The newly restored Jigsaw & Dementia are equally stylish, but the superior Dementia places its victim at the forefront
KinoKultur is a thematic exploration of the queer, camp, weird, and radical releases Kino Lorber has to offer.
Recently restored by Cohen Media Group and Kino Lorber, two mid-century British “noirs” attempt to hold a magnifying glass to the precarious position of women in society. Yet, whereas Jigsaw (1960) is a fairly standard detective drama that rarely succeeds in giving justice to its central victim, Dementia (1955) is an experimental psychodrama that offers a more evocative experience.
Val Guest’s 1960 feature is a retelling of the Brighton trunk murders of 1934. Made with the enthusiastic support of the Brighton Borough Police Department, the film sets out its allegiance from the start. Despite its claims to bring “justice” to its victim, Jigsaw aligns itself with the police force and, as such, misses any attempt to say anything meaningful.
When a young woman’s body is found inside a secluded suitcase, Detective Inspector Fred Fellows (Jack Warner) and his Boy Watson, Detective Sergeant Jim Wilks (Ronald Lewis), must interview a cast of local characters to uncover the culprit. Always concerned about what is and isn’t hidden, Guest elevates the sense of suspicion in the tiny community, never showing us the face of the murderer until the very end. Until then, the killer could be anyone. Yet, it’s the rapport between Warner and Lewis that is the highlight of the film. Theirs is a classic bobby and buddy repartee that remains consistently witty, snide, and enjoyable all the way through.
The rest of the film plays more like a heritage film than a William Castle-esque thriller, as you might expect from the crazed marketing for the film. Yes, there is a moment of heightened and screaming anxiety, but it’s but a small sidestep in a movie that barely rises above the pacing of a procedural. Instead, the film feels more like a tribute to British flatfoot police work than an attempt to tell a real story. Despite every earnest effort, Jigsaw remains a puzzle of tones that never entirely comes together.
Directed by John Parker, Dementia succeeds in being all tone because of its experimental form. Where Jigsaw is handcuffed to the realism of fact and history, this film is free to touch on the truthfulness of experience. In doing so, it creates a narrative and visual experience that lingers longer in the imagination.
We open on a scrawl from Preston Sturgess that’s a warning and a tease. What we’re about to see is distressing, but it’s also enjoyable if we’re open to it. It proves to be an apt prologue. This is one tingling thriller.
When the Law Enforcer and Father are performed by the same person, you know you’re in the psycho-sexual territory. Made during the Freudian resurgence in sexuality studies, Dementia projects psychological themes in large, broad strokes. Unlike Jigsaw, it is dedicated to an abstract exploration of the oppressive and repressive forces active in a woman’s life.
Soundtracked to an early chorus of voices sung by the famous Marni Nixon, Dementia immediately enters a dreamscape with no dialogue, only eerie vibes. As our nameless main character (Adrienne Barrett) moves through a single night on Skid Row via a montage of encounters with men, we feel a culminating sense of the terror enveloping this woman and, through her abstraction, all women.
She witnesses domestic abuse, drunkenness, trafficking, corruption, police brutality, and sexual molestation, each getting more intense. When she feels like the world and its pressures are too much, she collapses into a dreamscape within a dreamscape.
In this new mystical plane, she’s able to exact some revenge. The murder she commits feels like a release, a boiling over of resistance. Though social order is restored at the end of the film, this violent expression imagines a world where women are no longer passive victims of patriarchy.
Both films considered here are concerned with the neglect and abuse of “the delicate sex.” But in aligning itself with the police as paternal protector, Jigsaw comes nowhere close to giving justice to its victim. The emphasis always returns to law and order. Dementia, however, points towards the structures of violence that affect women’s daily lives. We spend the whole film considering her perspective. And rather than explicit moralizing, crime is given a context. Director John Parker allows us the space to draw our conclusions about the unevenness of justice.
Put side by side, these films demonstrate the usefulness of abstract filmmaking in making valid political points for audiences to ponder. An overreliance and praise of policing offer us little systemic critique. It’s too orderly and in keeping with the status quo. Instead, works like Dementia show us that by aligning ourselves with women’s position in a patriarchal society, we can open the door for a more radical understanding and film experience.