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 Post subject: 441 The Small Back Room
PostPosted: Thu May 15, 2008 7:16 pm 
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The Small Back Room

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After the lavish Technicolor spectacle of The Red Shoes, British filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger retreated into the inward, shadowy recesses of this moody, crackling character study. Based on the acclaimed novel by Nigel Balchin, The Small Back Room details the professional and personal travails of troubled, alcoholic research scientist and military bomb-disposal expert Sammy Rice (David Farrar), who, while struggling with a complex relationship with secretary-girlfriend Susan (Kathleen Byron), is hired by the government to advise on a dangerous new German weapon. Frank and intimate, deftly mixing suspense and romance, The Small Back Room is an atmospheric, post–World War II gem.

Special Features

• New, restored high-definition digital transfer
• Audio commentary featuring film scholar Charles Barr
• New video interview with cinematographer Chris Challis
• Excerpts from Michael Powell’s audio dictations for his autobiography
• PLUS: A new essay by film scholar Nick James

Criterionforum.org user rating averages



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PostPosted: Thu May 15, 2008 7:42 pm 
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This disc doesn't seem to have much in the way of special features, so I don-

Wait, its P&P. Awesome! A must buy for me.


Last edited by What A Disgrace on Thu May 15, 2008 7:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu May 15, 2008 7:42 pm 
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Specs on the Criterion website indicate that this will be picture-boxed:

Quote:
The picture has been slightly window-boxed to ensure that the maximum image is visible on all monitors.


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PostPosted: Thu May 15, 2008 7:44 pm 
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Don't care about the pictureboxing. This is the most exciting release for me. Super stoked. =D>


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PostPosted: Thu May 15, 2008 8:01 pm 

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My personal favorite P&P, and that's saying a lot since I love 'em. Really excited about this one. It's about time it got its due.


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PostPosted: Thu May 15, 2008 8:45 pm 
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For me, this is the best release of August.


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PostPosted: Thu May 15, 2008 9:03 pm 
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Once again there was a perfectly fine bare bones R2 DVD of this, but I note the starting price!!!!

It's a wonderful picture, a favorite PP. The relationship between the two of them just sings... "Have a drink Sammy?"


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PostPosted: Thu May 15, 2008 10:51 pm 
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This is one of the great P&Ps.


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PostPosted: Fri May 16, 2008 7:16 am 
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Yes, a great 'small' film, and good to see it in the Collection.
I only wished that CC had provided some extras to cater to those who already have the R2 disc (which looks indeed fine). I would have been happy to get something like "An Airman's letter to his mother". So I can't see me double-dipping here only for the audio commentary.


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PostPosted: Fri May 16, 2008 1:39 pm 
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A must buy... never seen either so (starts two stepping with imaginary dance partner), "Heaven.. I'm in heaaavven.."


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PostPosted: Fri May 16, 2008 6:01 pm 
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This is a great P&P film, relatively subdued in its stylisation, yet sharply intelligent & authentic ... i have that Warner R2UK disc (like many others licensed from Studio Canal, license lapsed in prep for Optimum move) , which DavidH refers to, but maybe i will opt for a double dip for CC disc for improved transfer & commentary.... The other transfer is also maybe a tad dark...


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PostPosted: Sat May 17, 2008 11:31 pm 
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Schreck I think Kathleen Byron and Farrar are so good together in Narcissus and then Small Back Room you can imagine - or more importantly you WANT to imagine them ripping each others' clothes off and going for it.

(Naturally there's more to an adult relationship than bonking but..)

They belonged to each other in these pictures. In later years, and no longer a couple seems quite shocking to see Farrar playing lush daddyo to blonde bimbo Beat Girl, or even more demeaning, poor Kathleen reduced to second string female support in the ririsble Terence Fisher Hammer Noir Gambler and the Lady (possibly his, and her, worst film.)

But Im being a bitch. Buy Room, and love it.


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PostPosted: Sun May 18, 2008 6:35 am 
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Could not resist extracting Durgnat's marvellous essay on SBR...

Quote:
Faces moving through alternately opposite spotlights in dark rooms; shadow webs from camouflage netting, window stickytape or elevator grilles; movements now tarry, now knifelike; the sudden cut-ins of a white cat or of abruptly changed facial expressions; uneasy depths half obscured by darkness; the then -all-but-unique absence of background music, and an off-on noise blitz, achieves as oppressiveness as massive as Lang's; but this is a world of irregularities, of huddles concavities and convexities, of varied angles, of rounded forms. As Campbell Dixon noted, "Vital conversations take place in offices while automatic drills split the ear and pedestrians pound the grating just above. Almost the only noises we don't hear in this tale of wartime London are those of sirens and guns." But with the climax we're plunged into an equally relentless decor, the quiet glittering spaces of the beach on which Sammy tackles the unexploded bomb, like a cylinder of concentrated blackness. So sharp a discontinuity runs counter to the craftsman's wisdom of the time; initially, perhaps dissatisfying, as far as a smooth intensity of mood is concerned, it becomes, on reflection, intriguingly ambiguous. Have the evil shadows retreated into the weapon, into a blessedly definite and obvious enemy of contrast? Or do the black and silver worlds finally merge into the film's last poetic realism? Is it a deceptive, mocking, and therefore expressionistic contrast? Or do the black and silver worlds finally merge into the film's locale, the dull grey shots of the South Bank (site of the old Shot Tower and the Festival to-come)? However hesitatingly one advances such an exegesis, one can't put it past authors who earlier contrasted a Technicolor reality with a Socialist utopia in monochrome. There are other deft games with structure: the 'Jerry thermos' with which Stuart tests Sammy's clearheadedness echoes (1) the Highland Whisky which is his inner demon, (2) the final Bomb, and (3) the Shot Tower. The bottle itself becomes a terse paradox. Susan leaves it in Sammy's flat to celebrate V-Day; it's a constant temptation and a constant hope - that one day reality will justify intoxication The Celtic fringe is still with us: science's painkilling pills didn't work, but Highland's whisky helps Sammy not to mind the pain. The officer who summons Sammy to his test of nerve is named 'Stuart'; the venue, if somewhat displaced (North Wales), is still a part of the wild mountain fringe, of an un-English wildness.

And as DavidH notes, Sammy & Susan's relationship reeks of convention breaking nonmarital sex and implies an equality based cohabitation, their living arrangements, two flats across the same hallway, a bare and transparent gloss to satisfy the prudishness of the Censor! In fact Byron remembered....

Quote:
When Byron received the script she was horrified to find that Emeric, bowing to censorship pressures, had Susan and Sammy living apart, not together in the same apartment as in the novel. She thought this ruined the essence of their relationship, and wrote a letter to Emeric, saying as much. 'And when I had posted it I said to myself, "You are stupid, now they'll just give the part away to someone else".But they didn't. Emeric called me up and said, "Well if you don't like it, why don't you think of something better?" So I suggested having them living in the same block of flats, across the hall from each other... and actually when the army chap brings her back to the flat at the beginning you're not quite sure who lives where. I pride myself on that'.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 29, 2008 1:52 pm 
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Small Back Room

Transfer is good but I didn't care for the commentary, which was stop-and-go and quite dry. He seems to narrate the film more than anything. The interview with Challis and Powell's audio recordings sort of make up for it, though. I had never seen this film before and quite enjoyed my first viewing of it, I especially liked the chemistry between Farrar and Byron.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 29, 2008 5:48 pm 
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Chris transfer is a couple of notches above the OOP R2 disc and it looks like a much better print and/or telecine.

This is one of those titles I will upgrade if they do a Blu!


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 30, 2008 4:43 am 
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Yeah, I concur too - those grabs look sharper and with better contrast and resolution that the OOP Warner disc... Dissappointed that the Charles Barr commentary is a bit of letdown - especially seeing the CC retails at the higher price tier - he wrote an excellent chapter titled 'The First Four Minutes' (analysis of the opening of THE SPY IN BLACK, feeding into thoughts on the whole P&P oeuvre, in the BFI book 'The Cinema of Michael Powell'), but I wondered what he would bring to THE SMALL BACK ROOM... It's a pity the very good essay by Raymond Durgnat isn't included (in the footnotes he records that a colleague miscalls the film THE SMALL BLACK ROOM, a strangely apposite alternative title!)...


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2008 8:58 pm 
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davidhare wrote:
Chris transfer is a couple of notches above the OOP R2 disc and it looks like a much better print and/or telecine.

This is one of those titles I will upgrade if they do a Blu!

I wonder how long it will take for a Blu release. There's quite a few titles I would love to see on Blu but I fear they might take their time on them.

This transfer for this release does look good, very sharp. The issues with the print aren't bad, the vertical lines/scratches through sequences being the worst offender. But they're not at all distracting.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 08, 2008 6:34 pm 
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Beaver


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 10, 2008 10:47 am 
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I've been a P&P fan for many years now and have every single laserdisc and DVD of their films that Criterion has put out. I just saw TSBR tonight, for the first time, and thought it was one of the emptiest films I have ever seen. Tiresome, dull, hollow and insufferably tedious. And I really came to this film with high hopes and a positive mind. Anyone else feel the same? Honestly?


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 11, 2008 5:30 am 
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You must have seen a completely different film than the "Small Back Room" I remember. The adjectives you use to describe the film itself would be fitting for the David Farrar character, though, perhaps the psychogramme of that lost soul has coloured your impression. It's a slow-going film, for sure, and the usual visual sparkle of P&P is not as apparent as in many of their other films, but I wonder how you couldn't have been blown away by that dream sequence with the big bottle of booze, for instance. I think it's a very carefully made portrait of a man in mental distress, also a final reflection (disregarding "River Plate" and "Moonlight" for a moment) on the war situation, and an exceedingly modern portrait of a love affair for the time (and Kathleen Byron is just plain magnificent in her part). It's not in the same league as "Canterbury" or "Blimp", but there's a lot of subtlety and layers of meaning in the film; I can only advise not to give up on it and try it again.


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 11, 2008 5:37 am 
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I will try it again, later, and watch the commentary and Challis interview...But as for that dream sequence with the big bottle of Scotch, it seemed painfully comical and out of place to me. I mean, what an obvious image...even by the standards of the day. Had me thinking of Captain Haddock and Tintin-book dream sequences.


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 11, 2008 5:57 am 
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Matango wrote:
But as for that dream sequence with the big bottle of Scotch, it seemed painfully comical and out of place to me. I mean, what an obvious image...even by the standards of the day

It IS comical, or rather tragi-comical, but so is (to a degree) the Farrar character who dreams it. But for me it worked nicely; though I agree it may feel a bit forced in the context of the film, as if Powell couldn't resist displaying his visual wizardry at least once in the film.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 02, 2008 8:31 pm 

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I also was very put out by the dream sequence at first. Watching it a second time was a very different experience however. The rest of the movie is so natural that the bombastic music and big scotch bottle coming out of nowhere leave one a bit nonplussed so laughter is appropriate I suppose. The second time through though, I was hooked. A very great movie. Watched it a third time with the commentary. Enjoyed that as well.


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:22 pm 
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The first time I saw this, I was disappointed by the film but loved the dream sequence because it had that Powell and Pressburger style I'd been missing; the second time, I loved the rest of the film but thought the dream was a bit silly.

Judging from the way people are reacting to it, maybe you should just go into it pretending you don't know who made it. When I watch other P & P films, I usually have to adjust to their style and prepare myself for something a bit more stylised, flamboyant, and lurid than I'm used to. I think my initial disappointment with The Small Back Room probably stemmed from the fact that, having made this adjustment, I was presented with a very subtle, scaled-down psychological drama, and was a bit disoriented. Take it on its own terms and it's simply one of the most quietly intelligent and nuanced British films of its time.

And like all P & Ps, there's so much in it: fascinating insights into the world of socially crippled boffins, a three-dimensional turn from Jack Hawkins in what could have been a 1-D role, great supporting cast generally, a wonderful portrait of a very realistically flawed relationship, lots of nice wartime period detail (love that club they go to on Wednesday nights), and at the end a small masterpiece of on-location suspense on the pebbly beach. If you're in the right mood it's a very nourishing evening's entertainment.


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PostPosted: Mon May 25, 2009 11:44 am 
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Intrigued by that weird coffeemaker in Sammy's apartment? You can buy one for yourself.


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