Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter. This was pretty good. I enjoyed it. It’s about an affair between two people, pretty tame by today’s standards. But that was a different era. Here’s a Criterion essay. And I got a couple semi-related thoughts:

  1. One of the most enjoyable things about old/foreign movies is that I often don’t know the cast. It can feel more immediately immersive to see the characters as characters, rather than recognizing actors and trying to set aside that I know they’re portraying people. There’s no baggage, no expectations, no known quirks or ticks. It all feels very fresh.

  2. This movie’s soundtrack relies heavily on Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, a few sections in particular. I wonder what it would be like, instead of scoring a film, to film a score. That is, take some work of music and make a movie such that every bit of imagery fits or bolsters (or undermines, why not?) the music in some way. Like Fantasia, I guess, but live-action and only focusing on one piece of music. Is there anything else in that vein? At the least, it would be an interesting constraint on the filming.

I think Jones suffers from a common problem some good actors have: the character she has created is so individual that you don’t really realize it isn’t a cliche. You know her, so you feel like she’s a type, even though she’s not. If this is a cliche, who was the last Betty Draper before Betty Draper? I’m not sure there was one.

Complexity, Beauty, and the Underappreciated January Jones. Most interesting character on the show so far, but then I’m only halfway through the second season.

Chigurh vs. Plainview. I like Javier Bardem’s comments about letting go of the backstory for his role:

Maybe the character’s mother didn’t feed him when he was 5 years old, or something like that…. I started to do that [imagining a “backstory” for Chigurh], but then I realized… in this case, it would be much more helpful if I didn’t know where he was coming from. The challenge was to embrace a symbolic idea and give it human behavior. It wasn’t about how his mother didn’t feed him.

That reminds me of Rebecca Mead writing on Nico Muhly’s recent comments about new music in last week’s New Yorker:

He devises an emotional scheme for the piece‚Äîthe journey on which he intends to lead his listener. Muhly believes that some composers of new music rely too heavily on program notes to give their work a coherence that it might lack in the actual listening. “This stupid conceptual stuff where it’s like, ‘I was really inspired by like, Morse Code and the AIDS crisis.'”

You can lose a lot of creative punch when trying to over-think and over-explain the roots. Embrace an idea and give it behavior. See if it sticks. I like that a lot.