76 Brief Encounter

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Martha
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76 Brief Encounter

#1 Post by Martha » Sat Feb 12, 2005 8:26 pm

Brief Encounter

[img]http://criterion_production.s3.amazonaws.com/release_images/518/76_box_348x490_w128.jpg[/img]

From Noël Coward's play Still Life, legendary filmmaker David Lean deftly explores the thrill, pain, and tenderness of an illicit romance in the dour, gray Britain of 1945. From a chance meeting on a train platform, a middle-aged married doctor (Trevor Howard) and a suburban housewife (Celia Johnson) enter into a quietly passionate, ultimately doomed love affair, set to a swirling Rachmaninoff score. Criterion is proud to present Lean's award-winning masterpiece a beautifully restored digital transfer.

Special Features

-Luminous digital transfer, with restored image and sound
-Audio commentary by film historian Bruce Eder
-Restoration demonstration
-Original theatrical trailer
-English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired

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colinr0380
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#2 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Feb 21, 2005 11:34 am

There was an interesting BBC regional programme shown a couple of months ago about a couple from Stockport, near Manchester who are filming a version of Brief Encounter with themselves in Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson roles (I guess they're kind of like the Northern England Gus Van Sants!) It seems mad to me (and apparently she isn't as taken with making the film as the her partner is, though "he needs his Celia"), but it's definitely an A for effort! Apparently their brother-in-law owns a camera shop and supplied the equipment as well as directing them. The TV report showed the couple rehearsing the 'piece of grit in my eye - let me look, I am a Doctor' scene while washing the dishes and then followed them to Carnforth Station where they had a real steam train on hand and filmed Celia/Janet's departure. Unfortunately the train was only allowed to stop in the station for two minutes, so they had to rush to get the scene. Apparently they're going to do 2001: A Space Odyssey next! (only joking :wink:). Here's a web report I found on them. I think I'll just stick to the DVD! I'd say that the other important aspect of the film is the depiction of steam railway travel - somehow it adds to the romantic atmosphere more than an electric train would, as the poor 1974 TV version with Richard Burton and Sophia Loren showed. Here's an interesting website that gives information about Carnforth Station.

I'd recommend taking a look at the list of railway accidents that occured. Things like: "8 th November 1846 Collision between two locomotives, after joyride (The Times)" (those have to be some badass kids! or the girls of St Trinian's on a daytrip) or "23 Nov 1873 Passenger attempting to board FR train while in motion slipped and fell under carriage and had left foot run over. So badly crushed that foot had to be amputated, from which he later died. " In my searches I also found an interesting web page which details some of the areas in the North of England where various films have been shot.

There was also a interesting episode of the BBC's Great Railway Journeys that featured Victoria Wood doing a round trip from Crewe and stopping off at Carnforth to reminisce about Brief Encounter
Last edited by colinr0380 on Fri Mar 18, 2005 11:01 am, edited 1 time in total.

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oldsheperd
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#3 Post by oldsheperd » Mon Feb 21, 2005 3:09 pm

I gotta say, this is such a bizarre film. The characters act with such urgency towards their relationships.

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#4 Post by FilmFanSea » Mon Feb 21, 2005 4:51 pm

oldsheperd wrote:I gotta say, this is such a bizarre film. The characters act with such urgency towards their relationships.
I didn't find it "bizarre", but it's certainly the kind of film you must give yourself over to completely (which is to say, flip your "Cynicism" switch to the OFF position).

Although the film is set in pre-war Britain (1938, I think) it was made near the war's conclusion. I think the sense of "urgency" in the characters would have had great meaning in 1945-6 for UK viewers who had suffered through the Blitz, and had lived with the feeling that the whole world could end tomorrow.

Even after seeing parodies of this kind of film on the old "Carol Burnett Show" when I was a kid, Brief Encounter still works for me. Probably my favorite David Lean film (shameless use of Rachmaninov and all ...).

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oldsheperd
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#5 Post by oldsheperd » Mon Feb 21, 2005 4:54 pm

I would agree with the urgency due to a post-war britain, however I kind of agree with the part of the liner notes where the author notes his friend thought the Doctor was a mental patient. There is something slightly askiew about this film. It is very subtle and nuanced but still askiew.

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colinr0380
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#6 Post by colinr0380 » Tue Feb 22, 2005 5:58 am

I think one of the best things about the film is the respect with which it treats all the characters. I haven't seen that in many films, particularly romantic comedies where there always needs to be a bad guy about to steal the girl or the spurned lover to fight against etc. These conflicts seem to me to be an easy way to create dramatic tension, and Brief Encounter counters this by showing the circumstances of daily life first bringing the pair together and then showing them how they could never be with each other without dramatic changes that would affect more than just themselves. In that sense the story is a beautiful tug of war between romantic passion and rationality and obligation, or the first flush of love against the comfortable nature of a long term relationship, with either decision that the pair make causing pain to someone they care for.

In the film everyone is treated sympathetically, from the comic relief of Joyce Carey and Stanley Holloway in the station cafe, who could so easily be sneered at as lower class stereotypes, to Celia Johnson's husband and children who could easily come over as possessive and whining, pushing her into the arms of Trevor Howard. Even the woman who blunders in and interrupts their last moments together is irritating, but the film shows that she is not intentionally bad by showing the same scene twice - once without knowledge of Howard and Johnson's affair and again with, when it becomes heartbreaking. It is a fine balancing act, because you can sometimes detect the bias of the writer or director in their work. This film seems more even handed to their characters, not just in the characterisation of Celia Johnson's husband - it could also be very easy to make Trevor Howard into a cad (or an escaped lunatic!), or Johnson into someone who has a casual fling and lies about it to cover her tracks (you can also see Wong Kar-Wai exploring different motivations like these in the making of and deleted scenes of the similarly toned In The Mood For Love).

I guess part of the feeling of the world being askew could be the mannered acting style that wouldn't have been out of place for the time, just look at Channel 4's recent Ultimate Film List, compiled by the BFI from UK cinema ticket sales and you can see there are a number of Anna Neagle romances, including Spring In Park Lane at position 5, only just beaten in ticket sales by Star Wars.
For instance, you'll find an astonishing three more Anna Neagle vehicles in the top 50 - at No.17 is The Courteneys of Curzon Street (1947), at No.42 Piccadilly Incident (1946), and at No.49 I Live in Grosvenor Square (1945), making Neagle possibly the most successful cinema actress in British film history.
As well as the post-war situation, part of it looking strange today could also be the change in modern attitudes. If someone wants something now, do it, and to heck with the consequences or who you hurt. For example, a lot of people I've recommended Brief Encounter or In The Mood For Love to have said variations on the phrase "why don't they just have sex if they want to so much?", which I think misses the point a bit. Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard are constantly thinking of their other halves and are trying not to let their growing love, which neither of them have looked for, overpower their sense of responsibility to the person they married and their children, as much as they might be tempted to.

I really think that the even handedness of the way the characters are portrayed is what makes the story so great. I was just listening to the Raymond Carver interview on the Short Cuts disc over the weekend and he mentioned that he did not like writers who include characters as comic relief, or to laugh at, or to be disrespectful to in other ways, and that is what he tried not to do in his stories. I'd think he would have liked Brief Encounter for those reasons.

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#7 Post by colinr0380 » Wed Oct 03, 2007 4:18 pm


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#8 Post by Antoine Doinel » Mon Mar 24, 2008 8:00 pm

The tea room from the film has been reopened to the public.

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Matt
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Re: 76 Brief Encounter

#9 Post by Matt » Thu Dec 15, 2011 4:43 pm

Given the dearth of recent discussion in this thread, it is now closed. Please refer to the thread for the David Lean Directs Noël Coward box set.

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Mr Sausage
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Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)

#10 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon May 13, 2019 8:49 pm

DISCUSSION ENDS MONDAY, May 27th.

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Re: Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)

#11 Post by dustybooks » Fri May 17, 2019 12:43 am

I'm lukewarm on Brief Encounter (and on Lean in general), as was recently discussed in one of the lists project threads, but I hate to see a week pass by with no discussion in this thread, so I'll try to explain why I'm left a bit cold by it... though I hasten to add that I do like, or at least admire, it.

The closing scene of the film between Laura and her husband is really tender and, in a sense, quite forward-thinking -- a very calm portrait of decency and understanding within a marriage. But there's a sense in which I also find it troubling. Even though Laura's voiceover ends in a basically unapologetic way, the way that finale is staged as a sort of redemption leaves the film feeling like a rebuke to passion itself, namely the passion Laura felt in her brief tempestuous relationship with Dr. Harvey, as opposed to good old decent sturdy reliability. "Violent" love is something to be questioned and avoided, placid domesticity shared on a boring "evening in" doing puzzles and being blatantly (if affably!) taken for granted therefore the highest goal. There's something suspiciously old-world about it, displaying an attitude that can be interpreted as equating any zest for life (and other people) to sin.

To be honest, I get this same feeling of cold priggishness from a lot of Coward's writing; I think especially of Cavalcade, which in my memory stands as an irksomely conservative, even reactionary story in which snobbery is basically celebrated. It's odd because there's obviously a contradictory liberalism in his work. That includes this film -- it seems quite unusual to see a film from the 1940s in which a man suspects infidelity on the part of his wife and simply lets it go.

All that said: in typing all this out (and with the full disclosure that I last saw the film a year and a half ago), I think I may have inadvertently stumbled on the fact that I'm describing what is essentially the point of the film -- that there's no way out of Laura's situation that isn't somehow heartbreaking. Nevertheless, it seems to me such a false and hopeless and even antiquated idea, that we have to choose between security and actual love; I have to accept, however, that my knee-jerk reaction to the film could be for personal reasons, especially because I seem to be just as wrapped up in these people's love lives as was surely intended.

My other big issue with the film is that I find Dr. Harvey to be a total blank slate of a character, and difficult to believe as an instigator of this degree of uncorked adoration. I like Trevor Howard generally and he's basically fine here, but he never has enough vitality for me to match the depth of Celia Johnson's performance, which I think is remarkable, and a lot of the problem is that Harvey just isn't much of a character.

Certain scenes I do think justify the film's reputation. The train platform scene at the finale, the goodbye stymied by intrusions from Laura's oblivious acquaintance, and even the emotional reunion with Cyril Raymond's Fred.

I know how deeply people care about this movie, so I'm very open to being told how full of shit I am here.

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HinkyDinkyTruesmith
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Re: Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)

#12 Post by HinkyDinkyTruesmith » Fri May 17, 2019 1:06 am

I was planning on rewatching before I wrote any full thoughts––I once loved this movie dearly, and my last rewatch of it made me slightly question its mood (I found it suddenly a little too sentimental, which was strange for someone who just finished a thesis on Sirk). I still remember watching it for the first time––I had begun it once before, but was not engaged at all (owing, perhaps, to being rather young, and only interested because I loved Lean's later epics)––but one evening, they were doing a double feature on TCM: The Third Man and Brief Encounter. I loved The Third Man, and stuck around only because it was on right after––and it stole my heart. I absolutely adored it, was completely enraptured. I often wish to return to the state of movie-watching I did when I was that young, when I watched everything on a tube TV barely 20 inches in size, unconcerned as much as now with quality or anything like that. A movie like Brief Encounter gains something perhaps from more intimate conditions like that (whereas Lawrence . . . well, let's not consider).

Which is all to say, I don't think what you wrote is at all unreasonable, although I've never felt by the end of the movie that Fred and Dr. Harvey were ever competing in any way. I always felt the conflict in this love triangle wasn't so much the shape itself but rather the angle: the tension that Laura feels for her societally unacceptable feelings. The ending, therefore, never felt like a choice being made, nor a commentary on the choices at all. Rather, it felt like Laura, who felt as though she just lost all the love in the world, being reminded there was still a good deal left for her at home.

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Re: Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)

#13 Post by dustybooks » Fri May 17, 2019 1:18 am

HinkyDinkyTruesmith wrote:
Fri May 17, 2019 1:06 am
The ending, therefore, never felt like a choice being made, nor a commentary on the choices at all. Rather, it felt like Laura, who felt as though she just lost all the love in the world, being reminded there was still a good deal left for her at home.
I quite like that interpretation. It also feels both of a piece with the mores of the time in which the film was made and yet still relevant; such sacrifices and revelations are obviously happening all the time, which I'm sure is why this has remained a basically universal story.

On my first viewing, I remember being extremely warmed by the ending and then being sort of upset with myself for that, because I recalled how well-established it was that Laura's marriage, as depicted earlier in the film, seemed so empty and dead. And I'd been in situations when I myself was the safe, comfortable choice for someone and it seemed like the easy way out for me to root for the patient, kind "Bigger Man," like the fantasy Rex Harrison has in Unfaithfully Yours when he promotes himself as a sacrificial lamb of sorts. But your comments sort of clarify that contradiction for me... the reestablishing of love and connection on the home front is a perfectly justifiable solace for someone in Laura's position. I suppose I still wish for some indication that her husband has some intention of changing, of working harder for their relationship, but maybe his behavior in that scene does give us that; and when I read that back, it still sounds like I'm applying too much of a modern sensibility to criticize a 70+ year-old film.

(Also, I agree with your comments about the joys of small-screen, oblivious film watching. One of my favorite cinematic experiences ever, more than all but a couple of my actual theatrical excursions, was lying on my floor watching Fantasia on a 19" screen with headphones on because I couldn't make any noise. That great film has never seemed livelier to me since.)

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HinkyDinkyTruesmith
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Re: Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)

#14 Post by HinkyDinkyTruesmith » Fri May 17, 2019 2:04 am

Well, I think it's important to keep in mind that there's nothing actually exciting about Alec––nor anything especially boring about Fred (at least, more boring than anyone else). It's all about the routines of life, which is what makes Alec exciting: he's literally just a break from that, that invigorates the minor details of life. The fact of marriage and children and responsibilities that Laura has to maintain can be read as just the natural ennui of bourgeois life, in comparison to the relationship that the shopkeeper and station master maintain, which, while routine, is not bound by ceremony or such so that even harmless flirtations become "inappropriate" (therefore exciting).

Part of what hung me up last time is the way the film sort of catalogues ridiculous notions of romance: Laura's fantasies for example are very trite. The film is so invested in her point of view though that it becomes tempting to read that as an admittance of distance, and that the film acts as its own parody, but, it's at the same time so sincere (and Lean is if nothing else a sincere filmmaker) that it's perhaps more just the exemplar of contemporary romantic fiction.

Likewise, it occupies a very strange timeframe, as it's a postwar-made pre-war set film that only vaguely gestures to the war. In some ways, Alec's going away is not unlike the soldiers leaving: the sudden loss of loved ones, gone away. The film itself is an expression of that, really. A nightmare of leavings: not only is the initial trauma repeated because of the loop structure, but the lovers are repeatedly forced to say goodbye, again and again as they must take trains away. It could very easily be made Kafka-esque, between that, and the sort of nightmare of being unable to communicate to others about what is going on: having to make up lies, concoct excuses, because this very natural relationship with a man is deemed unacceptable.

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