Last night was host to the long-anticipated-by-my-family outing to Southbank Centre’s Festival Of Love screening of Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945), with orchestral accompaniment by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The idea was to screen the heart-breaking British classic, which had been meticulously edited to remove the soundtrack (Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2) but keep all the diegetic sound, and showcase the beauty of the music in all its live glory.
It was one of those experiences we will all remember every bit of: the tailor-made Brief Encounter summer cocktails; the murky London sunset over the river; trying to cry silently and do mascara-damage-control when the music crescendoed and Celia Johnson’s face crumpled in perfect harmony; Lucy Fleming, Johnson’s daughter, saying in her introduction that her favourite line in the film was ‘But my birthday’s in June, and their aren’t any pantomimes in June’; spotting all the best 40s outfits in the crowd; trying to pronounce ‘terribly’ in as annunciated a way as we could muster…
The Festival of Love’s ‘Love At The Pictures’ musical screenings were perfect after-work/weekend outings with unique created experiences for each. One could wind through the Real Food Market at the foot of the Royal Festival Hall to grab some snacky gourmet street food for dinner (the Caribbean curry was delectable, and Spanish white sangria), join the crowds swarming over love-inspired playing apparatus on the bank, and enjoy the pre-event activities in the Clore Ballroom (for Brief Encounter, we caught performances of Noel Coward songs, who wrote the original play the film was based on, and elocution lessons to scrub out any less-than-posh accents, which was a task and a half in our party).
There are so many wonderful film scores, and although we enjoy and notice them, rarely do we get to revel in all their unique beauty as pieces of art in their own right, equal to the film. Not as an accompaniment but as a partner in storytelling was the music presented last night, accentuating every kiss, every moment of desperation, every drop of rain, just as the English language was accentuated so perfectly by Celia and Trevor. Having a full passionate orchestra present amplified the experience a hundred fold.
After seeing Brief Encounter in this intimate way, I would describe the main feeling it induces as sweet desperation. As Lucy Fleming brought to light in her reading of her mother’s letter to her husband at the time of making the film, Johnson described the outcome of Brief Encounter for the characters as ‘All No Good.’ No, no good came of Alec and Laura meeting in the train station tea shop and all the pain that ensued, but like the nature of a train that goes as soon as it comes, fleeting moments of sweet ecstasy are sweeter still for their departure.