After making the 1967 horror The Shuttered Room, the spy movie Sebastian and the crime film The Strange Affair, both released in 1968, and before coming to the USA where he would helm award-winning mini-series like Rich Man, Poor Man (1976) and Roots (1977), British filmmaker and actor David Greene directed I Start Counting (1969), an adaptation of English author Audrey Erskine Lindop’s novel of the same name that was released in 1966. Her novels I Thank a Fool (1958) and The Singer Not the Song (1953) have also been turned into motion pictures (with the adaptation of the former directed by Robert Stevens, and the adaptation of the latter made by Roy Ward Baker), whereas I Start Counting won the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, a prestigious French literary prize that honors detective and crime fiction. The screenplay for Greene’s film was written by British television writer Richard Harris, known for his contribution to shows such as The Avengers (1961-1969), Armchair Mystery Theatre (1960-1965) and Public Eye (1965-1975).

I Start Counting follows soon-to-be fifteen-year-old Wynne (Jenny Agutter) who lives with her adoptive family in an apartment in Bracknell, England. And while the pubescent girl is the sole Catholic in the family, Wynne has a secret she shares only with her best friend, the bubbly and much more extroverted Corinne (Clare Sutcliffe). The secret is that Wynne is deeply infatuated with her thirty-two-year-old non-blood-related brother George (Bryan Marshall). He is, of course, oblivious to the fact that the young girl has a crush on him and casually goes about his business. While secretly watching him undress, Wynne sees scratch marks on his back and later digs up a suspicious-looking parcel she previously saw him discard in the trash bin outside their building. Surprised by the marks and shocked by the contents of the package, Wynne starts suspecting that George might be the serial killer that has been at large in her town. Deciding to keep her suspicions to herself and adamant about protecting George at all costs, Wynne starts playing detective and following him around, so as to get to the bottom of this self-appointed case.

In her mind, even if George did do it, he could still be rehabilitated. She fantasizes about marrying him after turning sixteen, absolutely sure that her love, understanding and unconditional support would make all the difference. After all, she knows him better than anyone and if she could just understand why he does the things she thinks he does, his salvation would not come into question. In this respect, I Start Counting is a perfectly constructed tale of innocence lost, a deeply nuanced coming-of-age story told through the narrative lens of a murder mystery and set against the backdrop of the post-war period. Wynne is constantly drawn to her former home, an old derelict house that is bound to get demolished by the end of the film, along with our heroine’s child-like traits and childhood memories, as she verges into womanhood.

Narratively speaking, the murders themselves are rather peripheral and mostly serve as a framing device in the context of which our young protagonist gets the opportunity to explore her own sexuality, as well as feelings of guilt, curiosity and the notion of moral ambiguity. Her adolescent love for George reframes the way the Catholic girl starts viewing sin and wrong-doing, making her eager to understand the underlying reasons behind why someone would commit murder. At the same time, the heroine remains blissfully unaware of what is really going on, an unflattering truth she will be forced to swallow as she ventures further down the proverbial rabbit hole. There, she will be confronted with themes, lifestyle choices and lived experiences that exist far beyond the scope of anything she had previously believed adult life entailed.

As we follow the story through Wynne’s perspective, one that provides us with relatable day-dreams, fantasies and trips down memory lane, as well as decisions based on naïve conclusions, we are thrown several red herrings that pertain to the whodunnit aspect of I Start Counting. And even though the murder mystery is not as intricate, nuanced or well-paced as it could have been, leaving viewers with a solid notion regarding the potential culprit fairly early on, it takes nothing away from the film’s overall atmosphere, which goes from dream-like to unsettling in a matter of seconds, courtesy of cinematographer Alex Thomson.

Upon its initial release, I Start Counting was considered somewhat controversial and was therefore overlooked, all due to the fact that the female lead of a film with sexual themes permeating its core was just a year or two older than the pubescent character she was portraying. The phenomenal Jenny Agutter, who would go on to star in films such as Walkabout (1971), Logan’s Run (1976), An American Werewolf in London (1981), as well as Marvel’s The Avengers (as Councilwoman Hawley), played Wynne with unbelievable ease, vulnerability and conviction. Bryan Marshall did a fantastic job as the mysterious George who Wynne cannot seem to get out of her head and Simon Ward was deeply memorable in his first-ever film role as the Conductor. It should also be noted that a young Phil Collins made an appearance as an ice cream vendor, but remained uncredited. Greene’s I Start Counting is an underrated cult classic that should not be missed, so be sure to get your hands on it on Blu-Ray as part of Fun City Editions, Vinegar Syndrome’s new partner label. Taking its name from the ironic moniker for late 1960s and '70s New York, Fun City Editions is a new boutique label focused on reissues of maverick repertory cinema and music that can best be described as works that exist "outside of their time." Spanning an array of genres, artists and countries, but with a unifying focus on forgotten and overlooked treasures, each Fun City release, be it a Blu-ray or vinyl LP, will present new restorations and comprehensive extras which contextualize and illuminate the artistic and historic value of the piece. Vinegar Syndrome will produce and supervise every restoration presented by Fun City Editions, which will also include extensive extras meant to examine and highlight each film’s value and significance.

Koraljka Suton is a member of the Croatian Society of Film Critics and has a master’s degree in German and English. For her thesis, she did a comparative analysis of Spielberg’s ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘The Pacific’. Koraljka trained at a Zagreb-based acting studio for six years and fell in love with Michael Chekhov and Lee Strasberg’s acting techniques. She is also a contemporary dancer and a Reiki master who believes in the transformative quality of art.