Jane Arden’s 1972 film, The Other Side of the Underneath, is one of the most fascinating cinematic discoveries that I’ve encountered this year. It’s an extremely disturbing exploration of madness, and centers on several women in an asylum who have been declared schizophrenic. The patients regularly engage in a frantic type of group therapy, with each session gradually escalating in intensity. This is very poetic film, rich with symbolism and subtext, mostly having to do with sexual repression and the roles of women in modern society.
Throughout The Other Side of the Underneath, we are left in a constant state of unease, brought on by the powerful performances (most of the actresses took LSD during the shoot) and the pervasive score. It’s a trip down the rabbit hole unlike any that I have ever seen before. It has the look and feel of a nightmare, and most of the images, once seen, will not be forgotten. The sense of time and place is purposefully distorted, with mood and atmosphere taking center stage. Tonally consistent despite its many twists and turns, this is an experience that more seasoned cineastes will want to have. It also carries the distinction of being the only 1970s British film to be directed by a woman.
Once thought to be lost, the film has been preserved by BFI, and is now available on DVD.