Don’t forget Darrell’s new book Dead Or Alive: British Horror Films 1980-1989 is available to buy now.
Festival edition paperback is available at £20 direct from Darrell via Paypal to Darrell@buxton.freeserve.co.uk
Or you could plump for the gorgeous hardback at £60 via Lulu – here
I START COUNTING
In recent years, movie historians have begun to rewrite the story of British film. For years we’ve been fed the supposed facts, that Hitchcock is our greatest-ever filmmaker, that GET CARTER and THE RED SHOES and Merchant/Ivory and Mike Leigh and THE WICKER MAN are national treasures, and that our movie industry died in the 80s and 90s before lottery funds and other investment brought about a production revival. But the likes of Matthew Sweet, Simon Sheridan, Julian Upton and Steve Chibnall have started to chip away at these bedrocks and have lifted hitherto unsung treasures into the exposure. This critical reclamation of lost or ignored British culture probably started with the rehabilitation of Carry On films, suddenly recognised a few years ago as mini-masterpieces of a particular type of parochial roughhouse humour, and as a key microcosmic example of how a studio system approach could be adapted by our comparatively tiny home film industry. DVD labels such as Odeon, Network, Nucleus and Renown have unearthed many sought-after titles and pushed them on to the marketplace, everyone from Norman Wisdom to Danny Dyer has had the status of ‘legend’ bestowed upon them, and in certain circles the likes of Susan George, Joan Collins and Vanessa Howard have replaced Dame Anna Neagle and Margaret Rutherford in the affection of fans, though the likes of Diana Dors and Helen Mirren do have feet in both ‘Classic’ and ‘Cult’ camps.
So to Jenny Agutter, our special guest at Derby Film Festival this week. I’ll bring out that phrase ‘national treasure’ once more, but if that makes Jenny sound like a museum piece bear in mind that she’s still picking up new fans to this day via ‘Call The Midwife’ and her participation in the Marvel Comics-based AVENGERS ASSEMBLE and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. Jenny falls into that category I referred to a moment ago, a familiar figure to all, yet celebrated by some for her demure English Rose qualities but by others for taking a steamy shower in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. And back to that idea about British film’s official chapter-and-verse, the standard line regarding Jenny is that she shocked everyone by moving from the crinoline-and petticoat-bound THE RAILWAY CHILDREN to stripping off in WALKABOUT in the early seventies. It’s a neat, handy way to define an acting career in bite-size. And it’s wrong.
For as Jenny herself told us here yesterday (Jenny Agutter was a special guest at Derby Film Festival 2015), WALKABOUT was actually filmed before THE RAILWAY CHILDREN, and I START COUNTING preceded them both. I START COUNTING offers a pivotal role for Jenny, as a 14-year-old schoolgirl now on the verge of womanhood, becoming involved in two equally shocking situations, neither of which I will reveal but will let you discover for yourselves. I START COUNTING was based on a 1966 novel by Audrey Erskine Lindop; the film version is by David Greene, whose work to this point included the creepy Carol Lynley/Oliver Reed horror flick THE SHUTTERED ROOM and police corruption drama THE STRANGE AFFAIR, and who went on to success with the hit American TV mini series RICH MAN POOR MAN and ROOTS. Filmed in 1969 in Bracknell – also the setting for the similarly-themed Sean Connery classic THE OFFENCE – I START COUNTING had a cinema release in late 1970 but rather came and went. Little seen since, it has never been released here on video, DVD, or Blu-ray, and hasn’t even been shown on television here for more than 30 years. It is one of the most sought-after titles among connoisseurs of cult cinema – look at online forums such as Britmovie and you’ll see just how many people are seeking this one, from older patrons who may have caught that fleeting original theatrical release 45 years ago, to new students of British motion pictures who have had their interest and imagination piqued by reading detailed coverage of the film in books like Julian Upton’s ‘Offbeat’, Jonathan Rigby’s ‘English Gothic’ and my own ‘The Shrieking Sixties’. And if the cultists weren’t already frothing at the mouth over the prospect of simply seeing this one, there are listening pleasures aplenty too – a deceptively gentle, deeply unsettling score by the great Basil Kirchin, and a haunting, delicate theme song performed by Lindsey Moore.
You are so, so lucky to be able to see I START COUNTING at all; and the opportunity to view it in a cinema, on an original 35mm print, is one that you really ought to be bragging about. With its themes of sexual awakening; the development of ‘new town’ England on the cusp of the 1970s; its disturbing qualities via strange family relationships, what used to be called “precocious teenage sexpots”, and its shocking thriller aspect beautifully entwined within the main narrative; and its perfect soundtrack – my prediction is that this will grow and grow as a cult movie, and in ten years time I suspect it will be a film known to many and accepted as a true classic of its era. When everybody is talking about I START COUNTING, remember where you saw it first. I hope to chat to some of you about this splendid, little-known gem after the screening, and reckon that you’ll have plenty to discuss.