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The ambiguity of everything in this film is its hook and its
The Traveller *may* be a serial rapist. He *may* be an incestuous child abuser. He *may* be unemployed but pretending to still have a job. And so on.
And Ray isn't telling; we have to decide for ourselves.
Ray Davies is, after all, the man who wrote "Lola" -- the song whose whole meaning turns on the listener's interpretation of one of the most ambiguous sentences ever written in the English language.
Many of the songs from the film -- in different arrangements -- are to be found on the Kinks' "Word of Mouth" album. There is also a "Return" soundtrack album -- good luck finding a copy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Return to Waterloo is an impressive, offbeat 60 minute feature made for Channel 4 by Ray `The Kinks' Davies in 1984. A middle-aged commuter (Ken Colley) known only as The Traveller' appears to suffer a mental breakdown while on a train between Guildford and Waterloo. He begins to have fantasies about his fellow passengers bursting into song a la Dennis Potter. Fat Thatcherite businessmen try to seduce a fresh faced associate to their way of thinking,singing claims of play the game and you'll be one of us'. Elsewhere violent punks terrorise their fellow passengers by blasting out a nihilist song called Sold Me Out' from their ghetto blaster and elderly WW2 veterans remark what has this great nation become' as the train passes a graveyard.
Things become far more darker as the train ride progresses,The Traveller begins imagining the punks beating the other passengers then dragging them into the aisle ready to be shot in the head,a blind old granny has her dark glasses pulled off revealing her white zombie-like eyes,she then produces a huge knife and proceeds to stab her attacker to death,and the Traveller imagines himself flying into a rage decapitating people on the train with his briefcase,a scene in which his victims are represented by department store mannequins.
All rather bizarre. Oh and of course there is also the small matter that the Traveller may or may not be a rapist and serial killer. A copy of The Sun which he brings on the train with him carries the headline Have you seen this face?rapist sought' and the photo-fit on the cover looks allot like the traveller. Something which doesn't go unnoticed by the other commuters. Adding to the traveller's woes is the memory of his teenage daughter who has run away from home. There is the creepy implication of incest in flashbacks of him accidentally walking into her room while she's naked and even the possibility of murder as-in another fantasy scene-we later see her on a morgue table turning round to embrace him. Return to Waterloo has a circular plot,beginning and ending with the traveller stalking a blond woman he's followed from the train in the underground,on his murderous way he's eyeballed by a busker (Davies himself, doing a Hitchcock like cameo) who sings the film's haunting theme tune look at all the people around me,same old faces joining the queue,for a return to Waterloo'. Among the interesting supporting cast are a very young looking Tim Roth (as the lead punk),Gretchen Franklin as a gossip giving the traveller dirty looks; the film also features cameos from Weatherman Michael Fish and Agony Aunt Claire Rayner as themselves. For its director Return to Waterloo seems to have acted as an experimental break from his day job,at the time the film was made The Kinks were back in the charts and the public consciousness-due in no small part to MTV airplay of their Come Dancing video. The band had been signed to the Arista label in the late 70's under the condition that they would produce straightforward pop albums,the lead singer's previous forays into eccentric concept albums like Preservation Acts 1 and 2,Schoolboys in Disgrace and Soap Opera were clearly out of the question in this environment. Judging by the end result it looks as if Davies envisioned Return to Waterloo as a kind of concept album on film. It's shot in the style of an ongoing series of pop videos and dialogue is mostly eschewed in favour of Kinks songs especially written for the film which act as a commentary on the narrative. Davies' song writing skills more than making up for the almost complete lack of dialogue. Return to Waterloo seems every bit as disillusioned with the times as the central character,from the punks to the greedy businessmen the film holds them all in contempt,the only character Return to Waterloo seems to have total sympathy for is the traveller's wife who believes her husband is having an affair and is the subject of the touching song Lonely Hearts' whose lyrics are in the style of an agony aunt letter,which in case you were wondering is where Claire Rayner enters into the proceedings.
Return to Waterloo caused a considerable rumpus within The Kinks,especially agitated was Dave Davies who felt the solo project' was taking up to much of brother Ray's time,when he should be focusing on The Kinks and making the most of their new lease of life as an 1980's stadium rock band (Dave may have had a point,the band stopped touring in order to complete the film's soundtrack and their next album sold badly compared to their recent output). The film itself wasn't free of interference either,Davies later claimed that the film's backers were uneasy about the content,specifically they felt The Traveller should be sympathetically depicted which may explain why the film remains somewhat cryptic over whether he really is the Surrey rapist'. There is the Soap Opera-like implication that the whole thing is the delusion in the mind of a sad,unimportant little man dreaming he's a serial killer (or in the case of Soap Opera a rock star) in order to escape his suitably drab day-to-day existence. A few years later Davies would revisit the story (a Return to Return to Waterloo,if you like) in his book Waterloo Sunset which firmly paints The Traveller as the guilty party and includes graphic details which would have been unthinkable for TV broadcast in the mid-Eighties. Even in the slightly compromised film version however Return to Waterloo disturbs far more than many British horror films of the period,and amusinglyalthough surely unintentionally-the film shares the concept of a bored train passenger drifting off into a series of wild fantasies with Derek Ford's Diversions a.k.a. Sex Express. Well worth searching out,Return to Waterloo remains shamefully neglected in its country of origin,it's rarely been repeated by Channel 4,is hard to track down on video and is only available on DVD in the US.
Ray Davies' Return To Waterloo should stand up in British culture at
least as high as The Who's Tommy and even Pink Floyd's The Wall.
The saying " the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation" Has always been specifically applied to the British middle classes, and never more so that to Ken Colley's rendition of the Traveller, continuing his daily pilgrimage to Waterloo, to his Estate Agent's Job in the centre of London, despite his possible mental breakdown , or the more disturbing realisation that he may ( or may not ) be the sought after Surrey Rapist.
Like any Rock Opera, what makes this production is the quality of the songs, from the kids at the platform mickying "ladder of success," to the hauntingly beautiful ( and tearfullly sad ) "Have you seen this face" Davies manages to keep many possibilities and happenstances open, until you are unsure if what you are seeing from the Traveller is a collection of morning train daydreams, the visions of a fast decaying mind, or guilt aligning itself to reality and cognisance and the necessary reparations.
A splendid musical drama which reflects on the fantasies and frustrations of suburban commuter Ken Colley. It's certainly a film which has to be watched several times but you don't have to be a Kinks fan to appreciate it, because the music narrates the story. We are left to wonder whether Ken Colley as the commuter is undergoing a nervous breakdown or whether he is immersed in fantasy. We get a picture of a man who's daughter has run away from home. He is cheating on his wife and someone who has lost his job but is pretending to still have one by sitting in Hyde Park all day and coming home at the regular time. Childhood dreams and aspirations of success when younger have not materialised and our commuter realises he is a faceless non entity who has reached the pinnacle of his career and escapes into fantasy to alleviate the mundaneness of existence.
This film very haunting, especially the songs, (which are not available on any Kinks album. The actors are brilliant, especially Tim Roth as the young punk, he takes on a very powerful role in the film. The script is good as well, it is sometimes scary, sometimes funny. Overall I think this film is fantastic.
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