British Cinema, Romance

Brief Encounter (1945)

 

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Alec takes the grit from Laura’s eye. Screenshot by me.

Brief Encounter is an intimate romantic drama focusing on two married people who are torn between following their desires and not wanting to hurt their spouses. It is a film that has long held a special place in my heart.

 I love that these two characters have an inner decency which makes them not fully give in to their feelings, however much they actually want to be able to do so.

Brief Encounter has been imitated many times since: Falling In Love, The 7.39(TV), and even a direct remake starring Richard Burton and Sophia Loren. Although all enjoyable films none of these will ever come close to this original version in my opinion.

Laura(Celia Johnson)and Alec(Trevor Howard)meet at a railway station, and they keep running in to one another in the days that follow. A friendship develops which soon becomes something more. The catch is both are married to someone else, and neither wants to hurt their spouse. Neither can deny their growing feelings though and they will both have to decide whether to begin a relationship or not.

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Alec and Laura enjoy a happy moment. Screenshot by me.

We feel for Laura and Alec so much and because they resist their growing feelings this makes them even more sympathetic because they can’t deny the attraction, but they will not just go straight ahead and act on it either. If they had fell into each others arms and ran off together, then I highly doubt that this film would be getting discussed so much today.

It is the realism and bittersweet quality of the film which has made it a classic in my opinion. If this had been made in Hollywood, I don’t doubt that there would have been a happy and very romantic ending. While that ending would certainly have pleased audiences and fed in to the romantic ideal of a happy ending, it just wouldn’t have been realistic. In real life people don’t begin love affairs so easily and such relationships can also be very painful and messy. I also like how the films depiction of Laura and Alec’s meetings and growing feelings never feels contrived; their meetings and developing bond throughout the film feels real and believable.

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Celia Johnson as Laura. Screenshot by me.

Brief Encounter is directed by David Lean and it is based upon Noel Coward’s stage play, Still Life(which was set entirely in a railway waiting room).

Lean decided to expand the action beyond the train station, and in the process he gives us glimpses of Laura’s home life with her loving and slightly dull husband (Cyril Raymond), and also shows us meetings in town between Alec and Laura.

In many scenes this film could almost be seen as a Silent film.

There are many moments where the camera is close in on Celia’s face and we hear her characters thoughts, fantasies, desires in a narration; while all this is going on Celia has to also express what we hear through her expressions, and she does so expertly.

There is also another prominent couple in this film, Albert (Stanley Holloway) and Myrtle(Joyce Carey)the station master and station café manager; they enjoy an open, flirtatious relationship, whilst never seeming to ever become a couple (like Alec and Laura). These scenes also serve as some comic relief in an otherwise serious and emotional story. Margaret Barton is also good as the young café assistant(I believe she is now the only surviving cast member.)

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Alec and Laura discuss their growing feelings. Screenshot by me.

My heart breaks for Alec and Laura every time I watch this. It is obvious that they would be good for one another, and it seems to us that they genuinely do care for each other. I admire their moral strength though in not giving in to their hearts desire, that only makes me like them and pity them more. 

Can you imagine how hard it must be to give up what you want most, and just walk away and carry on as normal? That takes some real strength and determination, not everyone can be so strong in life.

The use of Rachmaninov’s music was an inspired choice I think. Today that music and this film are inseparable in many peoples minds. The music fits the film perfectly.

My favourite scenes are the following. Their cinema visits. The scene in the flat. Laura’s fantasy in the train window. The first(and as it turns out) final scene in the café and the “you know what’s happened, don’t you?” scene.

I love this scene for the story and performances, but I also enjoy watching to see a bygone era. This is the England of steam trains and to our modern view some extremely cheap prices for everything, from food to cinema tickets.

A bittersweet love story that stays with you long after the film has finished. I have no doubt that this film will continue to be effective for audiences for as long as film survives. I think that is a testament to the abilities of Lean, and also to all the cast and crew who worked on this film.

Please share your thoughts on this timeless love story. Never seen it? Get a copy of this and enjoy this deeply moving film. Be sure to see it on Blu-ray to catch it looking at its best.

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Romance, Unsung Classics

Unsung Classics 1: Paris When It Sizzles (1963)

I’d like to start a series of posts about classic films that I think deserve some more attention. I’m starting with this romantic comedy starring William Holden and Audrey Hepburn.

Quite simply, I consider this to be one of the best and funniest films out there about the filmmaking process. Focusing on the screenwriting process, this film takes a look at all the film clichés and also at how quickly plot ideas can change, and how such ideas even come to be in the first place.

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Richard and Gabrielle share an intimate moment.

The film is also a very clever mix of genres. At one point it is a thriller, whilst another scene finds us firmly in horror territory. The film also features an hysterical cameo from Tony Curtis, as a young method actor featuring in several of the films possible script scenarios. The film is basically one big in joke about the process of making films, and about the people who work in this industry.

Featuring some gorgeous photography in and around Paris, lots of humour and romance, and Holden and Hepburn having a great deal of fun, what’s not to like?

Richard Benson (William Holden)is a cynical Hollywood screenwriter, a ladies man, who loves a drink or two, and is living in a Paris apartment. Hired months ago to write a new screenplay, he has in fact been spending his time having fun and hasn’t written a word! With his deadline fast approaching he hires secretary Gabrielle(Audrey Hepburn)to help him begin and finish on time.

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Richard and Gabrielle take a well earned break from writing. Screenshot by me.

As he comes up with possible scenarios we actually see his ideas as film scenes on screen, featuring Holden and Hepburn as the various main characters. While all this is going on, Benson is finding himself falling in love with Gabrielle, but does she return his feeling? 

Holden has a ball playing various fictional adventurous leading men, and even a charming vampire! Hepburn shows a real gift for comedy as the secretary caught up in imagination, and as various fictional leading ladies.

The vampire grotto sequence is one of my favourites, as a romantic afternoon lunch suddenly takes a turn into the realms of darkness, when Holden’s charming playboy is revealed to be a vampire. It’s funny and ridiculous at the same time and just where is that beautiful waterfall/park they go into? It looks gorgeous. I also like the fountains featured in the final scene.

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The bath on a film set scene. Screenshot by me.

I also love the scene in the film studio featuring Audrey as a sexy woman of the streets taking a bubble bath on an exotic set.

Great fun, and highly recommended to fans of Holden and Hepburn. This flick deserves to be better known. Spread the word, folks!

If you’re already a fan of this one, please share your thoughts on the film.

 

Silent Film

Shooting Stars (1928)

For my first ever blog post(so excited to be joining the blogging community), I would like to discuss this British Silent film. I saw this for the first time last year, and I have to say that I was only sorry that I had never seen it sooner!

The film is funny, touching, interesting and is also quite suspenseful.I also love how the title of the film is later cleverly revealed to have two meanings.

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Mae and Julian share a kiss. Screenshot by me.

Director Anthony Asquith perfectly captures and conveys the magic and power of film. Given how well the film is put together, it is remarkable that this was his directorial debut.

Asquith would go on to direct many British classics such as The Winslow Boy(1948) and The Browning Version(1951). 

This is one of the best films about making films that I’ve ever seen. There is a great deal of realism about it and it has an almost documentary look. I also find it fascinating to be able to watch this and see how a Silent era film studio operated and see what went on behind and off the camera.

 The performances are very natural, they certainly didn’t come across as being over the top and theatrical as can sometimes be the case with some Silent film performances. I think this film would be a good gateway film to use to introduce someone to Silent films. 

I think that it must have been interesting, and even a little difficult and uncomfortable, for Silent era audiences to have sat and watched this film. This film destroys the illusion of film. Shooting Stars throws back the curtains and reveals the behind the scenes tricks used to achieve the magic of film. The film also shows us that actors may play friends and lovers on screen, but off screen and behind the scenes, co-stars may well hate one another, even though they seem friendly on screen.

This film also reveals to us that film is all about illusion. Despite us knowing it’s all illusion, we still believe and enjoy what they see up there on the big screen anyway. We get so caught up in the story and images up on the big screen that we can forget about our own lives for a few hours and focus on someone else’s experiences.

I would have loved to have been in the audience when this film premiered. I really wonder how people reacted to this one. Did it make them more interested in how films were made? Did things shown in this film spoil the enjoyment of watching films from this point on for some people?

The opening scene of the film is the perfect example of how this film shows us the tricks of the trade, and how it makes us realise that all is not as we are always led to believe on screen. The film begins with a romantic scene focusing on a woman in a blossom tree kissing a cowboy. What begins as a beautiful romantic scene quickly descends into chaos when a bird in the scene bites the woman.

                                Below are a few screenshots by me of the tree sequence.

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The director tries to persuade Mae to do another take of the tree sequence. Screenshot by me.

The woman screams, the camera pulls back, and we see that the woman is actually an actress, the tree is part of a film set, and that the scene we’ve just witnessed was being shot as part of a film.

We then pull back and are shown the soundstages of the studio, we see other actors and crewmembers walking around, and we see other films being shot on adjacent stages. This opening scene really stunned me the first time I saw it, I think it is such an ingenious way to open a film which looks behind the scenes of film making. 

The film starts off being very funny, but then it slowly turns very dark and suspenseful. The ending is very depressing and is there to show us that fame is fleeting, and that once great stars can very easily become yesterday’s news.

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Mae and Julian. Screenshot by me.

Mae Feather(Annette Benson)and Julian Gordon(Brian Aherne)are married. The couple are two of the most famous British film stars. Mae is a beautiful and self centred woman. Julian loves her very much though despite her many personal flaws.  

Mae begins an affair with the adored comedy actor, Andy Wilkes(Donald Calthrop), a man whose comic screen persona comes across to me as a mix of Chaplin and Keaton.  When Julian discovers their affair, Mae becomes so enraged that she decides to kill Julian, her plan ends up having some unexpected and disastrous results. 

Annette Benson is superb as the actress who destroys her only chance of happiness for a moment of passion. Annette is a very expressive actress and she really lets us see how her character is feeling and thinking through her expressions.

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Donald Calthrop as Wilkes. Screenshot by me.

Donald Calthrop is marvellous playing two very different characters, the comic character Wilkes is famous for, and as the elegant man ladies man who Wilkes is in reality when he is off the screen.

Brian Aherne has the hardest role I think, because he has to play Julian as being slightly dull, but also has to ensure he has our sympathy throughout the film I think he more than succeeds.

An actress called Chili Bouchier (who I’m unfamiliar with) also makes quite an impression as a glamorous co-star of Wilkes.

I would also love to somehow be able to see all three of the films featured within this film. Wilkes’s comedy film in particular looks like it would be great fun. I also really love the beautiful intertitle cards used in the film where Julian’s character rescues Mae’s.

John Altman’s bouncy music fits so well with the film. I think the music is very catchy and I always have the main theme stuck in my head for a bit when I watch this. 

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Julian and an audience enjoy a film he stars in. Screenshot by me.

My favourite scenes are the following. May and Julian walking onto Wilkes comedy film set and watching him perform. The beach sequence. The opening in the blossom tree. The ending. Julian watching the film at the cinema, and noticing the excited reaction of the boys behind him as they watch the film.

This film is a must see for Silent fans. This film has something in it for everyone to enjoy, and it does such a good job of showing us how the magic on the big screen is actually achieved.

If I were to pick one film to show to someone as an example of the power and magic of cinema, I think this film would be it. The film makes us feel for the characters, get caught up in their lives, desires and their actions. The film also has something in it for every viewer to enjoy. Most importantly this film reminds us all what a strange and wonderful thing film can be.