Thursday, August 22, 2002

another encounter with david lean

First off, let me confess that I have never been able to sit through Lean's epic Lawrence of Arabia completely. My introduction to it in fragments did not help me appreciate the film. I still found it a drag (which cuts me off from a large audience of satisfied moviegoers). The only things I will probably always remember about that film are the opening (overused in quizzes I've been to) and the fact that Peter O' Toole had the longest speaking part ever. However, Mr. Lean's early films have been watchable for me. I remember having a great time watching Blithe Spirit on the telly late Friday night. Some context for Friday night may be in order. Doordarshan (DD), the national TV network in India, reserved Friday night to screen late night movies. This practice had received the unsavoury reputation of being an avenue to catch forbidden flicks (aka films with the 'Adults Only' certificate). This meant that a lot of friends often stayed up to catch the movies. Some of the films had their own merits: Mani Ratnam's Nayakan (the only decent Indian answer to the genre of films inspired by The Godfather), Shyam Benegal's early films like Nishant and Mandi (the desi take on The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas), Victim (which has the distinction of being the first English language film to use the word homosexual). Some of the films bore the 'Adults Only' certificate, some just seemed like late-night fare to DD. Of course, DD did not disappoint the drooling young viewers too...

But I digress too much. One of the films I managed to watch as part of DD's Friday fare (on our old Dyanora B&W box) was Brief Encounter. Caught it again (this time on DVD) yesterday evening. Remembered most of all for its interesting look at a "forbidden" middle-class romance and the effective use of Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto {Raj Kapoor fans will recognise the melody introduced in the first movement as being one of several elements in the effulgent background score used in his films}. I had enjoyed the film when I caught it the first time, but this time it was even better. I understood more of Lean's use of the medium to tell a tale as best he could, building upon the material offered by Noel Coward's play Still Life. Good performances and dialogue with nary a moment drenched in maudlin and cliched social dilemma, the film was a pleasure. Special features on the DVD included commentary by film historian Bruce Eder which comprised interesting insight on the significance of the film to audiences and film scholars as well as overdrawn career profiles of the players of the film and the director. My favourite elements in the film (apart from the aspects I just mentioned) were:

* The in-joke promo for a fictitious B-movie called Flames of Passion based on the (fictitious) novel Gentle Summer by Alice Porter Stoughey {copyrighted MCMXXXVIII by Polk Production Inc.} (See, I'm a movie geek). Apart from adding a taste of humour to the tale, it also adds a little irony to the affair that's about to ensue by way of the "Coming Soon" screen.

* The Wurlitzer being played before the main screening

* The opening and closing moments of the film which are identical except with slightly different perspectives. This provides closure to the movie, but the repetition at the end fills in the gaps and answers questions raised at the opening of the film. The device also affords the film a certain melodramatic impact.

more about brief encounter

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