Top Spot

Outside the U.K., virtually only fests are likely to want to touch English artist Tracey Emin's "Top Spot." Emin's feature debut reps an improvised, digitally shot story of femme teens in the seaside burg of Margate.

With: Elizabeth Crawford, Laura Curnick, Katie Foster Barnes, Helen Laker, Keiri Noddings, Frances Williams.

Outside the U.K., virtually only fests are likely to want to touch English artist Tracey Emin’s “Top Spot.” Emin’s feature debut reps an improvised, digitally shot story of femme teens in the seaside burg of Margate. Pic recently created a fuss in Blighty when the national ratings board slapped an 18 certificate on it for its depiction of suicide. Helmer denounced the decision, saying it would deprive target teens of educational viewing. But given pic is a shapeless, facile bore, underage viewers should count themselves lucky they’ve an excuse not to see it.

Over shots of the once-popular, now-fading Margate and its seedy amusement park Dreamland, a voiceover disapprovingly notes the name of local teen nightclub Top Spot is also a slang term for the sensation a man feels when his penis contacts a woman’s cervix (the top spot) during sexual intercourse.

This mix of come-hither sexual frankness, sour humor and quasi-feminist victimized stance — an essential part of Emin’s confessional, shock-tactic style as a visual artist — becomes the defining tone of film. (She is known for embroidering the names of everyone she’s ever slept with on a tent.) Nevertheless, no actual copulation is shown here, only its aftermath.

Six or so young women, only a few of whom are named (end credits simply lists thesps’ names, not characters), tell an offscreen interviewer about their traumatic sexual experiences. One is a victim of incest, another was raped in an alley, and a third declaims she doesn’t care if she’s considered the town “slag” (Brit slang for “slut”). There are dark allusions to a local woman who makes the girls “do things” with each other at her house, but this unspecified abuse is never shown.

Most promising storyline features Helen (Helen Laker), a lonely romantic who has met a boy in the French Foreign Legion and journeys to Egypt, filmed partly in Super8, to look for him. Dialogue was reportedly made up during shooting without written script, and consequent fragmentary structure feels meandering and inconsequential.

Pic’s controversial suicide scene, showing the “correct” way to slice one’s wrists, hardly looks more likely to inspire imitation than similar scenes in the “The Virgin Suicides.” But, Emin badly fluffs an opportunity to create poignancy with the sequence by ladling on a clumsy voiceover explanation of why barely seen character has topped herself. Final shots of the glammed up helmer, taking off in a helicopter and waving goodbye to Margate, plumb the narcissistic nadir.

Jittery camerawork and poor sound recording contribute to overall inept, student film ambience. While the pop-song choices (Donna Summer’s version of “I Feel Love,” Shirley and Company’s “Shame, Shame, Shame,” among others) add uplift, they’re cut to thuddingly literal illustrations of lyrics heard.

Top Spot


Production: A BBC Three, BBC Films presentation of a Revolution Films, Top Spot Films production in association with United Artists Films, the GFO. (International sales: Revolution Films, London.) Produced by Melissa Parmenter. Executive producers, Andrew Eaton, Michael Winterbottom, Lenny Crooks, Mark Harrison, Tracey Scoffield. Directed, written by Tracey Emin.

Crew: Camera (color, DigiBeta), Sebastian Sharples; editor, Sharples; sound, Rashad Omar. Reviewed at London Film Festival, Oct. 22, 2004. Running time: 63 MIN.

With: With: Elizabeth Crawford, Laura Curnick, Katie Foster Barnes, Helen Laker, Keiri Noddings, Frances Williams.

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