THE SHOUT - Avalon II.
Fashionable insanity has ruined a lot of good movies, and primitive mysticism is destroying many of the rest.
From the simplest murder picture to the most complicated psychological drama, the element of craziness has long been used to excuse the dramatist from explaining motive, and the actor from developing character. The senseless act is, after all, senseless. If the objective is to make the point that such behavior exists, that is one thing. But to throw an erratic factor into an otherwise patterned situation has done in some servicable dramatic structures, as disgruntled mystery fans have discovered when they realize that their sleuthing is useless against the meaningless act.
Added to this, in several film of the last year, is the erratic element of a primitive, mystic force that operates according to no social or human, let alone dramatic, laws. By definition it can nither be anticipated nor understood.
"The Shout" is about a man who is mystically empowered and, we think, crazy. Hedging is characteristic of the insanity film as well as the primitive-power film.
Returning from 18 years among Australian aborigines, a darkly menacing man, played by Alan Bates, claims to have the power to kill with a special and strange shout. He captivates and terrorizes a village couple, played with skillful nervous politeness by Susannah York and John Hurt. The story of his torturing them is told in flashbacks from the annual cricket game of a mental asylum, where the shouter is an inmate.
The film, directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, is filled with complicated visual and audio images. Deserts mirrors, sheep; organ music, insects buzzing, wind - the entire symbolic vocabulary is used.
And yet what is this elaborate work all about? "The Shout" is taken from a short story by Robert Graves, a writer who probes myth and culture for sense, rather than collecting it for love of non-sense. There is no reason, in the film, for the existence of the weapon of the shout, no motive for its being used, and no explanation of why it is employed to ruin this particular couple.
Presumably, the images should be so dazzling that one should not ask such simple questions, but take it for granted that it all means something important about the human psyche or culture. Or one can agree with the mental patient who begins shouting the "sound and fury, signifying nothing" speech from "Macbeth," in which case the filmmakers who included it have triumphantly hedged once again CAPTION: Picture, ALAN BATES TERRIFYING THE COUNTRYSIDE IN "THE SHOUT."