Two weeks ago the Top Ten By Year: 1978 zine became available to purchase on my etsy page. It is a variety of collage, illustration, and celebration of the films of 1978, including write-ups on my ten favorites. For both this and my previous issue (1943), my plan was to rewatch the films and revise what I’d originally written years ago when I chose these years for my Top Ten By Year project (in which I spend 6 months to over a year with a particular year in film). What I quickly found was that none of it was nearly good enough to include. In the end, a handful of thoughts remained, but almost everything I wrote for both zines is entirely new.
I want to give people a peek at what I wrote, and hopefully, if you like it and would like to see more, you’ll consider picking up a copy. I’ll post three write-ups from each. Here is the second I’m sharing from 1978, on Jerzy Skolimowski’s The Shout. It is my #10 of that year.
“Every word of what I’m going to tell you is true. Only I’m telling it in a different way. It’s always the same story…it’s always the same story but I…I change the sequence of events, and I vary the climaxes a little, because I like to keep it alive you see. I like to keep it alive”.
Two men keep score of an asylum cricket game that unfolds with a kind of waiting-room menace, as if the world may end as soon as one team wins. One of the men tells the other a story, a story about aboriginal magicks in the English countryside, a story with unreliable layers of remove before we even begin. There is an air of Caligari to this framing device, the disturbed living in a limbo where the mix of delusion and reality exists in a beguiling muddle. Of course it’s a cricket game. Cricket makes no goddamn sense to the eye, but there is an order and logic to it we cannot see or know. I may as well be describing The Shout.
The central couple in Crossley’s (Alan Bates) tale are more placeholders than people. John Hurt is terminally aloof, and Suzannah York all-too soon becomes a symbol of sexual submission and the conqueror conquering. We meet them as they wake from a shared apparition of an aboriginal man in a tailcoat. The wife notices that her belt buckle is missing. They just woke up, and unbeknownst to them they’ve already lost the hearth and themselves. There are no clear motivations. Why them, why here? This is a reality where visions, the vessels of the inanimate, and especially the sonic, are what dictate will, power, and fate. Where everything may be a lie, or worse, everything may be true. Where people can be controlled as long as you have their belt buckle, or trap their soul in a stone.
Crossley claims to have obtained the “Terror Shout” from a shaman, a deafening scream that has the power to immediately kill anyone or anything within earshot. Anthony (Hurt) is a composer who spends his time experimenting with sound by manipulating electronics and everyday objects, unlocking what they hold within. An early sequence shows him recording various sounds, such as marbles and water rolling around together on an aluminum baking sheet. Throughout the film, there is an awareness of the potential for the extraordinary by what is put into and brought out of the ordinary. But in The Shout, the extraordinary uniformly manifests itself in the evils of the fantastic. We are thus trained to be more attuned to sound moving forward, to listen with a keen ear of curiosity and unease — to listen with the ears of a musician…or a wizard. The Shout weaves an aural tapestry for us, with an innovative 4-channel Dolby mix, one of the first of its kind, and an ambient and subdued synth score by Tony Banks and Michael Rutherford of Genesis.
There is a moment when, yanked down into position, Suzannah York recreates a Francis Bacon work seen on an inconspicuous clipping on Hurt’s studio wall. Director Jerzy Skolimowski doesn’t over-telegraph this recreation. He creates an uncanny familiarity, giving you just enough to know you’ve seen that pose somewhere before, and what the hell does it mean that you’re seeing it again? Is it part of Crossley’s power over the house that creates these mirror images, part of the film’s conveyances, or the inanimate’s surplus of energy? Any or all? These are the kind of patterns (this one more direct than the rest of the film) that make up the film. Watching it you feel first dislodged, then powerless. Even the opening credits, in which a man zig-zags his way through a shot grainy enough to be Bigfoot footage, are hazy and out of reach. The Shout leaves you engulfed in layers of suspicious supernatural uncertainty as you go off into the world acutely aware of your own corporeal limitations .