Woman-The World, the Artist-magician, the Craftsman- specialist, and Two Psychiatrists

The Overture

The film is framed by two psychiatrists, one is a more traditional, and the other (on the right) is scientifically more up-to-date. It is this younger doctor who, we can say almost confidently, shared the story he heard from Charles Crossley, the main character of the film, with Rachel, the heroine of Crossley’s yearning. The name of this character is Robert Graves.

As a “post-modernist” composer, Anthony tries to produce music “professionally”, but his music is based on onomatopoeia (enhanced by technological equipment), and as such is no more than a musical tautology.

Anthony was shocked to notice that his wife, Rachel, is somehow excited (impressed with?) the unexpectedly visiting them patient from a mental institution where she works as a nurse, Charles Crossley.

“The Duel”

Like everyone likes to be smarter than everybody else, the artist dreams to outperform (out-talent) his rivals – other artists. This desire, if not controlled, can push a person to the brink of mental disturbance – if talent as an urge and skill is not balanced by the artist‘s human wholeness. Skolimowski’s film is about this mad aspect of the artistic talent that sometimes is stronger the stronger the talent.

“The duel” of artistic skills between Crossley and Anthony is not only about a woman (Rachel) – as incredible and seductive as she is (powerful as the universe, in Susanna York’s personification). It is about the clash of talents, of the magic powers of creative gifts. It is as if Crossley let a rival to pick up a weapon, and because Anthony is a composer, Crossley as though invented how to beat the sounds of music not with sounds of human voice but through a primordial voice of the universe.

The real artist according to the plot – Crossley (who according to meaning impersonates the mad aspect of the artistic talent) is triumphant over the craftsman (Anthony) although the latter is not stupid in his assessment of his work as inferior and has an inferiority complex. He is afraid of Crossley’s creative power.

In a moment of creation the artist becomes impersonalized – he is transformed into something else (into a giant mystical bird?)…

… Into a monster whose passion takes a not-human (a cosmic?) form

…Into a universe motivated by the frivolous fantasy to play power games with human beings…

…Into a giant mouth that produces the lava of the scream of Being that exists before the distinction between Being and Non-being.

And poor Anthony, although he in advance has protected his ears, almost died from the encounter with the reality that embraces life and death as one.

Anthony is defeated not only as a husband of the incredible Rachel, not only as a musician but also as a human consciousness hiding behind everyday life from the larger reality.

Horrified by Crossley’s magic power, Anthony, like a child, tries to hide in the bed pretending to be sleep.

The Encounter

The intensity of Crossley and Rachel’s amorous and sexual encounter has nothing to do with seduction, sex, “love” or eroticism: it represents the artist’s (Crossley’s) fantasy of sexual triumph – by pure power of creative magic without the involvement of any love-inducing emanations. It also represents Graves/Skolimowski’s idea of the rooted in the ancient cultures concept of the magic origins of artistic talent capable of “conquering the world”.

In Crossley’s mighty fantasy Rachel becomes a universe which incarnates into a woman in order to surrender to the power of artist…

…a universe that bends to the feet of the artist-creator.

Crossley becomes a mountain over Rachel-the valley, a sky over Rachel-the earth, branches of a tree over Rachel-its roots, cloud over Rachel-the leaf, cosmos over Rachel-the galaxy, the galaxy over Rachel-the sun.

He becomes a man over a woman who looks at him

… through the bars of her ecstatically worshipping admiration

In the unconscious fantasy (phantasy) of the artist he achieves with woman much more than the authoritarian male is capable to (with subdued by him and worshipping him female) – the artist doesn’t need this woman’s worship or love or sex or dedication. He takes all of that only to intensify his feeling of his talent, without the personal involvement with the beloved. The issue for him is the creative power, not love in its personal aspect. Talent is a muse, and muse is more than a woman – in the eyes of a disturbed artist (or in the eyes of the unconscious of any genuine artist).

Crossley and Rachel as his elevated, by humiliation and sublimation, female victim


As an ordinary person Anthony doesn’t understand the sublimated nature of what he takes as Crossley’s “seduction” of his wife. He may be fearful of spirits and ghosts, but his heart is indifferent to spirituality (even a pagan one), is not trembling when the proportions of things become no longer recognizable, alien. He is not talented – he doesn’t know that creative aspect of megalomania is capable of redeeming the megalomaniacal aspect of creativity.


Charles Crossley’s story has won Rachel forever. In the film’s epilog Rachel came to pay respect to Crossley after his death. She came to take back her shoe buckle that Crossley kept and used to magically manipulate her feelings towards him. In a world of fight for survival, spiritual vegetation and cheap achievements she feels that his sort of “manipulation” is a form of love, and she responds to this love with love. The story becomes life, the fantasy – reality. Creativity makes the ordinary people giants for brief moments of eternity.


Robert Graves wrote the text in prose, and Skolimowski transposed it into cinematographic verses. The writer-philosopher cared about the story and its (transcendent) meaning, the director made this meaning the story itself – he found a way to narrate the meaning as plot – with natural metaphorical visuality.

It takes viewers some time to grasp that this bizarre, frightening, severe but tremendous and unpleasantly magnetic Charles Crossley is not completely “normal” – he is too much, too other, too something else. It takes even longer to understand that Crossley is not a “realistic” personage at all but personification of an artist – a person for whom to create life is more important than to live, and for whom imagination and talent are simply working tools to give breath to his desire. Thirdly, Crossley is a disturbed artist (a personification of disbalance aspect of the artist – his very feeling that art is more important than life). The first and the second/third approaches to the film (perceiving it as plot, and as meaning with semantic vignettes) can be reconciled – how can an artist not to be someone who is perceived as being beyond psychological normalcy if we have a deal with a real artist – not with a businessman using his artistic skills for making money and trying to reach fame? Artist confronts reality with his (artistic) truth while “artist-businessman” re-shapes this truth to be sure it is popular and salable. The truth for a real artist is what profit is for a businessman. Artist is the ancient esquire to the knight that is his artistic truth which is a conqueror of the world but because instead of weapon art uses sublime tools the artist is gentle and fragile.

For Charles Crossley only his art and his magic (his creative power) exist (in a spiritual clash with the ossified reality of the factual world). Of course, there is something pre-Christian, something pagan in his sensibility. But any real artist has this layer of the psyche being activated, this uncanny energy which sometimes pierces his perception like weeds the surface of a cultivated soil.

Graves and Skolimowski show us two kinds of mental patients – those with average or lower than average intelligence, and the one with exceptional intelligence. And they show two kinds of psychiatrists. One classifies the patient’s mental disturbance and tries to handle it while simultaneously falling victim to the patient’s artistic talent that artist-patient mythologizes as his supernatural powers. The other – with above average intelligence himself, tries to address the very human intelligence inside the mental illness while simultaneously is without the ability to appreciate the spiritual (truth-) aspect of the artistic talent. Both, the traditional psychiatrist and the one who represents the recent innovative psychotherapeutic approaches to mental illness – miss the point: they don’t respect the spiritual aspect of not being adapted to the dominant reality. The destinies of the conventional doctor and the exceptional patient are similar (they are both dying in the film), but grateful to the less dogmatic psychiatrist we are given the chance to understand the non-magic power of art which he himself left undiscovered (he was able to discover the purely mythological nature of Crossley’s magic power but unable to penetrate the truth-power of his art).

The narrative is about conquering the reality by the artist/magician’s imagination, the reality which is personified by an exceptional woman, with an inexhaustible emotional reservoir responsive to the challenge of a magician (inside Charles Crossley’s story), and about the artist-Crossley himself (inside his story, outside it and inside life). Artist prevails against the resisting forces adversary to art, but pays for this victory with his own life. Crossley in spite of his delirious perception of his own gift is much ahead of today’s artist-professionals personified by Rachel’s husband Anthony who tries to avoid the spiritual ordeals of his life and chooses to compromise with the anti-spiritual forces (which, for example, in US, in the 21st century have succeeded in reducing art to commercial appeal).

Scolimowski is not “romanticizing” Crossley – who is as crude and as delicate as to be able to produce a work of art, in a form of the story he narrates. But as a result something in the world has moved, something has shifted inside reality, and this incredible woman Rachel came to Crossley, although only after his death.

The film is full of rhythmic semantic melodies, multilayered visual metaphors and daring visual associations and juxtapositions. The story of Crossley’s seduction of the composer’s wife who is a genius of emotional fertility, and the rivalry between the two men is as banal as it should be because it is focused on existential roots of spirituality in its magic (mythological) and creative aspects. The banality is dissolved when the rod of aesthetic power touches it with its transformative influence. Crossley is not interested in Rachel’s love but in the power of his love-inducing sorcery. It is a matter of her lost/stolen buckle. But Rachel understood that what is compressed inside the buckle (her missing shoe buckle kept by Crossely) is love, and what is compressed inside magic is the desire for love. The magician ultimately wins but only as an artist.

The surface structure (the plot) is delivered through the deep structure (semantics) by the means of visual symbolism and chains and blocks of visual constructions (for example, successful realizations of Anthony’s adulterous sexual acts are expressed through successful ball strikes in the cricket game or the futilely rolling wheels of a bike left on the ground, or the indirect reference to shoe-maker-husband of the composer’s mistress provides the semantic framing for desperate Athony’s (in danger of losing his wife) proud self-assertion that he is “not a shoemaker but musician”, etc.) “The Shout” is a miracle of director’s metaphorical communication with viewers.

Is the short mutual gaze on the road to the clinic (when she was driving her husband to the cricket game and he passes them by on his motorcycle) all that really happened between Rachel and Crossley, this magic moment which triggered his magnificent wishful fantasy?

Jerzy Skolimowski

Posted on Sep 6, 2014 –   “The Shout” (1978) by Jerzy Skolimowski by Acting-Out Politics