Tag Archives: michael powell

XL Popcorn – Peeping Tom

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 608/1007
Title: Peeping Tom
Director: Michael Powell
Year: 1960
Country: UK

I love it when a banned film comes up on this list. To think that a film that was banned in certain countries (in Finland, for example, it was banned until 1981) now has a 15 rating for the DVD in the UK. It has a rating of 12 in the Netherlands… and I don’t know how to feel about that.

As a film lover it is really hard to go cold into Peeping Tom. The central concept and some of the scenes have featured in so many programmes and books that I went into this film pretty much knowing what to expect. What I did NOT know was that it was directed by Michael Powell.

Thanks to this list I have become a bit of a Michael Powell fan. Films like A Matter of Life and Death,  Black Narcissus and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp rank among my favourite films of all time. However, since these three all see Powell sharing credit with Emeric Pressburger I was interested in how much I would enjoy a solo effort.

The word ‘enjoy’ isn’t one that I feel applies to a film like Peeping Tom. ‘Intrigued’ and ‘disturbed’ would probably make more sense for the story of an emotionally-disturbed man making a documentary about the look of fear on a person’s face before they die. Oh and he’s killing them himself and filming their reaction, there’s that big bit.

The set up of the film in general is pretty unsettling, and the final sequence just tips it over into the end into extremely creepy. And yet, why was this banned? So many of the contemporary unleashed streams of vitriol of this film and… now it’s a 15 and viewed by many as one of the best British films ever made.

Were we so incredibly repressed back in 1960 that a film like this would be greeted as something you wouldn’t piss on if it was on fire? Then again it is this repression that Peeping Tom and the incredibly  off-kilter performance by Carl Boehm takes aim at. Sometimes we need to be that bit uncomfortable as that means the art we are ingesting has pressed on a nerve that we deny exists.

To be fair, the big sexual liberation of the 1960s had yet to happen. Many of the critics were likely unhappy to stick their necks out for something daring. Even if it meant practically ending the career of one of Britain’s best directors.

XL Popcorn – A Matter of Life and Death / Too Early, Too Late

One month in and it is spreading up into my neck from my right arm. Dictated reviews will be continuing until I know more about what I am dealing with.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”lifeanddeathTitle: A Matter of Life and Death
Directors: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Year: 1946
Country: UK

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger just might be two of my all time favourites directors. A Matter of Life and Death is the fourth of their films that I have seen (The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp being the other three) I have yet to see one that would warrant less than 8 out of 10.

A Matter of Life and Death started its life as a piece of propaganda to bring the Americans and British together after world war two. Since both sides were wounded and friction had been generated on both sides during the American troops stationing in the UK it makes sense that there were tensions. This is why this film deliberately chose to have a British soldier fall for an American girl (since the other way was far more common). With the exception of one speech made extolling the virtues of America this film is not feel propaganda in the slightest.

The idea of the film is this: a British soldier (David Niven) has managed to cheat death and fall in love with an American radio operator (Kim Hunter). The “other world” notice this discrepancy and allow him to appeal his case in order to remain alive. It sounds very tacky when you explain it this way, but it works.

The reason it works is that a lot of it is left up to audience interpretation. Due to the ethereal nature of the “other world” no one in our world is being contacted other than the soldier himself. We also have a doctor (Rodger Livesey) who has been able to diagnose him with a brain issue that requires operation. The final judgement and court case happens concurrently with this operation. Therefore there is no way for us to know if he is either hallucinating or actually experiencing this fight for his life.

Another really important thing is that this “other world” is never referred to as heaven by those who resides in it. The only time and it is referred to as such is by a recently departed soldier. In this way things become a bit less cut and dry as to what is actually happening.

The court case itself makes for interesting watching. The prosecutor on behalf of the other world is an American who hates British people. Most of his arguments play on the idea of America being far better than Britain. This is where the propaganda probably came in and where someone in 2016 can find it a bit off putting. Politicians still make similar speeches in America, but enough has happened since 1946 to make it sound false. The conclusion of the court is obvious since was meant to repair Anglo American relations. I still teared up like a fool.

troptotTitle: Too Early/Too Late (Trop tôt/trop tard)
Directors: Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub
Year: 1982
Country: France

Too Early/Too Late is one of those films that I just do not get. It’s easily the most obscure thing that I have watched for this film this and will arguably remain as such right until the end. I gave it a fair go as I do with all the 1001 films… but I could not escape the impression that:

a) I am missing something fundemental here
b) this is a case of emporer’s new clothes
c) it would have been better to watch the non-English version.

This has a very interesting idea. The filmmakers read pieces about the suffering that suggest sparks to revolutions (the first third devoted to the French Revolution and the latter two thirds about the repression of Egyptians by the British). The title itself indicates poor timing of revolutions with them happening too early and them finishing too late.

The texts themselves are interesting in content, but the delivery is deadpan and quite dull. If there was more emotion in the readings it would have made for a more interesting movie.

You can also say the same about the images. You take Koyaanisqatsi which is all image and music, but no dialogue – the reason it is good are the interesting images and how they interplay with the music. Long takes and panning shots of Parisian roads or (what I assume is) the outside of an Egyptian school does not make for interesting watching.

I know there is an arguement that to be art it does not need to be entertaining and YES it actually made me think… but if only it wasn’t so flat. It could have been so much more than this.

Progress: 538/1007

Ebert’s Greats – The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp

List Item: Watch Roger Ebert’s “The Great Movies”
Progress: 173/409blimpTitle: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Director: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Year: 1943
Country: UK

Sometimes you get put off of watching a film because it has a ridiculous title. I mean how can you take a film seriously that is titled The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp? Well I certainly didn’t, which is one of the reasons (other than the general lack of time) that I had yet to get around to watching this film. The fact that the colonel in question is a rather dated reference to a satirical cartoon from the 1930s is something I only discovered having watched it.

In essence there are two main story threads that can be taken from the film that follows 40 years of a man’s military career. The first is of an army man who was never able to get over the love his life; the other of how warfare changed so much that those in the army all their life are unable to cope with the concept of sportsmanship no longer applying. Seeing how it was released in 1943 as London was under the siege of blitzkrieg there are, of course, anti-Nazi overtones… but this film is by no means a propaganda piece.

The most interesting thing about this film is the character of Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff, a German military officer and best friend to the ‘Colonel Blimp’ character Clive Candy. Despite this being a very British affair of a movie whose humour is very reliant on a ‘comedy of manners’ scenario the film offers up a very sympathetic view of a German during the height of World War Two. Considering this fact it is possible to understand why Churchill sought to have this film banned from cinemas. He failed, but that didn’t prevent this film from having to spend years in the wilderness before being properly evaluated.

Towards the end of the movie Theo gives a short speech which would have probably been the great chagrin of Churchill. In it he delivers the main message of the movie; that Britain did not win World War One, Germany lost it. Due to this fact Britain had yet to learn how warfare had changed which was why Germany were able to be so dominant at that time. They were fighting for existence after years in of being a broken nation. The fact that Theo is vehemently anti-Nazi (to the point that his two “good Nazi” sons don’t speak to him) is unlikely to have taken the sting out of his speech… or his jibe that it took Britain 5 years to act against Hitler when the immigration officer chastises him for taking 8 months.

In many ways Theo (played by Austrian-born actor Anton Walbrook) is an ideal mouthpiece for the sentiment that sometimes to fight for existence you have to jettison valour. He is arguably the character who goes through the worst lot in the movie and Walbrook gives an excellent performance in this role. Then again so does Roger Livesey in his Clive Candy as his character moves from a dapper and handsome young upstart to something akin to a walrus. Then there is also Deborah Kerr (here only in her mid-20s but already commanding top-billing) who plays three characters during the 40-year span the movie takes place in, watching her here it is so easy to see how much of a star she was destined to be.

At a run-time of 163 minutes this film seemed to fly by, a definite recommendation for any fans of 1940s cinema.