Blind Spot 41: ‘Brief Encounter’

I always like to have a little bit of variety on this Blind Spot project and this month we are going back to 1945 and taking a look at the romantic drama Brief Encounter.

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Starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, Brief Encounter tells a simple story of 2 strangers that meet in a train station ‘refreshment room’ and become fascinated with each other. Then they meet several more times until a relationship develops. Unfortunately with them both being married they cannot pursue their love so it is doomed to remain unrequited.

BRIEF ENCOUNTER

Brief Encounter is directed by David Lean and he, with cinematographer Robert Krasker, do a stunning job crafting this film. The black and white photography is beautiful with great use of shadows and light. You feel an intimacy with the couple like you are somehow eavesdropping on their conversations instead of watching a movie. It kind of reminded me of the Before Sunrise movies in that regard. I think it also helps that we don’t have traditional movie stars in the lead roles but more ordinary looking humans. It makes their connection feel more grounded and real.

If you are worried this is a movie that justifies cheating, it doesn’t. In fact, the ending with Laura and her husband is actually quite touching. It’s just a moment between two people and that’s it. If it was made today it would probably be tawdry and tasteless but here it strikes just the right note.

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My only flaw with Brief Encounter is it is perhaps too brief. They go from strangers bumping into each other to declaring their undying love very quickly. In that sense, it feels a little hard to believe. We understand why Laura is tempted by a new and exciting love but are not entirely sure why this love with Alec fits that bill. I wish there were a few more scenes where we got to know both of them more and could understand their connection better.

That said, I definitely recommend checking out Brief Encounter. It is currently available to stream on the Criterion Channel which is a service I highly recommend. They not only have great films but tons of special features on most of the films.

(Also David Lean is such an incredible director. It’s hard to believe the person who made this also directed Lawrence of Arabia!)

Overall Grade

7 out of 10

smile worthy

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Blind Spot 27: The Seventh Seal

There are certain rites of passages that go along with being a film fan: certain films or filmmakers that must be seen and experienced to have an understanding of film and how we have gotten to where we are in the artform. These include the films of Akira Kurosawa, Francois Truffaut, Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman, to name a few. For the March Blind Spot film I watched my first Ingmar Bergman film, The Seventh Seal, and I can see why it has been such an influential film.

The Seventh Seal is a very creative film about a knight named Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) who is returning from fighting in the Crusades.  He is disillusioned and frustrated about religion, war and the meaning of life, which is understandable after such a brutal, pointless conflict. One day he meets the personification of Death (he looks kind of like what we think of as the Grim Reaper) and to avoid dying, Block invites Death to a spirited game of chess.

The story continues with Block meeting a group of actors who can’t see that he is accompanied by Death. There is Jof, Mia, and Jonas Skat. They all have varying degrees of faith and cynicism. Jof claims to see visions of Jesus and Mary but Mia does not believe her husband. Jonas is basically a womanizing cad

As the group moves along they confront the Black Death and those petrified of its power, and talk a lot about faith and obviously death. Block wants to be an atheist after what he has seen of humanity but there is always something holding him back from making that his belief system. He certainly does not believe in God but he can’t be a confirmed non-believer either so he is in a state of continual struggle and agony. He says:

“Why can’t I kill God in me? Why does He live on in me in a humiliating way – despite my wanting to evict Him from my heart? Why is He, despite all, a mocking reality I can’t be rid of?”

He goes on:

“I want knowledge! Not faith, not assumptions, but knowledge. I want God to stretch out His hand, uncover His face and speak to me”

He reminds me of a section of the Book of Mormon where a man requires a sign in order to believe in God (see Alma 30). This unfortunately is not how God works. Jesus even tells doubting Thomas ‘more blessed are they who have not seen but have yet believed’. Those believers have a power in their life, a knowledge of who they are, and where they are going in the afterlife that ,can help them face any pain or evil. It can lead to poor choices when mixed with the desires of men but it still at its core has power.

It is this struggle with faith for Block that is almost as painful as the war itself. It’s an internal war that Bergman seems envious of those who believe and ready to punish them in revenge. One girl is burned at the stake for consorting with the devil, a theologian is beaten and scarred and a band of flagellants beat themselves into submission. All of these images are meant to show the pain of faith and the envy of those who do not believe (and are usually the ones inflicting said pain).

It’s kind of what Martin Scorsese was trying to do in Silence but without any of the impact or effectiveness (I absolutely despised the torture-porn fest that was Silence). In Scorsese’s movie the faithful are selfish and unfeeling because of silence where here they all suffer because of faith one way or another. God never said He wanted weak Saints!

While I certainly do not agree with Bergman’s cynical outlook on faith and spirituality it is still an interesting one. I appreciate he asks the question ‘what will happen to those who don’t believe who die and where is their solace?” I can see how these people are envious of the faithful and in a way want them to feel the pain that they feel.

I have strong faith, but I can see how to some “faith is a torment.” To someone like Bergman, God is silent when He should be saving the world from evil but to believers God cannot violate the agency of man. If he did he would cease to be God (this is a topic for a whole different discussion). He can guide us and comfort us but He cannot force obedience.

The ending with the dance of the dead was interesting because it felt hopeful and joyous after a pretty cynical film, and I like it when filmmakers end their movie on an ambiguous note.

The only downside to this film is I couldn’t help but think about Monty Python and the Holy Grail a lot. They were clearly trying to parody The Seventh Seal in many scenes especially with the flagellants, which is basically recreated in Holy Grail. Obviously that is a little unfair as a criticism but since Holy Grail is the greatest comedy ever made it was a little distracting!

As I am not someone who struggles with faith, I don’t think The Seventh Seal is anything I would ever watch again, but I’m glad I saw it once. I loved the black and white cinematography and the creative choices. It was different and at only 96 minutes is definitely worth a watch. It is a subtitled film (in Swedish) but I had no problem following the captions.

Have any of you seen The Seventh Seal? What do you think Bergman is saying about faith and religion (or the after life?)?

Colorized Rant

Ok guys I’m upset! Those who read my Scrooge Month got a clear idea of my feelings on the colorization of Black and White movies.  So imagine my shock when I DVR’d the holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street on a major channel, AMC, and what do I see but the colorized version.  AMC should be ashamed of themselves!  I’m serious.  Putting out an assault on an artists vision as if it was the original property on national TV is worthy of the strictest censure.

Why do I hate colorized movies so much?  Well, here we go.

The Michael Bay’s of the world consider film a product but I think of it as art, especially how the movie looks.  People could be painters, sculptors or dancers and they chose to work in film.  We would never take a bronze sculpture and tell the artist he should be using jade or an oil painting and force it to be in watercolor.  Most of the history of film has had color as an option (Gone with the Wind is stunning color cinematography and that’s in 1939) so these artists made a choice to film in black and white.

Why would they make this choice?  Because it was less expensive in some cases but it also has shadows and movement you don’t get with color film.  It removes distraction and forces the viewer to focus on the images.  Instead of absorbing the color of a jacket, or a person’s hair color we see their face and the wrinkles on their skin and learn so much about who they are. We don’t need to know that the soldier’s uniform is blue.  We just need to see the look of horror on his face.

It would be one thing if an artist approved of their work being colorized but most of these films are in the public domain and are changed without anyone’s consent.  It’s wrong and it deeply offends me.

Turner movies stopped doing the process in 1989 and I thought it had gone the way of the VHS but in Scrooge month I repeatedly came across DVDs that were colorized like the 1951 Christmas Carol with Alistair Sim.  It is routinely regarded as the most well made of the Scrooge movies and rightfully so. The lighting and nuances in the acting is beautifully captured.  Probably its greatest strength is the films artistry so to sully with that aspect belittles the whole film to any other mediocre version.

christmas4 christmas3To me there is just no comparison between the look of the black and white and the colorized.  In the black and white I immediately focus on Scrooge’s eyes where the color I am looking at his cravat and bow tie and how blue it is.  I am also looking at the doormat and his hair.  The eyes are the last thing I look about and you tell so much from Sim’s eyes.

It’s the same in Miracle on 34th Street.  Look at the difference.

christmas5 christmas6In the colorized version what do you see? Well, Catherine O’Hara’s lipstick and her pale skin.  In the black and white we see her eyes and the wrinkles on her forehead.  She looks like a mother trying to explain something to her child.  It is so much more pleasant and interesting to look at. In colorized she looks frail and her hair is distracting.  With Kris you are totally focused on the red of his suit and the gold of the chair.  The love and emotion in his face and eyes are completely lost, which is so clear in the black and white.

Even if you don’t mind the look of the colorized it doesn’t tell you anything new that is pertinent to the story.  It doesn’t matter that Catherine O’hara has red hair or red lipstick or that Kris is sitting on a gold chair.  What does it give you to know such things?  It’s certainly isn’t ‘magic’ in my book.

When the movement started it was praised as a way to get children to appreciate older movies by presenting them in color.  Hogwash.  If a child cannot appreciate the black and white Miracle on 34th Street than show them something else. It certainly does them no good to get them attached to a diluted version of the story.  It doesn’t help them appreciate older films because they aren’t really seeing them.  They will no doubt grow to be adults and feel cheated on the thin gruel they were given when such feasting exists. I know I would be.

In my experience kids are actually more accepting of artistic differences in pieces than adults.  I have had many experiences watching Wall-e, for instance, where the artistic choices were hard for adults to accept but kids loved it.

If you feel so strongly about your kids needing to see Miracle on 34th Street in color than watch the 1994 version which is not near as good but at least you won’t be assaulting a classic.

People may claim that television airs edited versions of films for content and time allowances and is that not also altering the creative vision?  That would be a valid point but in that case the versions are provided by the studios with the permission of all involved.  In the case of the colorization a separate entity unassociated with the project takes the film and adds the color without any input from the original creators.  Alterations for content could be seen as a necessary evil when there is absolutely nothing necessary about adding color.

It’s just wrong.  People dedicate their lives to their art and just as we would never change a Picasso or a Van Gogh because we don’t like the style, we should not change these films.  And I can’t believe that a major channel like AMC, which puts out bold artistic content like Breaking Bad and Mad Men would air such a thing.  They don’t even say on their webpage that it is a colorized version.

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Anyway, it just upsets me and I couldn’t believe AMC would air it.  No matter what they do this will always be my Santa Claus and it should be your’s too.

santaSince the National Film Preservation Act of 1988 it has also been illegal for films to be colorized so these are old versions that still float around changed before the law.  Another reason’s AMC’s decision is very surprising.

Scrooge 28: Scrooge (Seymour Hicks 1935)

Before I start this is another movie that was colorized at the library. Colorization of classic black and white films is an absolute atrocity. You lose all the shadows, light, nuances the cinematographer and director worked so hard to get. Instead you get something that looks drawn on and adds nothing to the story.
To me it is as offensive as if I were to go up to a Van Gogh and say ‘I don’t like how you can’t see the images completely. I’m going to fix it’. Let the artists visions stand as they created it. Do not alter it!!!
I would rather not watch a movie than see it in a colorized version. I thought that was over with VHS tapes but I’ve learned from this project that it continues. It’s outrageous!

1935-xmas-humbug-scroogeI’m nearing the end of my Scrooge series so if there are versions you would like me to review let me know.  Tomorrow I am going to see it at the local theater- Hale Center Theater Orem and greatly looking forward to that.  They do a great job and the man has been playing Scrooge for over a decade and is better than any film version I have seen.

Let’s talk briefly about the 1935 version with Seymour Hicks.  We have already reviewed a version with Hicks in my review of the silent movies.In the 19113 version Hicks plays Scrooge as a violent character who looks like a bum, more of a Frankenstein creature than a businessman.

Here that is a tempered a bit but we still have the rumpled hair and the messy look.

1935-xmas-solicitorsThis is not a very successful movie but it isn’t terrible so if you are curious go for it.  Otherwise skip.

Scrooge- Seymour Hicks is a grumpy, Frankenstein kind of creature here but not as intensely violent as in 1913. He keeps the same expression throughout the movie and I didn’t get a feeling of change or redemption.

Donald Cathrop is very good as Bob Cratchit.  They show Tim’s body in this version and when Bob is grieving over his son it is moving.

1935 cratchitDifferences-

This is one of the few versions that includes the lighthouse/ship carol scene with Present (Stewart is the only other one I remember seeing it in).

They skip over a lot not showing you him and Fan or the Fezziwigs and jump to Belle watching Scrooge not give a loan extension to a young couple.  It left me wanting more and wishing they had changed things around.

There is also a strange scene where we see the King and Queen of England dining with their friends with the poor people outside.  They then all sing God Save the Queen.  It didn’t make any sense for the story except to make British audience members happy I guess.

Another big difference is you don’t see either Present or Future, just a shadow.  We know from the earlier silent films that they could make ghosts but chose not too here which is strange? It just doesn’t work.

You don’t see Marley either, just the door open and shut and Scrooge talking to a chair.

1935-xmas-marleyStrengths- Some of the cinematography is nice with the black and white shadows.  The acting is fine. The music is fine.

Weaknesses- The way they do the ghosts does not work. Scrooge still has that Frankenstein creature look which I don’t like.  He’s a businessman and should look like one.

The Pawn Shop scene at the end goes on way too long and feels more like a low grade horror movie than a respected literary adaptation.

So overall I am not a fan of this adaptation.  Like I said earlier if you are curious check it out.  If not a definite pass.

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