Monday, November 9, 2009

Day 266: The Shout (1978) - Rank 4/5


My fascination with Peter Weir's "Picnic at Hanging Rock" and "The Last Wave" drew me to this film. I never realized that there was a subgenre within Australian New Wave that focused on the juxtaposition of colonial "civilization" and aboriginal mystique. Thank goodness there is, because I have yet to be disappointed, and I can only hope there are other works that fall into this obscure category.

The film opens during a cricket match at an insame asylum (ah, if only more films began like that...), when a new doctor at the facility (Tim Curry) is invited to keep score alongside the eccentric inmate, Crossley (Alan Bates). Crossley decides that he wants to tell the new doctor a story behind one of the match's players, Anthony Fielding (John Hurt). Crossley's story involves his slow but steady integration (or should I say infiltration) into Fielding's life. Fielding, an effects artist making a study of various sounds, welcomes Crossley in one afternoon for lunch, and before he knows it, Crossley is showing up at the home every day and going as far as to have a blatant affair with Fieldin's wife (Susannah York). When Fielding becomes confrontational, Crossley threatens to use "the shout" on him - an aboriginal bit of magic that will kill any living thing that hears it.

The sequence where Crossley demonstrates his shout is fabulous. He and Fielding walk for hours to find a secluded environment, and even though Fielding plugs up his ears with cotton and wax, he slips into unconsciousness during the demonstration as sheep and birds drop dead all about him. But to assume that these mystical powers are real is to give Crossley the benefit of the doubt, especially when he's clearly an unreliable narrator. There is more than one moment in the film where the story (and Crossley's concentration) is interrupted by the cricket match. When the tale starts back up, minor elements have changed. The complexity of the characters and the battle of wits unfolding between them is enough to interpret as it is, but throw an element of incredibility into the mix, due to the unreliable nature of the storyteller, and you've got an engrossing and thought-provoking film that demands multiple viewings.

Watch the Trailer

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