I Start Counting - I Start Counting (Blu Ray) [BFI - 2021]
I Start Counting is a woozy, and at points, uneasy psychological thriller- meets coming of age drama, which blends in elements of incest, murder & quiet madness- be they implied or real. The film features Jenny Agutter in one of her early roles, and she does an impressive and believable job as a day-dreaming-to-troubled teen. Here from BFI‘s Flipside is a Blu Ray release of this lesser-seen late 60’s thriller- with the disc taking in a new scan of the picture, a commentary track, and a host of other worthy extras.
Appearing in 1969 I Start Counting was the fourth feature-length film by Manchester-born director David Greene. He had ninety credits to his name- taking in a fair bit of TV work, as well as eight feature films- these went from American gothic thriller/ horror The Shutter Room(1967), Madame Sin( 1972) a thriller/action blend that featuring Betty Davis an oriental villainess, and Texas set drama Hard Country( 1981) featuring Kim Basinger & Jan-Michael Vincent in early roles. I start Counting is a well-made & very British Thriller come woozy coming of age drama, which finds Greene nicely breeding and building uneasy, doubt, and dread. Sure it’s a little slowly/ baggy in places, with the nearing one-hour fifty-minute runtime needing maybe a little trim here and there, but it's a memorable and effective psychological thriller.
The film centres on Wynne (Agutter) a fourteen-year-old suburban schoolgirl who is just discovering her sexuality. She and her seemingly more promiscuous friend Corinne (Clare Sutcliffe) flirt with boys their own age, though it seems Wynne is maybe having some sort of affair with her caring-though-shifty early 30’s stepbrother George (Bryan Marshall). When young women start getting murdered and dumped in a pond, near where the family used to live, Wynne wonders if George could be behind it. The film nicely plays with flashbacks and is it a dream or isn’t moments- with ones doubt & belief been constantly shifted and warped.
Agutter is most effective as the halfway between child and adult Wynne. Clare Sutcliffe is well suited as her best friend- blending together cheeky back talking, risky behaviour, and sly touches of humour in her make-up. Marshall manages well the balance between caring and shifty. Supporting cast wise Gregory Phillips plays Len, Wynne's just past his teens brother who's obsessed with true crime, late-night boozing and drug-taking. And Simon Ward, as the seemingly charming and helpful bus conductor. Location wise we shift between the families two-story flat, the placid-though- slightly creepy lake, and the families old house- which is now run down and deserted- this last location does feel slightly overused, particularly because of the way it’s often shot in a similar way. We get a great score from Basil Kirchin- which nicely blend vibe tones, music box/ uneasy childlike melodies. All told I Start Counting is a largely effective British psychological thriller that stands with the better in the genre, sure there are a few issues- i.e., pacing & overusing of locations, but when you get to the end of the picture you'll feel rewarded by the films subtle twisting and turning unfold.
Moving onto this new Blu Ray, and we get a nice 'n' clear 2k scan taken from the original 35 MM print, really bringing out the late 60’s suburban colours, the moody eeriness of the pound, and rundown creepiness of the families abandoned house. We get a new commentary track from film historian Samm Deighan- and as we’ve come to expect from Ms Deighan it’s a great balance of observations and interesting/well-researched facts. She starts by discussing the films fairly unique blend of daydreaming coming-of-age drama and serial killer thriller. Moving on to detail bios of the supporting cast, and an in-depth discussion on David Greene directing work, as well as the recurring themes in his work. She moves onto discuss other British serial killer films of the time, real-life British serial killer cases, she talks about the film’s themes and key scenes. She talks about Agutter career, and much more- a really worth a play track. Next, we get a selection of new onscreen interviews, and I’ll go through these via their runtimes- so first we have a forty-minute interview with the film's screenwriter Richard Harris- he discusses both his film and TV work, giving a very in-depth interview. Next, we have a thirty-two-minute interview with Jonny Trunk of Trunk records- he discusses the work of the film's composer Basil Kirchin. Going from talking about his library music work, moving onto his 60’s film soundtrack work, and his more experimental stand-alone albums that blended manipulated field recordings, pastoral ambient, and Avant jazz. Lastly, we get a twenty-minute interview with Agutter discussing her role in the film. All three interviews are worth a play, but the one that was of the most interest to me was the Trunk one, as he gives a good overview of Kirchin's work (though he doesn’t mention one of his more known works- his score for The Abominable Dr Phibes) and gives insight into Kirchin as a person, just before he sadly passed in the early 2000s from cancer. We get a new eight-minute video essay about I start Counting from Chris O Neill. On the archive side of things, we get: Danger on Dartmoor from 1980, a 57 mins full-length Children's Film Foundation production about a group of children facing danger & peril in Dartmoor. We have a selection of three films- with a total runtime of just shy of half an hour- about new town dreams from between 1942- 56. There’s Don't Be Like Brenda eight-minute public information from 1973 following the plight of a promiscuity female teenager. We get an original trailer and image gallery. The finished release comes with a Fully illustrated booklet with a new essay on the film by the BFI's Jo Botting and writing on the cast and director by Jon Dear.
In finishing, I Start Counting is a great addition to BFI’s Flipside series, and once again there’s a wonderful selection of worthy extras/ bonus material. If you like off-beat, and uneasy British thrillers from the ’60s/’70s, this is most certainly something you’ll be needing to pick up.Roger Batty