In memorializing Anthony Minghella last week, it seemed that there was one reference point from which no one could escape: “The British-born Minghella was a filmmaker of quiet strength who seemed perhaps more closely aligned with certain directors of a previous generation — like David Lean or Carol Reed — than with his contemporaries,” speculated Mark Olsen at the LA Times. The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Mick LaSalle wrote that “The English Patient” “established him solidly in the public mind as the heir to David Lean as the modern purveyor of the epic British vision,” Allison Pearson at the Daily Mail added: “Far and away the best British film director of his generation, Anthony stands comparison with the greatest of them all, David Lean,” and Ronald Bergan at the Guardian claimed that “Minghella, whose ample figure and cheery countenance exuded a love of life, seemed to be Harold Pinter, Orson Welles, David Lean and Richard Attenborough all rolled into one.”
And so this week, appropriately, Anthony Lane at the New Yorker turns to that load-bearing wall of British cinema, David Lean, in a long piece on the occasion of the centennial of Lean’s birth (tomorrow). It’s the kind of piece that brings out the best in Lane, who as a critic I can often take or leave all amusing anecdotes and brief moments of grace. On “Lawrence of Arabia”:
The glory of Lean was that, with “Lawrence,” he summoned his earliest memory of awe and, perhaps for the last time, restored our illusion that a mass medium could be a miracle. And the sadness of Lean is that he went on clinging to that belief while the rest of us watched it drift away. He died in 1991. Thank heaven he was not around for the iPhone.
And on “Brief Encounter”:
The saga of thwartings is played out in the pleasure domes of suburbia: railway stations, luncheon tables, and boating lakes. For Lean, the humdrum was drenched in emotion; he himself, as a teen-ager, used to take the train up to London to see a film, then hang around in the refreshment room at Victoria Station, smoking and drinking coffee, spinning out the time so that he did not have to head home and find his unhappy mother still awake. I agree with Gene Phillips, in “Beyond the Epic: The Life and Films of David Lean” (2006), when he suggests that these lingerings spilled into “Brief Encounter.” The couple first meet at a station and, unbearably, part there for the last time, with Alec’s hand resting briefly on Laura’s shoulder in the refreshment room. They have measured out their love in coffee spoons.
[Photo: “Brief Encounter,” Universal Pictures, 1946]
+ Master and Commander (New Yorker)