Sunday, April 4, 2021


Silence in The Passionate Friends from Oswald Iten on Vimeo.

Audiovisual soundtrack analysis. [Spoiler alert: reveals important plot points and ending]

David Lean's 1949 melodrama THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS never gained the same popularity as its similarly themed predecessor BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945). Had it not been restored and re-released in 2008*, it might have been all but forgotten by now. And yet, there is a lot to cherish and enjoy within these 90 minutes.

Despite its overall unevenness and unsatisfying ending**, THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS is probably my favourite among all of David Lean's films: the uncanny precision of an editor-turned-director at the top of his game, Guy Green's spectacular cinematography, a standout performance by Claude Rains (upstaging Lean's third wife Ann Todd), the recurring motifs of doors and wind (similar to GREAT EXPECTATIONS, 1946) and a lush soundtrack that is as complex as it is sensual.

And that is what this video essay is all about: silence as a powerful storytelling tool.

It was originally conceived as a companion piece to MELODRAMATIC RAILWAY SOUNDS (see below). But since I have eliminated most of the comparisons to BRIEF ENCOUNTER in the process, it definitely works as a standalone soundtrack analysis. In these essays, I always try to visualise sound objects in a way that is appropriate to the source material. This time, the challenge were sensual sound effects and silence itself.

Except for my voice, all sounds in this video come from the audio track of THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS (and in respective clips from BRIEF ENCOUNTER), no equalizers or filters applied. Please note, that in order to highlight certain parts of the soundtrack, I constantly adjust the volume of the clips. This might go without saying. However, while most viewers notice frame, size or brightness changes in an image, sound changes tend to be less obtrusive. So if you want to get a sense of the full dynamic, there is no way around going back to the original film – which I recommend anyway.

* A wonderful Blu-ray is available from Studio Canal in France (in English, of course).
** It is definitely worth reading up on the troubled adaptation and production process.

Since January 2021, I am proud to be part of, a research project at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. 

Melodramatic Railway Sounds - Video Essay from Oswald Iten on Vimeo.