Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Love, Loss and Longing in British Film: A Series of Meditations


Here is the first in a new series of visual meditations on love, loss and longing in British film. When thinking about where to start, I was taken by the following statement from Robert Murphy's Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939-49. Writing on British melodrama and the position of women in British film from this period, Murphy makes the following observation:
With its dimly-lit interiors, its hysterical heroine, its threateningly expressive shadows, its theme of doomed love, its creation of a hostile and repressive world, it is difficult to understand how [Brief Encounter] fits into an aesthetic of realism at all [...] (p. 111) 
The feeling of 'What if ...' hangs heavy over Brief Encounter, so heavy in fact that it doesn't take much to start speculating about an alternate version of the film, one in which Laura succumbs to the violence of the passion she is trying so very hard to repress. Following this train of thought leads you nicely 'behind' the film, further into the expressive shadows noted by Murphy or, indeed, deeper into the darkness that surrounds the portrayal of the film's central performance. Once here, we might be moving closer to Manny Farber's sense of film performance:
The meat of any movie performance is in the suggestive material that circles the edges of a role: quirks of physiognomy, private thoughts of the actor about himself, misalliances where the body isn't delineating the role, but is running on a tangent to it. (p. 155)
Works Cited
Manny Farber, Negative Space: Manny Farber on the Movies, Expanded Edition (New York, Da Capo Press, 1998)
Robert Murphy, Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939-49 (London, Routledge, 1989)