Tag Archives: Rachmaninoff

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945)

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945)

TITLE:             BRIEF ENCOUNTER 

DIRECTOR:    DAVID LEAN 

WRITERS:      NOEL COWARD, RONALD NEAME, ANTHONY HAVELOCK-ALLEN

MAIN CAST:   CELIA JOHNSON, TREVOR HOWARD, STANLEY HOLLOWAY

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While I’m not a classic romantic I must admit you can’t beat a really good love story when it’s done well. The ones I enjoy the most are usually the tragic failed or unrequited romance stories which tug, unravel and then break the heart-strings. While I have a soft spot for a jolly rock ‘n’ roller such as Grease (1978), the romance films that stay with me are the likes of: Casablanca (1942), Brokeback Mountain (2005), Dr Zhivago (1965), End of the Affair (1999), Last of the Mohicans (1992) and the sterling understatement of Remains of the Day (1993).  Of course, William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is another brilliant example of a heart-breaking doomed love affair.

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I recently went to see Brief Encounter (1945) – on Valentines’ Day in fact – with my wife at the Festival Hall. It was screened in front of a live orchestra, the London Philharmonic no less, and introduced by the daughter of actress Celia Johnson. I’m not a fan of live orchestral presentations as I’m a bit basic and practical. I always think you could be at home listening to a recording via download or CD; yes I am a philistine and have no soul!  However, the live accompaniment to the screening of Brief Encounter was phenomenal; enhancing the filmic experience with beautiful renditions of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

Based on Noel Coward’s one act play called Still Life, Brief Encounter really stands the test of time as a poignant narrative of romantic loss. It concerns a seemingly contented housewife, Laura Jesson, and her chance encounter with a respectable Doctor Alec Harvey. Their classic meeting on the platform where he removes grit from her eye sets in motion a touching will-they-won’t-they tryst which pulls you in throughout. The structure is sophisticated and layered with flashbacks as Laura, sitting in her comfy armchair, reminisces of her times with Alec, while her husband sits there unawares doing a crossword.

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Much praise has obviously been made of David Lean’s exquisite framing and direction and the searing power of the Rachmaninoff’s music but for me the script from Coward and Celia Johnson’s sorrowful performance were also things of beauty. Her clipped and dulcet tones resonated as she delivered vignettes of secret meetings, stolen memories and pulsing regret. After all this is 1938 and middle-class women were meant to be the bedrock of the household and affairs were a massive faux pas. Plus, she loves her husband and her children; the secrets and lies were just beastly products of a wicked passion and must be repressed. Their respective sense of duty, guilt and the unfair timing of their meeting just won’t allow a happy-ever-after story. Despite it being seventy years old the film is so sad and I still felt the characters’ heartache radiate through the screen.

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Much of the action takes place on shadowy platforms, moving trains and in the café room at the railway station. The rush of smoke, whistles and trains create a sense of urgency and panic to the love affair. The couple are always in a rush to be with and away from each other so as not create suspicion at home. Conversely Alec and Laura are like trains themselves passing each other in the night in transit but unable to couple up for the remaining life journey. It’s not all doom and gloom though as Coward’s script is full of wit, humour and suspense too. The secondary characters and extremely well drawn and while bordering on the stereotypical the characterisations reflect the various British types and the class system prevalent at the time.

Overall, Brief Encounter remains a classic romance and one of the best British films ever made. It tells us love has no logic or idea of timing as two innocent characters are made to be liars because of the power of their emotions. Only the goodness of their hearts, a sense of duty and what is right means they will ultimately return to their marriage partners. But the gaping vacuum created by love is something they will just have to contend with. Brief Encounter is a timeless classic and deserves to be seen on the big screen; especially when backed by the exquisite musicianship of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

SYMPHONY FOR THE DEVIL: CULTURAL UPDATE

SYMPHONY FOR THE DEVIL –  CULTURAL REVIEWS

I’ve been very busy culturally speaking this year and here’s a rundown of the various things that I have experienced in the last month or so.

BOROUGH MARKET – LONDON SE1

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If you’re ever starving and skint (on a weekend) and near Borough Market then go there!  You can live like a King or Queen (of Lichtenstein – don’t get carried away!) on all the samples they give away from: cheese to meat to oils to bread to, curries to burgers to scotch eggs to cakes and so much more.  If you have money and DON’T want to live like a tramp then fill your boots; just don’t wear them after. Shut-up – it’s  a metaphor.   What I’m saying is the food is AMAZING – it’s an epicurean delight!

CONFLICT, TIME, PHOTOGRAPHY – TATE MODERN

This fascinating photographic exhibition showed past and present images of war ordering them as per their chronological occurrence.  It was an intriguing idea and many of the works were very moving indeed bringing home the horror of the multitude of conflicts humans have perpetrated on themselves.

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DEAD RISING 3 – XBOX ONE

From proper war to zombie warfare on the Xbox One, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing this videogame in my down-time.   It’s a stylish no-nonsense kill-fest with a reasonably coherent narrative unlike the mental horror game Evil Within.  Set during 2021 you are mechanic Nick Ramos, an unlikely hero, and you must get out of the quarantine zone (established in Dead Rising and Dead Rising 2) while battling hordes of the undead and the military and SAVE your disparate rag-tag bunch of fellow survivors. It’s bloody brilliant and as you’re a mechanic you get some amazing hybrid weapons and vehicles to massacre zombies with!

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LONDON PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA – FESTIVAL HALL

Myself and my girlfriend once again went to a follow-up concert entitled: Rachmaninoff: Inside Out featuring the compositions of the great Russian genius. I have to admit that having been to a couple of recitals this is just not my bag. I appreciate the wonderful talent on show and the incredible ability of the orchestra but I find the experience TOO passive and without narrative.  I love classical music in films, radio, via the IPOD and even in adverts but not in the live environment. Weird!

THE OFFICE – AN AMERICAN WORKPLACE – FINAL SEASONS

After my comedy binges of South Park and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia in the last couple of years I set about watching all 200+ episodes of this amazing ensemble comedy giant starring Steve Carell, Jenna Fischer, John Krasinski and Rainn Wilson my favourite character Dwight K. Schrute. Of course, it used the British comedy classic as a springboard but for pretty much most of the episodes it was just gloriously funny. I think it peaked around Season 7 and lost something when Michael Scott left but the final seasons still had some wonderful times and gags and events. It was all wrapped up with many happy endings by the finale and will stand as one of the consistently great comedies of our time, in my opinion.

SPANDAU BALLET,  BRIGHTON CENTRE

To cut a long story short I went to see Spandau Ballet in concert in Brighton. No, I haven’t lost my mind because I went as a new romantic gesture for my girlfriend. I basically took one for the team guys! But you know what they were absolutely fantastic and a testament to the professionalism and talent of Gary Kemp, Martin Kemp, Tony Hadley, John Keeble, Steve Norman et al that they delivered a powerful show full of hits from their illustrious past. I personally prefer their early Depeche Mode synthy stuff over their slushy ballads but overall it was a highly entertaining concert.

STEWART LEE’S COMEDY VEHICLE SEASON 3 (DVD)

Preaching to the converted here but if you like Stewart Lee’s comedy then I’m sure you’ve seen this DVD of his 3rd season for the BBC. Comedy Vehicle 3  mixes incredible stand-up rants, opinions and intellectual ideas and routines with fine sketches/short films; all interspersed with Lee verbally sparring with another comedy legend Chris Morris.  32-Carat Comedy Gold!

A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE – WYNDHAM THEATRE

**SOME SPOILERS**

Oh this was just terrifically meaty drama.  I haven’t been to the theatre much in recent years but I was right in the heartland of culture here with a sinewy, socio-familial-gut-wrenching story driven by jealousy, self-destruction, masculinity-in-crisis, lust etc.

The setting is New York, 1955, and Arthur Miller’s emotionally complex script shadows Eddie Carbone, a longshoremen at the docks, as he comes to terms with the chaos of family life, hiding immigrant ‘cousins’ from overseas, and the fact his adopted ‘daughter’ is fast growing into a woman.  As Carbone attempt to control those around him his family are pushed further and further away until one act of treachery leaves him stranded socially and politically.  Mark Strong is incredible as the docker Carbone as he sees all he loves slip from his grasp and he is ably supported by Nicola Walker who plays his wife.

The sparse set made me feel like I’d walked into an intimate, yet  souped-up rehearsal and the ending was something to behold as the family literally go to hell in the final moments.  The play, not surprisingly,  has just won Olivier Awards for acting and direction by Ivo Van Hove.

RINGERS AND SINGERS: A CULTURAL REVIEW

RINGERS AND SINGERS: A CULTURAL REVIEW

February 2015 has been a wonderfully diverse month culturally for me.  I have tasted the peak of perceived high culture with a visit to the Festival Hall and have also plumbed the depths of low culture with a visit to a Wrestling event and even lower with Quint Fontana’s guttural and scurrilous Pop Pals!

I jest of course as all events were culturally rewarding and provided an interesting juxtaposition for my latest blog piece which combines little reviews of some stuff I’ve been gone and done recently.  I have also watched loads of films as well but will deal with those in my February edition of Screenwash.

BEAUTIFUL – THE CAROLE KING STORY – ALDWYCH THEATRE

I’m not a massive fan of musicals per se but as a Valentine gift for my girlfriend (yes – I have a girlfriend now and she’s real) I bought her tickets for this show. Oh, and I went along too. It’s the story of Carole King and her rise from 16 year-old novice songwriter to the heights of fame as a solo artist. Singularly, and with her husband Jerry Goffin, she wrote a litany of hit records including: Up on The Roof, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, The Locomotion, Natural Women, I Feel The Earth Move, Pleasant Valley Sunday, You’ve Got a Friend and many, many more.

King is clearly a genius and her album Tapestry would become one of the biggest albums of all time. The musical is a joy and while I wanted a bit more about the relationship breakdown and Goffin’s depression it’s all about the songs really. In Beautiful you get hit after hit after hit brilliantly performed by the young, talented and energetic cast.

BRITISH EMPIRE WRESTLING – TOOTING TRAM AND SOCIAL

This was the first time I’d seen a Wrestling show and it was really entertaining.  I was really impressed by the mixture of physicality alongside loads of variety with male and female comedy characters, villainous wrestlers and proper athletes battering each other round the ring in a series of tremendous bouts.  There was an element of theatricality and pantomime but also genuine pain as there were no holds barred in many contests. It’s pretty cheap too so do check out their events. Next one is at the end of March.

POP PALS WITH QUINT FONTANA – STAR OF KINGS, KING’S X

Lounge loser extraordinaire Quint Fontana hosts a karaoke event with a difference as “stars” from the pop world (or are they comedians in disguise) perform before a joyous (i.e. drunk) audience in a King’s X basement.  It’s brilliant fun and Quint is a despicably funny host as he sups on his Tyskie beer, goads the audience and banters with the pop guests which included Ronan Keating, Jason Donovan and Christine Aguilera. To be honest it’s worth going just to see Quint have his nightly nervous breakdown!  Awesome!

RACHMANINOFF: INSIDE OUT –  FESTIVAL HALL

This was almost cultural overload as I tasted my first quaver of a classical musical concert at the Festival Hall.  Performing with grandstanding gusto the London Philharmonic soared with a virtuoso performance of Rachmaninoff’s greatest hits and music which I came to recognise from David Lean and Noel Coward’s story of understated love – Brief Encounter (1946).

With no actual frame of comparative experience I can only say that it was hugely enjoyable evening and one which was not only aurally pleasing but visually interesting too as the orchestra and conductor brought home the stunning compositions with incredible timing. At times I wondered about the musicians and characters performing (could make an interesting comedy or drama)  and felt giddy at the wonder of the music. Although that could have been the heavy cold I had at the time.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR UPDATE

During February Spurs had some vital fixtures and after a stunning last-gasp win against North London rivals Arsenal we unravelled slightly where results were concerned. Harry Kane’s brilliant header proved to be our last winner in February as Spurs went out of the Europa League on aggregate to an efficient Fiorentina team in Florence.  We started well but could not break them down.

In between we scraped a 2-2 draw with West Ham after fighting back from 2-0 down. Biggest blow was losing 2-0 to Chelsea in the Capital One Cup at Wembley. Mourinho set his team up solid from the start and while competed until the final whistle, our usual match winners Kane and Eriksen could not get us over the line.  After the highs of crushing Arsenal the bitter lows of defeat hit hard. We have 12 games in March to get into the top four or it’ll be more trips to Cyprus, Kazakhstan and Madagascar in the dreaded Europa League.

US OFFICE – NETFLIX BINGE-ATHLON

I have had to move twice recently due to reasons beyond my control so no longer have Sky Television beaming it’s entertainment juice into my living room and brain. Thus, I have gone back to my favourite online channel www.netflix.com and FINALLY began catching up with the The Office (US version)!  And oh my god it is genuinely one of the funniest and style-diverse situation comedies I’ve seen.

It uses character, songs, slapstick, embarrassment, gags, pranks, horror and pathos to propel it’s narratives as the employees of Dunder Mifflin get themselves into all manners of scrapes and cringeworthy situations.  Some great cameos too (I’m up to Season 6 now) as Amy Ryan, Idris Elba, Kathy Bates and even Christian Slater have popped up in episodes.  Anchored brilliantly by an ensemble cast notably Steve Carell as Michael Scott and my favourite, Rain Wilson as Dwight Schrute, this is comedy performance and writing of the highest order. Just TOO funny.