The eighties are remembered as an era of excess and success, but like the crumbling pyramids of Egypt or statues of slave traders waiting to be toppled it is the wealthy who are able to create monuments to their vanity and beneath the glamour of the New Romantic movement, the gravity defying hair and the shoulder pads of power dressing there was an underside of cruelty, poverty and desperation.
Released to little fanfare in 1985, The Comic was the feature debut of writer/director Richard Driscoll but it was no laughing matter, shot over a year on the short ends of 35mm film stock from another production and using second hand sets, his leading man being obliged to leave only a week into filming by his agent, leading to hasty rewrites and a promotion for a supporting player.
Resurrected from obscurity on Blu-ray by Arrow, The Comic plays like a haphazard nightmare fallen out of time and place, filmed through a perpetual haze of smoke in a world without sunlight where the winners sip champagne in slums and the losers are not worth thinking about, a police state where the masses starved for entertainment are conditioned to accept laughter or cruelty and even the soup kitchens have thugs keeping the lines in order.
Sam Coex (Steve Munroe) is the comic of the title, ambitious and ruthless and looking for a slot at the Monks Club though the booking agent says nothing is open; the solution is to make an opening, slitting the throat of top act Joey Myers (Jeff Pirie, though his death is performed by a body double from the crew, Pirie already having departed the production) and presenting himself as a replacement.
His star on the rise, Sam enters a tempestuous relationship with dancer Ann (Berderia Timini), but chained to her are her drink and drug habits and her own desire for a career in the seedy world of nightclub owners and agents; Sam has a shot at the Westbourne, but they only want Ann as a stripper, Sam’s ambition suddenly in conflict with his possessive streak.
A time capsule recalling the late night “red triangle” screenings of Channel 4, Dricsoll mentions the influence of Orwell on his dystopia of and also David Lynch’s Eraserhead, particularly on Munroe’s incongruous hair, and is aware that he was only able to realise a fraction of his vision for the film, acknowledging in his commentary his naivety in the film industry and inexperience with actors, but even as a failed experiment The Comic is fascinating for the hint of what it might have been, a tragedy of a man who loses all he didn’t earn.