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The thing about the cinema, in Brian’s experience, seated in a large dark space staring without interruption at a high wide screen, entranced, lost in another’s vision, was that he found feelings inside himself he did not know existed, replaced the next night by a different film and new sensations. And the next. Another film, another set of feelings. All his life, everywhere he went, Brian had shunned attention, the scars unhealed from being singled out at school in Kent as different and blamed for being so, by teachers, by other boys and by his mother. To ease this hurt he had made himself an expert at forgetting, a skill by now matured, able most of the time to erase unwelcome thoughts and happenings. It did mean that he needed to hold himself on constant alert, ready to combat the threat of being taken by surprise, a state-of-being he had managed to achieve without the tension driving him crazy. There had been costs, by now discounted and removed from memory. The increasing curvature of his spine was one, outbreaks of eczema another. Accompanying the physical reactions to Brian's taut self-discipline, the mental and emotional strains were easier, he found, to suppress, to pretend did not exist. All of which helped explain why Brian had adapted unquestioningly to nightly visits to the BFI, by which he was enabled, he felt, to escape his destiny of defeat. At Talacre one weekend a woman had walked over to Brian’s bench and introduced herself as Dorothy, Camden Council’s manager of the playground. She had noticed the gentle way he had been playing with the children on and off all summer and, being short of staff at weekends, she wondered if he might agree to keep volunteer-watch over the facility for a fixed couple of hours on Sunday mornings. The thought of community participation, of acceptance within a worthwhile group of local people delighted Brian and when, as it always seemed to, everything fell apart he felt especially hurt. Two mothers had complained about his unqualified status and, with regret, Dorothy asked him not to come again. For his own sake she suggested it might be safest if he did not visit the gardens at all for the time being, as his accusers were a vindictive pair, Dorothy warned.

Brian by Jeremy Cooper — solace in cinema in London - Financial Times Brian by Jeremy Cooper — solace in cinema in London - Financial

I feel like I should have liked this book more. I feel like I was the target audience for it, but it just didn't work for me. The book is at its strongest in portraying the comeradeship, if not really relationship, Brian enjoys with his fellow buffs, many of them socially unconventional, and indeed Brian looks down on some of them in the same way that Beavis has contempt for Butthead. You may also opt to downgrade to Standard Digital, a robust journalistic offering that fulfils many user’s needs. Compare Standard and Premium Digital here.


I studied in London and graduated in 2000 often visiting the BFI, then got a job working at an independent cinema in central London where we showed loads of the films named in this book. I ended up working there for a decade and being the creative manager of that cinema, and in my years there I met and befriended hundreds of film buffs. Brian tends to reticence and caution in personal and social interaction, an inborn temperament only exacerbated by his parents’ bullying and debasement, intended to toughen him up during his childhood in Northern Ireland. Free of their grip—his mother’s death when he is 16 and his estrangement from his father and older brother—he moves to England, becoming a file clerk for Kentish Town, a position he holds for the entirety of his professional career. Ever shy and awkward, always fearing calamity and the inadvertent commitment of a faux pas, Brian keeps to himself, talking to co-workers only under duress. Avoiding improvisation and spur-of-the-moment decisions, Brian is keen on routines well-defined and predictable. If you do nothing, you will be auto-enrolled in our premium digital monthly subscription plan and retain complete access for 65 € per month.

Jeremy Cooper on Creating Verisimilitude Fact, Fiction, and Film: Jeremy Cooper on Creating Verisimilitude

After having published his luminous Ash Before Oak, Jeremy Cooper now brings us Brian, equally a work of mysterious interiority and poetry. It confirms that however solitary life might be, art enriches both our imaginations and our realities. This is a very tender book.’ What makes Jeremy Cooper’s seventh novel appealing and convincing is the author’s serene prose and tender, understated empathy…This is an affectionate, thoughtful portrait of a gentle soul.’ On paper this shouldn’t really work. A narrative about an introverted loner with a deeply unhappy childhood working in a mind numbing clerical job who finds salvation through watching films. More specifically, watching films every night at the National Film Theatre and becoming part of a group of others who also attend frequently who appear united at least initially less through their love of film but more by the fact they appear socially marginalised. I would say that at least half of the content of the short book is dedicated to film. It’s as if Cooper had amassed similarly voluminous notes to his main character having attended the NFT with similar devotion and wondered if he somehow couldn’t make a book about them. That doesn’t sound promising I know. If you combine that with the affectless written style, which particularly accents Brian’s idiosyncrasies (the tone is almost one of a book written for children about an unhappy mouse) you would think that potentially this book does not have much going for it.There is an oddly detached tone to the novel which is narrated in the third person, almost like character notes for someone playing Brian in a movie, or the interview notes of a psychologist (although the only time Brian does seek help his GP tells him the NHS no longer funds such things): When we first meet Brian, he is about 30 years old, single, living in a small apartment, and already set in his ways. He loves films, however, and one night he decides to ride the local tram to the British Film Institute (BFI), which is showing a film he has long wanted to see. From enjoying that initial experience, Brian soon finds himself going to the BFI twice a week, and after six months or so, he decides to buy a membership in the BFI, to watch films more often. As his attendance increases, he notices a group of men—the same men every time—standing in the foyer discussing the film shown. Being Brian, he is too shy to approach the group, but loving films, he is curious about their conversation. He eventual allows himself to come within earshot of them and discovers a few enticing details: None are called by name, all have interesting things to say, and no one is trying to score points at the expensive of the others. The combined anonymity, camaraderie, and enthusiasm for film encourage Brian to approach the group and comment on a film. His comment is noted by the group and appreciated, and he soon finds himself joining in every night.

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