An unnamed woman is dragged from a pond where she has attempted to commit suicide by drowning. As the divers pull her ashore, the paramedics revive her on the spot and whisk her away in an ambulance to the nearest mental asylum. If the young woman thought that her problems were insufferable now, she has not banked on the severe nature of the therapy she is about to undergo, as the psychiatrists may believe in a talking cure, but they also believe in acting out your problems in the most extreme fashion possible...
This was based on writer-director Jane Arden's play, which she had conceived of to be performed by her cheerily-titled Holocaust women's theatre group. She and her creative partner Jack Bond had dabbled in film before, notably with the late sixties, early feminist work Separation, but with The Other Side of the Underneath she really let fly with her obsessions, which mainly took the form of women's emancipation and freedom of expression. Not that it raised her profile much at the time as the production was barely seen, and those who did see it did not feel the need to evangelise about it to anyone within earshot.
It's difficult to tell if Arden was satisfied with her work here, as certainly the other participants had mixed feelings, with some embracing the artistry, and others criticising her efforts and feeling as if they had been used and abused by her for Arden's own dubious ends. Certainly it's a hard film to sit through, and true to form comes across as if the viewer had wandered unwittingly into either an out of control group therapy session or an out of control theatre group seizing the opportunity of having your attention for a while to batter you over the head with various theories on how women are forced to define themselves in the modern world.
The modern world being 1972, and nothing dates quite as badly as experimental theatre, as this film illustrates. The dread hand of R.D. Laing hangs heavily over proceedings, and his anti-psychiatry movement where a lot of primal screaming and uncontrollable crying were the order of the day does not an enjoyable viewing experience make. It's true that Arden conjures up some striking imagery, but how far you want to appreciate the offer of horribly self-indulgent working out of personal demons that passes for insight here is something that not many would wish to take up. As this was the time it was, there is that curious approach that had the participants whipping off their clothes as a method of exploring themselves, with an explicitly anti-erotic stance to it all.
It's funny, The Other Side of Underneath does prompt musing over how far the baring of the artist's soul to their audience can effectively render the opposite effect of leaving everyone in attendance, whether in real life or via the recording, nothing more than alienated from them. Flinging everything but the kitchen sink at the celluloid, Arden includes women using their sexuality to dominate men, religion messing with women's minds - the film features a crucifixion of the protagonist near the end - the mental pain of admitting your own mind's serious shortcomings to others (although there's more than a hint that there's pleasure to be found in being such a centre of attention), and the support the right community can offer you, with near-documentary footage of "gypsies" passing the time with what appears to be an impromptu festival. Needless to say, it helps immeasurably if you're sympathetic to the goals of 70s experimental theatre to appreciate this, as everyone else will find it both excruciatingly boring and unpleasant. Music by Sally Minford.