Tuesday, January 17, 2006


As is my wont I found myself listening to "Selected Shorts" on the way to teach at the Fancy Health Club last Sunday. I didn't catch the title, but the story was read by Sex and the City carrot-top Cynthia Nixon, who did an amazing job of making this British town and its railway station, Boots chemist, movie theaters, restaurants and lively depot diner full of conformists from the nearby small towns seem interesting. The writing had a certain bite to it and the images she conjured were so vivid that I was sad to have to leave in the middle of it -- before she got to the actual plot -- and wished once again that I'd had the wherewithal to invent TiVo for RaDio.

Tonight I was watching some movie on Turner Classic Movies (as is my wont when I'm trying not to work) and was amazed to see a train station with a refreshment room that looked exactly like the one I'd imagined while listening to "Selected Shorts." The little town boasted a Boots with a lending library in back and a couple of cinemas where visitors from the nearby hamlets came to see "the pictures," just like in story, and I thought, "Wow, whoever wrote that piece Miranda read on the radio really knew about British towns and railway stations."

While describing on the phone these uncanny similarities to Dorian Black, who was home sick with whatever I had last week, I heard someone in the movie say "Milford." It sounded awfully familiar, so I did a Google Search (in the middle of watching the movie.....this quest for useless knowledge is becoming an awful sickness) and I learnt that the story I'd heard on Sunday was Robert Coover's "Milford Junction, 1939: A Brief Encounter." I at first assumed the story inspired the play (Noel Coward's Still Life) which inspired the film, A Brief Encounter

But the math became fuzzy once I realized that Coover was born in 1932 and the film, written by Coward and directed by David Lean, came out in 1945. More searching revealed that Coover's story was written well after the fact and is from his collection A NIGHT AT THE MOVIES Or, You Must Remember This. Apparently you can now write stories based on movie settings and a Famous Actress will read it on public radio. (According to the New York Times review, "'Milford Junction, 1939: A Brief Encounter' scrupulously sets the scene for a bittersweet Noel Coward love story - but then hilariously releases into this hushed milieu an eruption of animal and terribly un-British sexual desire." I guess I missed that last part.).

The film's plot concerns a couple of middle-aged, middle-class married folks who meet by chance at the refreshment room and fall in love but never get to consummate their affair -- because the bloke whose apartment the man is borrowing comes home early and surprises them before anything can happen. The cool thing is that it's told from the woman's point of view. Apparently it's one of the most popular British films of all time -- one review describes it as their Casablanca. Poor Brits.

A Brief Encounter inspired Billy Wilder to write one of my favorite movies of all time -- The Apartment (it focuses on the bloke who loans the apartment), which in turn informed Woody Allen's Manhattan.* Which is probably inspiring some toddler with an iPod camera at this very moment.


*One Xmas the Hex and I watched The Apartment and Manhattan back-to-back and were floored by how liberally Allen borrowed from, er, paid homage to, Wilder's masterpiece.


  1. gridlife_lite1:22 PM

    I thought you highly schooled city types were more sophisticated and above watching crappy old movies?

    Oh, they do have tivo for radiddio, it is know as podcasting for cripes sake!!!!!

  2. gridlife_heavy2:24 PM

    She only likes films that have dysfunctional families, subtitles, or big Bollywood production numbers in the middle. She didn't even like Miss Congeniality for Chrissakes!