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  Image, The Portrait Of Death
Year: 1967
Director: Michael Armstrong
Stars: Michael Byrne, David Bowie
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Night has fallen and the rain is lashing at the windows as inside this house the artist (Michael Byrne) puts the finishing touches to his latest painting of a young man in plaintive pose. Just as he is touching the brush to the canvas for the final few times, he hears an odd creak from inside the room and looks about, but cannot see what might have made the noise; growing afraid, he circles the painting but is none the wiser. It is then that he catches sight of something outside the window, in the darkness: a face staring in... the face of the young man in his artwork...

When The Image was made late in 1967, David Bowie had already released his first, self-titled album to little impact, but for budding director Michael Armstrong, soon to be significant on the European exploitation movie scene, he was an interesting new talent so when it came to cast his short film, made to fill the lower half of a double bill, he called in Bowie's services. It was a macabre work, so macabre in fact that it proudly boasted one of the few X certificates on a short ever awarded in Britain - for violence - though in its way one of the freaky results of the up and coming young creative types getting to explore cinema in a way that had not been considered before, not by the mainstream, at any rate.

Certainly you could see the influence of surrealist and experimental filmmakers in Armstrong's efforts here, but they were applied to a framework which could just as easily make up an instalment of an Amicus horror anthology. Still, there were those experimental touches, such as abrupt and jarring reusing of footage to craft an atmosphere of nightmare, though on the other hand they could have been employed simply because the director needed to beef up the running time in the editing. Shot in gloomy black and white, with all that emphasis on the chill and pouring rain this came across in the same vein as Bowie's Please Mr. Gravedigger, the spooky final track on his first album.

So much so that legend had while Bowie was sitting outside in the fake rain for ages to conjure up that visual of the portrait subject appearing at every window, he caught a cold, just as he does in that track. As to the story, it wasn't anything revolutionary, consisting mainly of the artist panicking that his painting has come to life and going to extreme lengths to get rid of it, such as whomping it over the head or strangling it. But every time he thinks he's conquered it, the figure returns, even when the artist produces a knife and goes even further. There was a Frankenstein sort of theme to the plot, such as it was, in that the creator wants nothing to do with his creation now he has brought it into the world, though we're unsure of what exactly the Bowie character wants aside from attention. The pained expression on his face suggests he's unhappy, but there wasn't enough to read too much into The Image other than its basis as a simple chiller. Historically interesting. Drum music by Noel Janus.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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