Posts Tagged ‘John Hurt’

The-shout-poster

UK 1978

Director: Jerzy Skolimowski

86 minutes

 

Based on a short story by Robert Graves, The Shout is a very atmospheric horror picture full of striking sounds and images. The opening scenes occur at a psychiatric hospital, where various people are organising a game of cricket in the grounds. Quite who are the patients and who are the staff is never entirely clear. Inside the scorekeepers’ hut, Crossley (Alan Bates) begins to tell Robert Graves (Tim Curry) an extraordinary “true” story. But is this story really true or is it the delusion of a mental patient (Crossley himself admits to occasionally modifying his tale, so as to keep it fresh in the telling)?

At any rate, the film shifts to the countryside where Crossley accosts Anthony Fielding (John Hurt) following a church service, claiming to be a traveller who has been walking for two days. That Hurt is about to have his life turned upside down is strongly hinted by the fact that he has been engaging in a little philandering whilst his wife Rachel (Susannah York) waits at home. Crossley invites himself in for lunch, during which he claims to have spent 18 years among the Aborigines in Australia. He says that the Aborigines permit the killing of their newly-born children, and that he himself has killed two of his own. Not exactly ideal dinner table talk at the best of times, this particularly upsets Rachel as, we learn, she and Anthony have not managed to have any children together. Apparently overcome by a migraine, Crossley is given a bed to rest on, at Rachel’s insistence. Thereafter, he becomes difficult to budge and starts to come between Anthony and Rachel. At one point he tells Anthony that he has learned Aboriginal magic, and has spent 18 years developing a shout so powerful that it can kill. Anthony scoffs at this and Crossley gets angry. He tells Anthony that he will demonstrate the shout for him, but that he had better stuff up his ears with cotton wool or wax. The next morning, they set out for the beach together where Crossley does indeed give his demonstration…

The Shout could be seen as a bit of a shaggy dog story were it not for the excellent performances from all involved. In particular, Alan Bates is absolutely outstanding as Crossley. From the moment he makes contact with Anthony he is a dark, brooding, and dangerous presence. Nonetheless, director Jerzy Skolimowski teases the audience throughout by switching between this horrifying tale and the ongoing cricket match at the psychiatric hospital (in one scene a patient is heard muttering Shakespeare’s words “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”). Skolimowski also makes great use of sound and image to build the atmosphere. As the opening credits role we see a grainy shot of a dark figure walking down a hill. The accompanying music is largely subsumed beneath the sound of the harsh wind. Anthony himself is a musician, who we see experimenting with sounds in his recording studio (at one point he places a microphone inside a jam jar, around which a fly is buzzing). Then there is the shout itself where, in addition to the supernatural sound produced, we see Crossley prepare himself by stretching out his arms and leaning backwards at an impossible angle. It is a really striking shot, and once the shout begins the camera focuses in on Crossley’s mouth. I won’t spoil things by describing the aftermath of the shout, but it is a scene well worth seeing.

Rating: 8/10

 

The Shout is currently showing at the British Film Institute as part of the Made In Britain: Jeremy Thomas season. The next showings are 6th April (21:00) and 15th April (18:30).

 

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What would it be like to live forever? This question must have crossed most people’s minds at some point. In Only Lovers Left Alive, the centuries-old vampires Adam and Eve (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton) are responding to their immortality in different ways. Although they are lovers, they are keeping things fresh by living apart, she in Tangiers and he in the run-down city of Detroit. Eve is happily reading all the books she can lay her hands on; indeed, so practiced are her reading skills that she is flipping a page every couple of seconds. Adam, on the other hand,  is depressed. Musically skilled, in previous centuries he has given away his music to the likes of Schubert. He has also hung around with Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft. Now, though, he spends all his time at home making what he calls “funeral music”, electronic drones. Adam is losing faith in a world run by the zombies, the name that he and Eve give to humanity. He is at such a low point that he commissions the production of a single wooden bullet, and practices pointing a gun at his heart.

Adam and Eve no longer kill people (or convert them to vampires) in order to obtain blood. In Tangiers Eve obtains her blood supplies from a vampire with connections, who turns out to be the author Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), portrayed here as the author of Shakespeare’s plays. In Detroit, Adam buys his supplies from Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright) at the local hospital.

During a phone conversation Eve discovers how depressed Adam is, and arranges to travel back to Detroit (carefully organising her connecting flights so that she will only be travelling at night). But she has only been back in Detroit a short while when her wayward sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) shows up and throws their lives into turmoil, not least by tucking into their dwindling supply of blood.

Only Lovers Left Alive is not really a horror movie as such (indeed, because vampires typically exhibit fairly human-like qualities I would suggest they are rarely as frightening as zombies, possessed children, and demonic houses); rather, it is a supernatural romance/drama that also includes some amusing dialogue. The relationship between Adam and Eve is nicely played and quite touching, and you don’t need to be a vampire to identify with the problems caused by the unwanted arrival of an awkward family member.

The one aspect of the story that did require some suspension of disbelief was the idea that a man who has lived through the hundred years war and the black death could think that the world is getting worse, to the degree that he is contemplating suicide. Jarmusch draws a parallel between the vampires’ dependence on limited supplies of blood and humanity’s dependence on oil and water (the latter identified as the next resource to be fought over). However, such social commentary is kept to a minimum and it is the couple’s romance that is very much at the heart of the film.

Visually, Only Lovers Left Alive is always interesting to look at. Adam and Eve are tall and wan, and Adam in particular is very much the dandy (at one point Eve blames his depressive tendencies on Byron’s influence). His house, where many of the scenes take place, is like an interesting old junk shop, full of slightly outdated recording equipment, and he has an impressive collection of old guitars. We also get a glimpse of modern Detroit, which of course is in a sorry state. A scene inside the delapidated Michigan concert hall gives us a very real sense of the transitory nature of things.

Anyone seeing this movie in the hope of experiencing a few scares and thrills is likely to be disappointed, but if Byronic characters and gothic atmospherics are your thing then you are in for a treat.

Rating: 8/10