The Other Side of the Underneath

The Other Side of the Underneath ★★★★★

The Other Side of the Underneath is definitely one of the most difficult film experiences I've ever had. I'd rank it alongside stuff like Night and Fog, 'Til Madness Do Us Part, Act of Killing and Baise Moi in terms of the sheer ferocity of the images and ideas explored. It's also pretty damn long considering it's radically experimental nature and the sensory shock the audience will likely experience (particularly in the first half).

For those unaware, The Other Side of the Underneath is the only 1970s British film solely directed by a woman. AND, it's a freewheeling piece of radical feminism that runs for over two hours, explores mental illness more explicitly than One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, AND is completely devoid of narrative. I'll give you a minute to let that sink in, aye.


Actually, fuck it, I might even write it again, just for clarity: The Other Side of the Underneath is the only 1970s British film solely directed by a woman.


This above fact alone - while FUCKED and UNBELIEVABLE in hindsight - means that this film is wholly worthy of your attention.

Firstly, be warned, it is purely experimental film in it's form. There is a very thin narrative that kinda weaves through the 133 minute runtime but mostly, the audience is just subjected to a series of shocking and bizarre vignettes, acted out with astonishing effect by a collection of actresses who worked very closely with Jane Arden leading up to and during the creation of the film. In fact, the cast worked so closely with Arden that the experience of filming such personal and traumatic content meant that several of the women had proper, LSD-induced emotional breakdowns during filming, forcing the once close theatre group to disband shortly after the films creation.

That Arden was able to dig so deeply into the psyche of herself and the actresses for the creation of this film is unbelievable, shocking and possibly even dangerous without the presence of a psychologist or professional during sessions (Arden took a staunchly Anti-Psychiatrist stance throughout her life. Unfortunately, however, she never healed, committing suicide in 1982, aged 55.)

The Other Side of the Underneath is a radical piece of feminism that deserves more than the 80 ratings it presently has on letterboxd. But part of the reason for the films relatively underground status is that, for reasons I'm yet to ascertain, The Other Side of the Underneath was largely out of circulation for most of Arden's life, resurfacing only once in 1983 following her suicide and then never again until 2009. It's fair to assume that the emotional turmoil placed on the cast and crew during it's creation forced Arden to dispel the project completely, though mystique surrounds why the film went missing again following her death.

Regardless, the film is one of the most fascinating oddities in the entire film cannon I've ever stumbled across. It's not entirely bleak, too. The film has a playful, surrealist whimsy that I've seen in films like Daisies, The Picnic at Hanging Rock or even Valerie and her Week of Wonders, but it must be understood that Arden's film is considerably more bleak and experimental than any of these above projects. The playfulness of some of the scenarios and imagery (especially in the second half) can be seen as antithetical to the bleakness of the topics explored in the opening half (female schizophrenia, psychotherapy, mania, and hysteria).

One viewing alone would probably not do this film justice, though I can't see myself subjecting my brain to a re-watch any time soon. However, for those visiting the film for the first time I would recommend grabbing a copy of the BFI DVD as the booklet really helps grasp some of the ideas presented in the film and works through elements of the films rather difficult production.

A masterpiece in it's singularity and audacity. Remarkable.

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