I Start Counting [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (24th April 2021).
The Film

"I Start Counting" (1970)

Wynne (played by Jenny Agutter) is a 14 year old that has a crush on George (played by Bryan Marshall). Though that may sound sweet and innocent, George is in his thirties, was Wynne's older sister's fiancee before her accidental death, and Wynne happens to be living with George and his family as she is their adoptive daughter. She likes to get his attention as she follows him and adores him in her mind, but when a string of murders occur within the area, there is suspicion towards George...

Adapted from the 1966 novel of the same name by Audrey Erskine-Lindop, "I Start Counting" follows a young girl at the important intersection in life as she grows into an adult. There are questions about sexuality, with how her body and mind are reacting to situations, while also keeping the fact that she is still an innocent kid. Everyone who has gone through puberty knows well the odd questions we wanted to ask but didn't know how, that classmates or peers were not the best places for answers, and asking teachers, parents, or anyone older would have been embarrassing. Childhood crushes could have ranged from someone you knew, someone famous, or even a fictional character, and the age range could have been anywhere from someone of the same age or someone older. The character of Wynne in the novel and the film is exactly at that moment in her life where she realizes she has feelings for someone and her thoughts are innocent to say the least. She has obviously never had a relationship with a boy so her ideals of what a relationship would be like are basically what is on the surface level, not understanding the emotional consequences, as she talks about it to her best friend and classmate Corrine (played by Clare Sutcliffe) who is a bragger about her own exploits, but like Wynne has had no experience at all. Most of the story is told through Wynne's perspective. Jenny Agutter is in almost every scene from start to finish, and everything is in her mindset. The audience is rarely given a perspective from a differing character, and everything that happens and is experienced is through Wynne, with only glimpses and clues of others along the way. Wynne is a girl brought up Catholic and goes to a Catholic girls school, and there is a fairly comical scene of a priest taking questions from an assembly of schoolgirls on the subject of sex education, which answers nothing at all for the students. Religion does play part into Wynne's thoughts and actions, but rarely does suppression get in the way. She is curious about everything as any person that age would be, and it is when she starts piecing puzzle pieces together, that the suspicion of George possibly being a serial killer come to light.

"Shadow of a Doubt" is a film that seems to have many similarities with "I Start Counting". Hitchcock's thriller with an uncle who is in fact a killer and his curious niece who adores him without knowing his secret is a wonderful exercise in suspense, but the viewpoints are rather different. In "Shadow of a Doubt", it is known fairly early on who the killer is, while in "I Start Counting" there is much more with the main character finding clues and realizing the truth very close to the end like a traditional mystery story. She sees George throw away a sweater that she got for him, but when asked where the sweater was, he admits he doesn't know. When she goes through the trash and finds it covered with bloodstains, in cements in her mind that he must be the killer. But she cannot turn in the person she loves, and does not want to believe that he would do such a thing. Instead, she follows George by sneaking in his van, finding other clues on his whereabouts like a little detective, and playing a very dangerous game if all were said to be true.

Director David Greene does a great job with the pacing and clues given throughout, as well as having the young Agutter who was only 16 at the time to play a character going through many emotional ups and downs as well as growth over the course of the film. The script which was adapted by Richard Harris does a few things differently, such as removing the voice over narration and instead showing the audience directly, whether they are actions taken by Wynne or implied. The linear structure is easy to follow and keeps things as simplified as possible, yet retaining a sense of mystery and tension along the way. The cinematography by Alex Thomson is also excellent, showcasing a modern town of Bracknell and Easthampstead where it was filmed, while also having sequences of nature in the park scenes and the creepiness seen in the old abandoned house that Wynne visits and the night sequences.

"I Start Counting" had an excellent formula and was very well made, but didn't find an audience in its initial run. IMDB lists the initial release date as January 1969 but this seems wrong, as the film was first rated by the BBFC in July 1970 and information on the first screening that I could find was in November 1970 in the UK. With the original trailer and posters promoting it as a suspenseful thriller, it was relying on an audience that may have been closer to watching Hammer horror films than dramas, and "I Start Counting" was much more leaning towards a youth film with elements of a murder mystery. Yes, there are some violent moments especially towards the end, which the trailer promotes and showcases heavily, but misses the point of the story and tries to sell it another way. United Artists didn't seem to know how to market the film and it fell into obscurity, with no awards, and becoming a footnote for many involved, though Agutter would surprisingly have her next film screen in cinemas only a month later in December 1970 with "Railway Children" which was a critical and commercial success. The film was also missing in the digital age with no official DVD release. New home video label in America, Fun City Editions announced their first release would be "I Start Counting" for release in November of 2020, which was later announced to be coming from the BFI in the UK in April 2021. More than half a century after its quiet release. "I Start Counting" is ready for a wide audience and a reevaluation as an excellent film that was overlooked and forgotten for a very long time.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray

Video

The BFI presents the film in the theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. An original 35mm interpositive was scanned at 2K by MGM and was digitally remastered by Fun City Editions. The remastered transfer looks very good, but is nowhere near being flawless. Even though digital tools were used to restore the image there are damage marks and inconsistencies remaining. Speckles, scratches are sometimes visible and some fluctuation of color can be found as well. On the positive side, the image is fairly consistent throughout, and there are no huge damage marks or errors to deter viewers. Overall a good, fair transfer for the film.

The runtime is 105:22

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0
A lossless track in the original mono is presented, and like the image, was also remastered by Fun City Editions from the original elements. Dialogue, music, and effects are well balanced with each other throughout the film, though it does have its weakness with fidelity, and some hiss at times. Thankfully no pops or crackle or other damage to the soundtrack for any distraction.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the main feature in a white font.

Extras

Audio commentary by film historian Samm Deighan
In this commentary, Deighan gives information about the making of the film, the themes of sexuality and tension, biographies and filmographies of the cast and crew, comparisons and differences between the novel and film versions, other British thrillers and serial killer films of the period, and more. This commentary was previously available on the US Fun City Editions Blu-ray.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"A Kickstart: Jenny Agutter Remembers I Start Counting" interview with Jenny Agutter (20:24)
In this 2020 interview, Agutter discusses about her very early career in acting including "I Start Counting", her recollections of the cast and crew, the locations, the modernization, and more. This interview was previously available on the US Fun City Editions Blu-ray.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Loss of Innocence" video essay by Chris O'Neill (7:35)
This video essay written by Chris O’Neill and narrated by Tori Lyons discusses the difficulties that the character of Wynne is facing during the film of becoming a woman as well as the issues of religion and infatuation. This video essay was previously available on the US Fun City Editions Blu-ray
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.85:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Worlds within Worlds: The Musical Mindscapes of Basil Kirchin" interview with Jonny Trunk (32:59)
The founder of Trunk Records whihc specializes in issuing and reissuing obscure recordings discusses about the life and the music of Basil Kirchin, the composer for "I Start Counting". From his days creating library music to unsuccessful ventures with his solo albums, Kirchin was always on the fringe with his avant garde style that never reached a wide audience, but was highly praised by the likes of Brian Eno, Thurston Moore, Broadcast, and other musicians for his unique and experimental works. Trunk also discusses how he got in touch with Kirchin long after he retired from the business and how in his last years was able to receive critical recognition that eluded him for most of his life. This is a remote interview that was recorded during the COVID-19 lockdown.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"An Apprentice with a Master's Ticket: Richard Harris on writing for the screen" interview (40:02)
Harris discusses his career as a writer, from somehow accidentally getting into the world of scriptwriting, his works on television and in films, including his adaptation for "I Start Counting" for the screen, his later works, as well as his thoughts on modern writing. This is a remote interview that was recorded during the COVID-19 lockdown.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"I Start Building: The New Town Dream" shorts
Collected are three short films from the BFI Archive dealing with constructions for new towns.

"New Towns for Old" (1942) (6:41)
This Ministry of Information short produced during WWII shows two men looking towards Britain in the future, where children are able to grow up in newly constructed towns and with better conveniences.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Charley in New Town" (1948) (8:34)
This Halas and Batchelor animated short features the character of Charley and more showing how Britain is planning to construct new towns and the methods used to strategically build the areas for the future generations.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 1.0 with no subtitles

"New Town from Old" (1959) (10:46)
This promotional film showcasing the newly developed Hemel Hempstead showcases its residential areas, the schools, shopping areas, new construction, and much more. The color film looks absolutely wonderful, with great detail, very little damage to the frame and only minor color fading. Unfortunately the original audio track with narration is lost and so there is library music accompanying the images instead.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, Music Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Don't Be Like Brenda" short (1973) (8:15)
This educational short film showcases Brenda, a 17 year old girl who falls in love with a boy named Gary. Everything seems as happy as can be for them, but when she reveals that she is pregnant, everything goes into a downward spiral for her life. Made in order to show children the tragic consequences of having a baby at an early age before couples can be ready for the issues that follow. A transfer from a print from the National Film and Television Archive, it has its fair share of scratches and speckles on the print as well as faded colors. The sound is also slightly weak, with crackles and pops. This short was previously available on the BFI’s short films DVD set of “The Joy of Sex Education”, later retitled as “The Birds and the Bees”.
in 1080p, AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 1.0 with no subtitles

"Danger on Dartmoor" 1980 Children's Film Foundation film (56:23)
"Danger in Dartmoor" is a CFF production, featuring three children in trouble as they are lost and stuck on the hills as a wild dog that is suspected of killing sheep is on the loose, as well as an escaped convict are within the vicinity. The script was written by Audrey Erskine-Lindop, who wrote a few more thriller novels following "I Start Counting", but this was her first original work written for the screen without any co-writer, and also would be her last. With a strong young girl in the lead, a creepy abandoned house, and danger around the corner there are some similarities to "I Start Counting" but it is a very different work altogether. There is some good but not too scary suspense in this children's film, as well as some fair acting from the child actors as well. But as for feeding the wild dog chocolate to calm him down? Hopefully kids who saw this film didn't try that at home...
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Image Gallery (16:55)
A series of black and white and some color photos of behind the scenes, production stills, lobby cards, and posters, without narration or music.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

Theatrical Trailer (1:49)
The original United Artists trailer is presented here, which has a bit of damage. It focuses heavily on a horror theme which the film is not at all. The trailer has also been embedded below, courtesy of the BFI.
in 1080p, AVC MPEG-4, in 1.85:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Booklet
A 24 page booklet is included. First is the essay "Rainbows in My Mind" by Dr Josephine Botting, which discusses about the film, the novel, its themes, and more. There are also full film credits, biographies of Greene, Agutter, and Sutcliffe, extras information, transfer information, acknowledgements and stills.



As stated, the film was previously released on Blu-ray in the US by Fun City Editions, and most of the extras have been carried over. The only one missing is a 28 second introduction by Agutter. But the UK BFI release adds much more with additional interviews and films making this one the much more desirable package.

Packaging

This is the 42nd release in the Flipside series.

Overall

"I Start Counting" is an excellent work that has elements of Nancy Drew, sexual awakening, and a hunt for a serial killer, and was unfairly overlooked and underseen in its initial release. Great direction and performances all around. The BFI release has a good transfer with an excellent selection of extras on its Blu-ray.

The Film: A Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: A Overall: A-

 


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