Tag Archives: david lean

Spong On Lean

Hyphenates has always been a show that celebrates all filmmakers, and we're equally excited by the big names as we are by the obscure ones. Wielding absolutely no influence over the choices of our guests, 2016 nevertheless seemed to be a year in which we ticked off a fair number of big-name directors that have been looming over our shoulder for six-and-a-half years. The past few months alone we've talked Peter Weir, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Nicolas Roeg, and it feels appropriate that we should see the year out with the master that is David Lean.

It was a real delight to have Rohan Spong as our guest, and anyone who's been lucky enough to see his astonishing documentaries - from 2011's All the Way Through Evening to this year's Winter At Westbeth - will no doubt be as keen as we are to hear about how David Lean became such an early influence. And it's an origin story very much worth hearing.

Before we talk Lean, however, Sophie and Lee look back at some of this month's key films, comparing this year's Star Wars entry Rogue One to last year's The Force Awakens, discussing their fiercely divergent reactions to Jim Jarmusch's contemplative drama Paterson, dipping toes into the controversy surrounding science fiction romance Passengers, and looking at Amma Assante's compelling biopic A United Kingdom.

Then, Rohan joins them as they compare notes on their favourite films of the year, and try to find some highlights amid the mess than was 2016.

Further reading:

  • In the Rogue One discussion, Sophie and Lee inevitably touch on the (spoilerish) topic of CGI recreation of actors. LucasFilm has spoken to the New York Times about the controversy (the piece in question with either be behind a paywall or it will use up one of your limited free articles, so be warned)
  • Here is some more info about the Notes On Blindness Oculus Rift project as mentioned by Rohan and Sophie
  • Sophie wasn't kidding about the When Marnie Was There lunchbox, or maybe she was, but even so if you spot any in the wild definitely drop us a line
  • The incredible Lawrence of Arabia match cut as discussed in the show can be seen here
  • David Lean's 1979 documentary Lost and Found: The Story of Cook's Anchor, which he made as he was scouting for his unrealised Mutiny on the Bounty films, can be viewed for free online at NZ OnScreen
  • All 2 hours and 20 minutes of David Lean: A Life In Film is on YouTube
  • Interviews with David Lean, Peter O'Toole and Anne V Coates talking about Lawrence of Arabia

Outro music: score from Lawrence of Arabia (1962), composed by Maurice Jarre

And don't forget to check out our 2016 Year In Review, featuring a collection of our alumni's best of the year lists!

The latest episode of Hell Is For Hyphenates featuring Rohan Spong talking the films of David Lean can be heard on Stitcher Smart Radio, subscribed to on iTunes, or downloaded/streamed directly from this website.

Hell Is For Hyphenates – December 2016

Documentarian Rohan Spong (T Is For Teacher, All the Way Through EveningWinter At Westbeth) joins us as we wrap up the year that was. We look at a handful of this month’s films, including Star Wars spinoff prequel Rogue One, Jim Jarmusch’s contemplative drama Paterson, science fiction drama Passengers, and Amma Asante’s true story adaptation A United Kingdom. Sophie, Lee and Rohan then compare notes on their absolute favourite films of 2016. Then, Rohan discusses the films and career of the director whose name is synonymous with grand, epic filmmaking: legendary filmmaker David Lean.

The David Lean Cheat Sheet

Want to become an instant expert in our filmmaker of the month without committing yourself to an entire filmography? Then you need the Hell Is For Hyphenates Cheat Sheet: we program you a double that will not only make for a great evening's viewing, but bring you suitably up-to-speed before our next episode lands…


When you hear David Lean's name, you typically think of grand sweeping epics, told with the wildest of locations and the widest of screens. But that phase career didn't begin until 1957's The Bridge on the River Kwai. For the first fifteen years of his directorial career he was making comparatively smaller, more personal films. Although many of his early works can still be considered great, one film looms large: the romantic drama Brief Encounter. Passions bubble over as a married woman falls in love with a stranger in 1940s London. Lean's filmmaking is heartbreaking and strikingly modern, and it remains one of the most emotionally engaging films ever made. Once that's done, your next film for the evening is an entirely different beast, and perhaps the best example there is of epic filmmaking: Lawrence of Arabia remains one of the greatest cinematic experiences of all time, and along with 2001, a film that absolutely must be seen on the big screen if at all possible. Watch these two films back-to-back and it might just be enough to turn 2016 around.

Substitutions: If you can't get or have already seen Brief Encounter, seek out The Passionate Friends (1949). While not nearly as well known or accomplished as Brief Encounter, it is a fascinating work and does cover many of the same themes, examining at infidelity through a far more complex and interesting prism than was, at the time, typically permitted. If you can't get or have already seen Lawrence of Arabia, track down Doctor Zhivago (1965). Zhivago is as much a synonym for epic filmmaking as Lawrence is, with a 3+ hour running time, a 2.20:1 aspect ratio, and a sweeping multi-year story told against the backdrop of a revolution.

The Hidden Gem: Want to try something a little different? A David Lean film that is rarely mentioned? Take a look at Blithe Spirit (1945). This strange ghost story begins with a man (played by a frighteningly young Rex Harrison) ironically employing the services of a medium as research for his next book. When the medium manages to get in contact with an actual spirit that's haunting the house, he finds himself caught his deceased first wife and his living second wife. It's funny, macabre, and worth a look.

The next episode of Hell Is For Hyphenates, featuring Rohan Spong talking David Lean, will be released on 31 December 2016.

Our Next Hyphenate: Rohan Spong

Director, photographer and December 2016 Hyphenate Rohan Spong

Over the last few years, Rohan Spong has become one of Australia's most exciting documentary filmmakers. From his 2009 feature T is for Teacher, about the experiences of four transgender school teachers in America, to his 2010 film The Songs They Sang, which examined the music and art created in the Vilna Ghetto in Lithuania during World War II, and his stunning 2011 film All the Way Through Evening, about the music that was composed in New York's East Village during the rise of HIV/AIDS, he has established himself as one of this country's best documentarians, exploring the corners history through a very present and tangible lens.

This year saw the premiere of his latest film Winter At Westbeth. This beautiful work follows the elderly residents of New York's Westbeth Artists Housing, as they continue to create the film, dance and poetry they'd made all of their lives.

Of course, all of those achievement pale in comparison to Rohan's next role, that of Hell Is For Hyphenates guest host!

But which filmmaker has he chosen to discuss?

None other than the legendary David Lean!

The mere mention of Lean's name conjures images of epic landscapes in 70mm, decades-spanning tales, literary adaptations, and hours-long epics that could comfortably go for twice their length. Lean immersed us in worlds bigger than our own, and defined event cinema decades before the term would ever be coined or even required.

From the Dickens adaptations Oliver Twist and Great Expectations to Russian epic Dr Zhivago, from the heartbreaking romance Brief Encounter to perhaps the greatest cinematic epic of all time Lawrence of Arabia, Lean left a forceful, indelible mark on cinema, and no history of film is complete without an exploration of his ouvre.

But what is it about Lean's work that Rohan loves so much? Check back in with us on December 31 when we find out!

Our next filmmaker of the month, David Lean