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Stuart Croft
While Point X and Dead Happy were to be followed by The Everlasting (14 min, 1999) and Loveless (17 min, 2000), Croft now dismisses these two subsequent works.

However, over the course of making these first four films, Croft had developed his skills as a writer, director and editor, as was to be evidenced by The Loss Leader (14 min, 2000), a film made with professional actors and crew on location in Wales. The high production values of this cinematic venture into film noir belie the again modest budget on which the film was realised.

Shot in a vast but neglected mansion, the austere grandeur of the location inevitably evokes the psychological drama of film noir remade for the TV generation. But while Hitchcock would have storyboarded and built from scratch on a Hollywood back-lot, Croft makes intelligent use of the house donated for the week-long shoot.

Cut to the billiard room, where a couple's elliptical conversation hints at murder. Shades here of Strangers on a Train or the eponymous scene from Coppola's The Conversation. The dialogue isn't specific, but we've been here before and know that any blond in a low-cut dress who punctuates her sentences with a billiard cue is bad news. Cut again to the sickroom somewhere in the eves, where a senile old man feigns suicide with fake blood. Uncovering the ploy, the son is almost tender as he reaches for the gun on the floor. Each scene throws down a new card: the younger man's sense of his own failure; the old man's affair with his son's wife; the wife's culpability. And then the dénouement. Not fake blood this time, but Kensington Gore (actually Weetabix) splattered liberally over the pillow. We've seen this image before superimposed on an earlier scene. However, has the old man finally pulled the trigger or was it pulled for him by his cuckolded son? And, being a loop, is this the end or the beginning of the narrative? (There are at least three versions of The Loss Leader, in which scenes are re-edited, cut or re-ordered: the original 27 minute version made in 2000, an 80-second loop and a 14 minute re-edit released in 2005.)

Croft presents us with a generic thriller, sumptuously rich in detail and atmosphere, but stripped of the syntactical links that make narrative specific. Moreover, on three separate occasions the film noir genre is interrupted by advertisements for a fictive new car, starring the same three characters as the main narrative thread. The slogan promises a new dawn. The young woman holds up an ultrasound scan of an unborn child. Even the old man, no longer bleeding profusely from the fatal head-wound, crawls childlike along the shore, sharing the bounty of this new beginning/end. But whether these are integral to the narrative or merely arbitrary intrusions will never be absolutely resolved.

Still from The Loss Leader by Stuart Croft, 2000
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