#10: The Other Side of Underneath (1972)
Shapes dance on the bride's cream skin and chiffon veil, and she shifts uneasily, staring out with blighted eyes. These projections, rare beauty among a film full of grotesquery, are a vision of some generic husband: at war, in the mines, consumed by fire, gunned down. But they are also the crowds that the bride is excluded from. To her, they can only ever be spectral, and 16mm shadows represent this out-of-reach world. In the surreal sequence that precedes this, she marries, with chicken feathers replacing confetti; she is lowered into a grave, eyes open, arms jerking, still wearing her wedding dress; then her undead body hosts these monochrome images. So she's underground, in some sepulchral chamber, her body at last as isolated as her mind.
We first see the protagonist of Jane Arden's demanding, experimental work of psycho-horror as she's pulled from a lake after a suicide attempt. The audience is then plunged into the erratic darkness of a troubled mind. There is an asylum and other patients, but few other anchors in time, space or reason.
While acknowledging the terror of schizophrenic thoughts, Arden shows an uncomfortable truth: these women have been pathologised for a malaise which society created. Although her film is not doctrinaire - Arden disliked organisations and prescriptive ideologies - it still bears the marks of a peculiarly British feminism. There is a dissident Marxism, in the film's acknowledgment of a unified underclass, composed of beggars and freaks, as well as institutionalised women and manual labourers, and in the critique of religion as a mode of regulating desire. And her women find strength in group therapy, their own collective, which many second wave feminists considered revolutionary praxis. Consciousness is raised, but more than this: new social relations are formed.
The Other Side of Underneath adduces the political necessity of feminist critique, but it also rides on ancient eddies of the uncanny that spill through the dark pools of British culture: folk horror is urban decay, Christian stricture is pagan chaos, a child's nightmare is a woman's tortured sexual becoming.