Rococo 55(35-minute short film)

Verdict: Clever focus on time and sexual desire 

London - Danielle Arnaud Gallery - Nov/Dec 02

1 Nov-15 Dec 02

 (to buy a copy of the limited edition DVD please visit )

Danielle Arnaud Gallery

If you thought that buggery and heterosexual fellatio were only available in Islington, prepare for an expedition across the Thames. A discreet gallery in Kennington shows that southern, and south-facing, activity flourishes south of the river. For football fans, there's also a naked man leaping over a camera: flying tackle.

Rococo 55 is a short film by the clever, perceptive and adroit Stuart Croft. It's in 5 parts. It focuses on hidden desire with disrupted time. If this sounds a little wanky, it's not (except literally). It's a superbly written, acted and shot piece of work which achieves one of art's supposed objectives: changing one's perceptions - or at least giving them a refreshing jolt.

Technique. Rococo 55's filmed on four sets: a call-centre, porn-film set, hotel room, domestic kitchen. The screen image that we see features action on one of these sets. As action on another set becomes relevant, it fades in and becomes the dominant picture that we see, and the soundtrack that we hear.

Content. The separate activities on the locations are linked by a phone-call script: 'I really want to see you. I want to get serious.' There are around 6 central characters: the same conversation occurs between different pairs of them through the film.

Story. First film. (It's a loop, so 'first' is arbitrary). We're in the HQ of Crisis Line UK. Operators include Nina ('It would qualify as murder. You've covered your husband's entire face with gaffer tape'), Simon, and Roland ('I'm not being pejorative').

In the background and blending in, there's a Wild West film set, Marlboro Country with a backdrop of The Rockies. Director Simone wants handsome Dean (standing next to her) to talk to her on the phone. Simone (on phone): 'Look, I'd really like to see you. When will you see me? I want to get serious.' Dean's on the other side of the paper-thin Saloon set, mobile in hand.

Off the phone, on to business: will Dean star in Simone's Civil War porn film? Dean has conditions: no animals, and double the money Simone's paying him to have sex with her. What's involved? Simone: 'Whitney! Get the handcuffs.' She shoves a gun in Dean's face, but cut-and-bruised Simon (from the Call Centre) comes on in Civil War costume and borrows it. Dean's to cuff undertaker's daughter Missy Melville and maybe shoot off Mad Dog McLean's cock. Simone cuffs Dean: 'Just for practice.'

Second film. The film set. The porn film's faint in the background, then becomes the dominant image. Confederate Southern Belle Missy Melville's gagging Yankee prisoner Mad Dog McLean (played by Simon). A Confederate soldier repeatedly throws buckets of cold water at his face to interrogate. Missy Melville blindfolds Mad Dog and promises 'good ole Jefferson Head'. She unbuttons his trousers but can't get her head round the task in hand. She's played by Simon's wife Eva, so this may be personal.

Director Simone's been doing the phone call in another layer of film that blends in, but the lack of suction by her heroine snaps her to reality: 'For fuck's sake! Cut!' Missy Melville pulls off her blonde-locks wig to reveal Eva. It's only her pride she's swallowing today.

Third film. The film set blends fast to a hotel bedroom. Roland's hired Dean to fuck. Simone, on the film set, chooses this moment to ring Dean with the phone routine. She leans against a gantry revved up for reverie. Dean: 'I'm with someone in a hotel.' Simone: 'I'd really like to see you.' Next to Dean in the bed, Roland starts wanking with enormous speed and energy. Dean to Roland: 'Excuse me, what are you doing?' Simone: 'I want to get together on a regular basis, see what happens.' Roland's up and dressing. Dean to Roland: 'Stay a bit longer. You're not still a fucking Samaritan are you?'

A waitress walks into the hotel bedroom. Yes, in answer to Dean's question, she's shagging Roland. She leaves. Dean gets jealous. He's an escort boy falling for the guy who's paying him, but for a lark they change places. Whoops! Dean puts on a duck mask, takes a pillow and suffocates Roland to death.

Fourth film. The hotel room. Dean faces us in duck mask, being relentlessly buggered by Roland. Mask off, we suddenly realise how nearly identical Dean is to Tony Blackburn. He puts on a black thong and the match is uncanny (or maybe Jack Dee). Roland leaps naked over the camera, a shot reminiscent of a Zepellin pursued by two meteors. (So that's what happened to R101).

The kitchen of a prosperous middle-class house comes up. Eva's standing silently. The camera dwells on her disturbing beauty. Husband Simon, arm in sling, interrupts talking with Eva to use his mobile: 'It's me.' Cut to Dean (in bed with Roland), on phone: 'Who's me?' Simon: 'What are you up to? I'd really like to see you'. Dean (to Roland wanking next to him): 'What the fuck are you doing?'

Eva, hearing one side of the conversation, watches. She's expected to tolerate this. She has shopping bags in her hand, unpacks them. Simon leaves the room. Eva pauses in thought. She takes two large rolls of gaffer tape and leaves the room. We stay in the kitchen and hear, off: (Simon): 'What the fuck are you doing? Aaah. Eva. What the fuck are you ...?' His voice is progressively muffled. There are brief frantic bumps. Silence. Eva (without gaffer tape) re-enters the kitchen.

Fifth film. The kitchen. Simon has his arm in a sling. Dean's with him, leaving. Simon: 'So why don't you stay? What if I don't want you to go? You've just fucked me and I'd like you to stay'. Eva comes in, carrying her shopping bags. Dean leaves. Eva appraises the situation silently. Simon: 'Just for a while'. Eva: 'Don't worry'. Simon: 'I won't, OK'. Eva: 'It's fine'. Simon: 'What do you mean? Everything's not fine.' Eva watches him.

Simon rings his colleague Nina at Crisis Line UK, does 'the phone call' to her. She doesn't know it's him. Nina: 'You'd really like to see me? It's a nice offer. I'm busy. I think you're just being offensive, I'm going to cut this call off.' Eva's watching Simon. Simon to Eva: 'This is a private call. I hate you watching.' He leaves. Eva picks up two rolls of gaffer tape and follows.

The action blends to Crisis Line UK. Simon's at work, so's Nina. Nina (on a phone call): 'You've lots of problems? You're in debt, exhausted? You regularly gag your husband with gaffer tape? But it's got out of hand? You've taped his entire head and he can't breathe? You want me to call the police?'

Rococo 55 is a fine entertainment. It handles extreme complexity in a well-edited way which makes the film fairly understandable. It's too demanding to sit through twice (unless you've iron concentration), but that would likely reveal more and interesting levels of plot.

There's little doubt that Rococo 55 is art, so it's reasonable for it to be in the sepulchral silence of an art gallery. But Nick Roeg's astounding experiment with fractured time, Bad Timing (1980) was 'art' too, and distributed as a feature film. Rococo 55 has a strong enough story-line for the cinema. It would be good to see it at a central-London venue - for example in one of the shorts festivals held at cinemas like the Soho Curzon.

There's fine acting from each of the cast. Brett Penny handles Dean's complex roles magnificently - with consummate expertise and total conviction. He has a delightful face, and adroit control of it to suit the exact purpose of the scene.

The camera loves Kate Dineen (Eva and Missy Melville)'s riveting beauty. Her superb silent performance in (the stage play) Persona is echoed here by a largely silent role. Kate Dineen's able to evoke paragraphs of dialogue by her lingering facial expressions. When she speaks, her voice is equally gifted: perhaps her next director may exploit this and give her some dialogue.

Robin Deacon's excellent as the hard-wanking and fairly pervy (at work in the Call Centre) Roland, the lad with fully aerodynamic meat and 2 veg. Paul Fuller's excellent as Simon and Mad Dog McLean. In character, he's a walking definition of depravity. Mad Dog's drug-ravaged face as he asks off-set to borrow the revolver is a joy to behold. If they ever re-shoot The Naked Lunch, Paul Fuller's your man. Natalie Tinn, as Call Centre Nina, delivers a finely-nuanced performance: her phone-call speech and reactions are fully ambiguous: it's subtle voice and facial acting to the highest degree.

Sebastian Roach is a delight a Tony T-Bone Moreno. Rosie Alvarez is spot-on with her sharply-observed waitress cameo, interrupting the lads' anal routine. Sarah Conway, Clare Coope, Cath Hunter, and Will Hunter, each deliver excellent performances. Debra Penny invests director Simone with unlimited layers of sophisticated eroticism: a woman of profound beauty caught in the trap of unfulfillable desire.

Cast Credits: (alpha order): Waitress - Rosie Alvarez. Voice of First Assistant Director - Sarah Conway. Second Assistant Director - Clare Coope. Roland - Robin Deacon. Eva - Kate Dineen. Simon - Paul Fuller. Whitney - Cath Hunter. Runner - Will Hunter. Dean - Brett Penny. Simone - Debra Penny. Tony T-Bone Moreno - Sebastian Roach. Nina - Natalie Tinn.

Cast Credits: (programme order): Writer, Director, Producer - Stuart Croft. Improvised Sequences - The Cast. Co-Producer - Paul Fuller. Co-Producer - Emma Bennett. Music - Gareth Bennett, Gerard Cousins. Production Assistants - Huw Bennett, Will Turner, Sebastian Roach. Set Production - Huw Bennett, Nick Brierley, Mathew Walmsley, Neil Zakiewicz. Camera/Lighting - Stuart Croft, Matt Lopez-Dias. Camera Assistant - Sarah Conway. Grip - Matt Lopez-Dias. Sound Recordist - Gavin Mcdowall. Make-Up - Cath Hunter. Period Costume Adviser - Ashwin Makan at Angels and Bermans. Facilities Co-Ordinator - Tony Lewis at Vmi Broadcast. Assistant Editor - Anna Lucas. Online Editor - Ben Tunstall. Dubbing Mixer - Gavin Mcdowall. Editor - Stuart Croft.

Company Credits: A bc movingimage production. In association with Chisenhale Gallery, London. And Danielle Arnaud Contemporary Art, London. With financial assistance from London Arts. Additional support from Vmi Broadcast Facilities Ltd, Pink Ink, The Machine Room Ltd, 24-7 DVD Ltd


John Park

reviewed Friday 8 November 02 / Danielle Arnaud Gallery London

related topic - Kate Dineen in Persona

related topic - Nick Roeg's Bad Timing (1980)

(c) Fringe Report 2002

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