David Greene seemed like one of Britain’s most promising directors in 1969. After a decade in TV, Greene had made the transition to films with odd horror thriller 'The Shuttered Room' in 1967, rapidly following up with brilliant espionage romance 'Sebastian' and policier 'The Strange Affair' (see yesterday) in 1968. Although none of his films could be called masterpieces, he definitely had something, a way of taking standard, even clichéd, genre material and giving it a Carnaby Street paint job and a fresh and trendy cast of pretty semi-freaks: a sort of psychedelic-lite approach to film making.
‘I Start Counting’ (1969) was his last British film, and its critical and commercial failure drove him to America, where he stayed working in TV until his death in 2003. The film itself has a mixed reputation, is not available on DVD, and has not been shown on telly for many years, but is hardly the disaster Greene thought at the time.
Wynne (Jenny Agutter) is a 15 year old school girl with a desperate crush on her older foster brother George. Their family is pleasant, but slightly dysfunctional: fatherless, and crammed together in a small flat on a featureless new estate. In her spare time, Wynne goes back to their old, abandoned family home in a nearby wood and happily reverts to early childhood, playing house and swinging aimlesly on the rusty swing. A series of small incidents lead Wynne to suspect that George might be the perpetrator of violent sex crimes that have taken place in the area and, desperate to show him her maturity, and heedless of the danger, she sets out to investigate.
An odd little film that ultimately appears not to have a point, ‘I Start Counting’ meanders from scene to scene at a sombulant pace, throwing up lots of dead ends and unanswered questions. The script was adapted from a moderately successful novel of the same name, but the nuances and psychological twists and turns of the written word seem to have been lost in the journey from page to screen. It’s a well-made film, but gives very little to the viewer in terms of genuine suspense or insight, although historians and sociologists and mid-century enthusiasts like me may value its portrayal of New Town Britain* in the late 1960’s, and record enthusiasts (like me) enjoy the scenes set in a groovy disc emporium, complete with West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band LP’s and space age plastic bubble listening posts.
The most notable feature of the whole venture is the star, Jenny Agutter, although it’s also the most problematic. Agutter was 17 during filming but, in school uniform, she looks considerably younger than even the 15 year old character she is playing, and the emphasis on her sexual attractiveness in both the film and its attendant publicity material seems unacceptable today.
Island Idol Basil Kirchin provided music for three out of the four films Greene made before he relocated to the states, including 'I Start Counting', and here's the opening sequence with its beautiful, wispy title song, as sung by Lindsey Moore.
* It was filmed in Bracknell in Hertfordshire, like 'I Want What I Want' and 'The Offence' from a few years later. Part Utopia, part work in progress, everything seems to be under construction, a new world in the making. The church that Wynne attends looks more like a space age bachelor pad than a place of worship, and it's slap bang in the middle of a building site. See 'Bracknell' tab at the bottom of this post for more stuff about the place.