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.

 

British Cinema, Horror

The Innocents (1961)

For me this is the greatest British horror film. Whenever I think of haunted houses, or of ghosts wandering about amongst the living, this is the film which first springs to my mind. 

This film has such a spooky and unnerving atmosphere about it. The cinematography and lighting add a great deal perfectly creating an unsettling and eerie look to every scene. The period set design is the icing on this horror cake because it really looks like a real home of the period.

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Miss Giddens goes in search of ghosts. Screenshot by me.

I happen to think that spooky old houses are really the best locations to set horror stories in. Think about it for a second. You have creaking floorboards, very old houses, flickering candles and plenty of dark corners; add the possibilities of spirits messing with you and you have got yourself one very creepy situation indeed. 

The Innocents is based upon the Henry James novel, The Turn of the Screw. It is a very creepy, and claustrophobic film. I think that it makes for perfect viewing on a dark night, or on a dark and stormy afternoon.

The film is directed by Jack Clayton, it has photography by Freddie Francis, a screenplay by William Archibald and Truman Capote, and has some truly eerie and atmospheric music by Georges Auric.

From the very beginning this film intrigues the viewer and is highly unsettling. The opening film logos and credits are accompanied by an eerie song that sounds like its straight out of the Victorian era. Birds can be heard chirping on the soundtrack and we also hear the whimpers of a woman.

We then see a distraught woman (who we later learn to be Miss Giddens), her hands clasped together in prayer. We see she is deeply distressed but we have no idea why or what is going on. I think this is such a good way to open the film as it sets up the tone and atmosphere of the film right away,  and it also really makes you wonder about what you are seeing.

The young and much repressed Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr)becomes the new governess to adorable siblings Flora and Miles (Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens). As time goes on she begins to suspect that the two children are being possessed by the souls of two dead former servants Quint and Miss Jessel(Peter Wyngarde and Clytie Jessop.)

Miss Giddens notices that the siblings behave very oddly and seem to be aware of things that nobody else is aware of. Miles acts very much like an adult in the way he speaks and behaves. There is just something not right about him at all and he acts in a very creepy manner.

For one so young, Martin Stephens very adeptly conveys a wisdom and worldliness way beyond his years, and he does so in a very unsettling way indeed. In my opinion Martin delivers the most unsettling child performances in film history (the little boy from the original Omen film comes in a close second). Martin is especially excellent in the scenes where Miles talks to Miss Giddens in the way a man who was her lover would do, these scenes are very strange and he makes you believe he is possessed by an older man. Weird stuff.

                                  Creepy siblings Miles and Flora. Screenshot by me.

Miles and Flora seem to be almost telepathically linked. The siblings seem to communicate with one another through a series of glances and expressions which convey to us that there are secrets between them known only to them. Their weird behaviour only adds even more creepiness to the proceedings. Miss Giddens then begins to see ghosts around the house. Or does she?

It is precisely this ambiguity regarding the ghosts that makes this film so effective I believe. You can view the occurrences in the film in two ways – either Miss Giddens really does see the ghosts, and the children really are possessed or else Miss Giddens is suffering a mental breakdown and is imaging the whole thing. Either scenario is terrifying and whichever you believe(I actually believe that it is a combination of both)is scary and makes the ending shocking and sad.

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The ghost in the lake. Screenshot by me.

Personally I think that the children were corrupted by the things they saw Quint and Miss Jessel do together, so what they witnessed has affected their behaviour.

Quint and Miss Jessel were also the only companions the children had ever known, so they now try and imitate these adults even after their death. In a way their imitation of the deceased means that they are bringing these people back to life, isn’t this another form of possession?

Miss Giddens hears about the dead servants and begins to fear them and their supernatural influence. She then begins to see them.

I think she really does see these horrors, but whether they are actually real ghosts or just her fears manifesting I wouldn’t like to say, to her though they are certainly real apparitions.

This is the type of horror film I like best. It is one where you’re not sure if you just glimpsed something in the corner of your eye, or if something just brushed past a character causing a candle to flicker. I much prefer psychological horror to gore and this film certainly makes you think and it is one that really creeps me out every time I watch it.

I think that Deborah gives one of the very best performances of her entire career here. She captures this woman’s growing fear and paranoia. She starts off portraying her as an eager, shy and happy woman. By the end of the film we see her as a broken, terrified and extremely unstable woman.

I think it is a real shame that Deborah never again got another role like this. She does such a terrific job of conveying Miss Giddens growing fear and obsessions. As the film goes on she looks more and more paranoid, worn out, ill and nervous.

The children are excellent and deliver performances far beyond what most child actors could deliver. The fact that they manage to be creepy, unsettling and adorable all at the same time says a great deal about their acting abilities.

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Megs Jenkins as the housekeeper who doesn’t understand what is going on. Screenshot by me.

Megs Jenkins is very good as the kindly housekeeper who adores the children. Megs conveys her characters great difficulty in believing any of what Miss Giddens says, but also being powerless to undermine her and her authority within the house. 

Beautiful costumes, a stunning garden location (Sheffield Park Gardens)and a gothic atmosphere all combine together to make The Innocents a must see horror film.

My favourite scenes the following. The ghost of the lady appearing in the middle of the lake. Miss Giddens first walk around the beautiful gardens. The conversation between Miss Giddens and Miles, where she becomes convinced that he is possessed. The scene where Miss Giddens walks around the corridors with a candle hearing laughter. Quint’s appearance in the windows.

Are you a fan of this film? Please leave your thoughts below.

 

 

Silent Film

Shooting Stars (1928)

 

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Mae prepares to film a scene of peril. Screenshot by me.

For my first ever blog post(so excited), I would like to discuss this British Silent film from 1928. 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, dramatic, and it is also quite suspenseful.

This is one of the best films about making films that I’ve ever seen. There is a sense of realism about it and it has an almost documentary feel. You really feel like you are backstage with all of these people. I also find it fascinating watching how a Silent era film studio operated and seeing what went on behind and off the camera.

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

I think that it must have been both interesting and even difficult viewing for Silent era audiences to watch this film. This film destroys the illusion of film. In this we are shown how the magic of film is achieved, and we see that co-stars may hate one another and yet seem the best of friends 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 and forget about our own lives for a few hours.

I would have loved to have been in the audience when this 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 some peoples enjoyment of watching films from this point on?

The opening scene of the film is the perfect example of how the film makes us realise that all is not as we are led to believe. 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 to show this sequence.

The woman screams and the camera pulls back revealing to us that she is actually an actress, that the tree is part of a set, and that the scene we’ve just witnessed was for 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.

The film starts off being very funny, and then it turns very dark and suspenseful. The ending is both realistic and depressing. The film shows us that fame is fleeting and that once great stars can easily become yesterdays news.

Mae Feather(Annette Benson)and Julian Gordon(Brian Aherne)are married, and they 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 flaws.

Mae begins an affair with the adored comedy actor, Andy Wilkes(Donald Calthrop), a man whose comic film act is like 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 unexpected and disastrous results. 

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

                  A before and after shot of Wilkes in and out of his makeup.

               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’s.

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 love the intertitle cards used in the film where Julian’s character rescues Mae’s.

Altman’s bouncy music fits so well with the film, and I found it to also be very catchy. The film title is also later cleverly revealed to have two meanings.

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Julian and an audience enjoy a film he made. 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 has immense rewatch value, and it 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 would be it. The film makes us feel for the characters and get caught up in their lives and actions. The film also has something in it for every viewer to enjoy. It also reminds us what a strange and wonderful thing film can be.