Every librarian I've talked to in the last year has told me that DVD circulation is way, way up. I'm not surprised - or dismayed - by this; after all, I'm a film buff too. But I do think that books and films can complement each other wonderfully - after all, the former is often the inspiration for the latter. And so I thought it would be fun, every so often on a Friday, to recommend an interesting pairing for the weekend. I'm not going to plug the obvious - the book with its own film adaptation - unless there's a particularly good reason for it, but instead I'll try to suggest book and movie combos that evoke similar themes or share a sense of place or historical period. I promise that they'll all be films well worth seeing and I'd love to hear about your own recommendations.
In honour of the Toronto Film Festival which is currently underway, I thought I'd launch this with a bit of a mini-fest of my own. I have an incurable train fetish. It's my favourite mode of transport and train stations, especially those in Europe, are so much sexier than any airport can ever dream of. So when the Guardian recently posted a list of the ten best railway journeys in literature, I was immediately inspired to come up with a list of my ten favourite films featuring a train. And here it is. Happy viewing.
Brief Encounter (1945) My favourite movie of all time. Has any train station ever tried piping Rachmaninoff over its speakers? Or would that only work if they could also clone Trevor Howard? That firm, farewell touch on the shoulder gets me every time. My favourite scene is the one where Celia Johnson is travelling back to her mundane home, looking out of carriage window into the dark night and fantasizing about how different her life could be with Howard.
2. Before Sunrise (1995) Because that's the ultimate fantasy isn't it? You meet your French soul mate on a train and spontaneously decide to spend the next twelve hours traipsing around Vienna getting to know each other. If I was doing a list of my top ten walking movies, the sequel - Before Sunset - would definitely be on it.
3. Caught on a Train (1980) This TV movie was originally made by the BBC and it stars one of my favourite actors - Michael Kitchen. He plays an impatient man on his way across Europe to attend a book fair in Linz, and finds to his horror that he's seated for the duration of the trip in the same carriage as the indomitable Peggy Ashcroft. One of the pitfalls of travelling is not being able to choose your companions, but it's also sometimes one of the best things about travelling too. The acting in this is superb.
4. Tokyo Story (1953) The great Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu used trains in many of his films to express the emotional as well as physical distances between his characters. In Tokyo Story there's a very poignant scene where a woman is travelling home after her mother-in-law's funeral and she takes out a pocket watch that was given to her. It says everything about time's own sad journey. In an interview I watched with one of Ozu's camera assistants, he said the director always shot his train scenes in an actual train - no studio could ever re-create the actual bumps and jostles of the real thing.
Murder on the Orient Express (1974). Was there ever a finer set of actors stuck together on a train going nowhere and with Hercule Poirot to deal with?
6. Strangers on a Train (1951) Hitchcock was another director who liked to set scenes on trains. This is a terrific thriller.
7. Closely Watched Trains (1966) Based on the novel by Bohumil Hrabal, this film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Set during WWII in occupied Czechoslovakia, it's about a young teenager who is more concerned with losing his virginity than resisting the Germans. You'll never look at stamps the same way again (the ones you ink, not the ones you lick).
Terminal Station (1953) This movie is also sometimes known as Indiscretion of an American Wife but if you get a hold of the Criterion edition, you'll find both movies on it. Watch Terminal Station, directed by Vittorio De Sica first, and then for a laugh, see what happened to the movie when David O. Selznick got his hands on it. The plots remain the same, but the execution, style and focus are very, very different. In both cases, Jennifer Jones (married to Selznick at the time) and Montgomery Clift spend the entire movie trying to say goodbye to each other in Rome's train station after a summer affair. Watch it for De Sica's beautiful shots of the station's architecture, the numerous human stories swirling around the lovers, and for a reminder of how difficult it is to find a private place to have sex in a crowded train station.
2046 (2004) Our main character is a writer living in Hong Kong in the late 1960s. He has written a science fiction story set far in the future, where people live in train compartments, served by androids. These trains criss cross the world, and if you dare, you can visit 2046, a place where lost memories might be found. But can you ever return? This is the sequel to Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood For Love but it works completely well as a stand-alone. Gorgeously filmed and with an awesome soundtrack.
10. Love on the Run (1979) This is the final film in François Truffault's Antoine Doinel series that began with The 400 Blows. Antoine is trying to sort out his love life, both past and present. At a train station he sees a woman he was in love with as a young man, and impulsively boards her train. She happens to be reading a copy of his novel which thinly disguises his former relationship with her. It's funny. It's farcical. It's French. And I laugh every time.
And yes, I will be seeing a train movie at this year's TIFF. It's called k.364 A Journey By Train and it's the story of two Israeli musicians who meet on a train en route to a concert of Mozart's “Sinfonia Concertante in E Flat Major.” The route is the same one their family members travelled towards their death during the Holocaust.