffered setbacks along the way.
Witness Saxon's moving account of Sleepwalker's success on release at the Berlin Festival, and a government policy that meant it sunk without a trace over here. At one point, Saxon is overcome and it's hard not to shed a tear as you witness his passion for the great art form that is film, and his regret at how things originally turned out for Sleepwalker. Now, the film that was released at the wrong time is reborn, with major thanks going to film historian Darrell Buxton, and you can hear of the part Darrell played in this interview. This Flipside release is region-free, and the picture quality for all the features is more than acceptable. There is also a BFI booklet to accompany this release with writing on all the features, though I must confess I have yet to read it. This is one of the jewels in the flipside crown, and already destined to be on many top ten lists come the end of 2013.

You can read my review of a theatrical screening , written several years ago HERE


  1. I just want to say how entirely grateful for the consistent support and subsequent friendship I have enjoyed with Steve. The above mentioned review is wonderful and this with his earlier write up on Sleepwalker are an indication that finally Sleepwalker is being seen the way it is intended by people who know there stuff and love movies. Steve and Darrell have more than countered those nay sayers from the British Film establishment. I feel most fortunate to have such formidable support.

  2. Saxon, thank you so very much for taking time to comment. I'm sure Sleepwalker will find many new admirers in the months and years ahead. Here's to your next feature!