Monday, 23 November 2015

Waiting Room (1981, Anwar Kawadri)

While we’re on the subject of Anwar Kawadri, the person who brought Claudia to youtube has also uploaded a couple more of his feature films there (Nutcracker, Out of Time) as well as a sadly non-English language friendly documentary on the man himself. The real discovery amongst this bunch however is a ‘woman in peril’ short film by Kawadri –made in-between the commercial sexploitation of Sex with the Stars and the underwhelming Joan Collins vehicle Nutcracker-that appears to have flew under everyone’s radar until its appearance on youtube. From an era when Eady money was a huge encouragement to make short films in Britain, Waiting Room (1981) stars Ken Russell favourite Georgina Hale as a woman who finds herself being stalked by a blind man at a near deserted railway station then raped by him in the nearby countryside, only for the rape to eventually turn out to be a figment of her imagination, and the man in question to harbour far greater sexually deviant desires.

Waiting Room undoubtedly feels more taboo today than in would have in 1981, indeed it is an achievement (of sorts) just how much potentially offensive subject matter it manages to cram in within the space of only 16 minutes. There is enough contentious material here to explode the heads of those sensitive, but never shy of self-publicity, souls who show up in ‘Its Alright to take a Shit on the 1970s/80s/90s’ type TV shows, what with a man who is both black and blind depicted as a sinister sexual predator, the inappropriate use of a child actress, and a rape scene in which Hale’s character begins to enjoy the experience. Several aspects of the film can be defended up to a point, with the bulk of the film being a fantasy played out in the head of a sad, left on the shelf, middle aged woman whose mind evidently harbours deeply closeted masochistic rape fantasies and less closeted racist preconceptions about black men. Problematic though is the ‘twist’ ending which seems to validate and justify her racism rather than take the opportunity to subvert or challenge it by having the man go against her preconceptions.

Still if the modus operandi here was to trouble and shock an audience within a very brief amount of time then it is impossible to deny that Waiting Room is successful in its aims. The ending in which Hale’s character is complaisant in the blind man’s abduction of his real target, the identity (and more specifically the age) of his intended victim, and the final glances exchanged between Hale and the person being whisked away to the kind of sexual abuse that Hale’s character can only fantasise about, is the most disturbing denouement which I’ve seen on film in a long time. Waiting Room might well be Kawadri’s best realised work. It is handsomely and expertly shot by ace exploitation film cinematographer Peter Jessop, and Kawadri displays a flair for suspense as well as tapping in to that sense of isolation, vulnerability and lack of interaction that you do genuinely get from British railway stations. The near absence of any dialogue also renders the constant thumping of the blind man’s cane against the ground a brilliantly intimidating device that dominates the soundtrack.

I suspect Waiting Room originally went out theatrically in Britain as the supporting short to ‘The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin’. This and the Amin film were the only two submissions made to the BBFC by short lived distributor ‘Twin Continental Film Services Ltd’, and The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin’s director Sharad Patel takes a ‘presents’ credit on Waiting Room. Making this racially charged pairing a canny, if incendiary, drop in on the immediately post Brixton riots Britain of 1981.

Link: Waiting Room on Youtube

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Claudia (1985, Anwar Kawadri and Michael Winner)

How can I resist the challenge nay temptation of a film directed by Anwar Kawadri (Nutcracker, Sex with the Stars) with “additional scenes produced, directed, written and edited by Michael Winner”.

I’m unsure of the exact history of the production, and who did precisely what, but for my money Claudia feels very much an abortive Winner film with additional material by Kawadri, rather than the other way round. Covering similar territory as Gerry O’Hara’s The Brute (1977), Claudia depicts the rapidly deteriorating relationship and marriage of its titular heroine Claudia (Deborah Raffin) and businessman Howard (Nicholas Ball). Initially the epitome of everything a woman wanted from a man in the materialistic 1980s, charmer Howard whisks Claudia away from her job working at her mother’s deli and into a world of wealth, art galleries, lavish restaurants and dinner parties attended by Howard’s well to do social circle (this is the kind of film where people tend to begin or end every sentence with ‘darling’). Upon their third wedding anniversary however huge cracks begin to appear in their relationship, Claudia’s Italian mother wants the couple to have a bambino and suspicions arise that Howard is firing blanks. To complicate matters Howard is also having an affair with aspiring female author Sally (Belinda Mayne, something of a moth to the flame when it came to appearing in trashy 80s movies- see also: Don’t Open Till Christmas, Alien 2: On Earth and White Fire) and he reacts to accusations of his impotence by calling Claudia a bitch and slapping her around. Following their breakup, Howard struggles to accept the separation, taking it especially bad when Claudia hooks up with her neighbour Gavin, a male hairdresser with ties to the music industry. After putting the frighteners on Gavin fails to have the desired effect, Howard takes things to greater extremes, having Gavin beaten up then murdered by his criminal associates. The shock of which causes a now pregnant Claudia to lose the baby she was due to have with Gavin, and vows to get revenge on her murderous ex.


In typical Winner fashion, polite, upper middle class settings and characters here mingle with rude and frequently hilariously course dialogue (“we make love, what’s your problem, you should see a psychiatrist or a gynaecologist”, “why don’t you explore a bit, y’know, have it off with the plumber or something”). Even the casting suggests Winner as the greater directorial presence, with leading lady Deborah Raffin appearing in Death Wish 3 the same year, and a supporting cast of 1960s showbiz knockabouts (Mark Eden, John Moulder-Brown, Ed Devereaux, Jess Conrad). Then there are the Balloons. For reasons he appears to have gone to his grave without explaining, nuns and characters holding balloons are a reoccurring harbinger of doom in Winner’s films. Basically the moment a nun or someone carrying balloons walks into frame in one of Winner’s films it is usually a sign that some very bad shit is about to go down. Sure enough in Claudia when a minor character shows up at a party at Claudia and Howard’s house with balloons, it signals the moment in the film when Howard undergoes a dramatic personality change from a ‘can do no wrong’ Mr Perfect to an alcoholic, wife beating, impotent rapist and control freak. The equal amount of emphasis on Howard and Claudia’s cooking, and vicious put downs of it by other characters could even be seen to anticipate Winner’s later career change from film maker to restaurant critic “I do hope you’ve improved your cooking Howard, the last time I ate with you, I had diarrhoea for three weeks” complains one character during one of the film’s endless parade of upper middle class dinner scenes. Make no mistake Claudia is truly a foodie’s film.

Winner was soon to be on an exploitation film roll, with the cranked up to eleven ludicrous excesses of Death Wish 3 and Scream for Help just around the corner, but Claudia feels like a muted variation on the latter, only with a wife, rather than a stepdaughter pitted against a vile piece of a shit of a man and struggling to convince those around her that he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Perhaps due to the production problems and creative differences hinted at by the two director credits, Claudia never seems sure of what genre it wants to commit to. Everything about the opening twenty minutes indicates a rather lightweight romantic film, all shot in the glossy manner of a 1980s TV commercial aimed at yuppies. Thereafter Claudia really starts to frustratingly come off the rails, pursuing plot tangents that never lead anywhere, like Gavin going all Paul McCartney and temporarily installing Claudia as the keyboard player in his band, or Claudia’s mother finding love in later life and planning to move to Australia. Throughout the film I couldn’t help but feel sorry for anyone who had the job of trying to market it to the public (it was made in 1985, but released direct to video in the UK in 1987), just how do you sell an inconsistent film with its fingers in so many disparate genres like Claudia. The further the film progresses, the deeper Claudia aimlessly drifts in the direction of being a thriller, a drama, a soap opera, a rape-revenge film and what back then might have patronisingly been referred to as a ‘a woman’s film’. The inclusion of Death Wishy exploitation elements (Howard’s criminal associates beating Gavin to a pulp, Claudia enduring beatings and a rape by Howard) may liven things up but only further adds to the sense of Claudia being a cinematic jack of all trades, and master of none. Definitely lesser 1980s Winner, Claudia never really catches fire like Death Wish 3 and Scream for Help, instead having to make do with feeling like a more violent, potty mouthed version of one of the era’s ‘Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense’ TV movies.