Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

A Matter of Life and Death

Is there a more amazing, lushly satisfying fantasy film in all of cinema than A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH? the Powell & Pressburger film from 1946 - from that mid-40s amazing run of films of theirs (COLONEL BLIMP, I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING, BLACK NARCISSUS, THE RED SHOES, and I still have to catch up with their A CANTERBURY TALE from 1943). From that opening surveying the universe and then coming down to that burning plane as pilot David Niven contemplates bailing out without a parachute and connects to the American girl (Kim Hunter) who is hearing his last words .... it all looks perfect and before that era of CGI, as photographed by ace Jack Cardiff. There is something so wonderful about '40s Technicolor - as Marius Goring as the beheaded French aristocrat puts it "We are starved of Technicolour, up there".... referring to Heaven or the world beyond the stars (an amazingly imaginative creation in monochrome, which may be happening in Niven's fevered imagination, where a celestial receptionist, Kathleen Byron, notices Niven's dead co-pilot Robert Coote waiting for him to join them, but that day's tally is one short ... we get baby-faced Richard Attenborough and Canadian Bonar Colleano joining them (as though they had just walked in from IN WHICH WE SERVE or THE WAY TO THE STARS) to literally collect their wings. So there is a celestial mistake, Niven is missing but he has fallen in love with Kim - what can the heavens do about that?

We get that amazing staircase and that heavenly tribunal, as Roger Livesey pleads for our couple. Anglo-American relations at the time are highlighted with the appearance of Raymond Massey, and its all just stupendous as this fantasy romance unspools. It’s a truly imaginative film with some of the most gorgeous use of colour I’ve ever seen. The film switches between bold color in the real world and black & white for the after life. The cast too is large and eclectic. Its a marvellous achievement to have made so soon after end of world war two. It's strange to think that the supernatural ITS A WONDERFUL LIFE was made the same year. No great coincidence: the 1940s were awash with heaven-and-earth films, but this is the best and most imaginative and romantic.

For me it confirms the Powell & Pressburger team (above) and David Lean as the two most important (British) directors of the '40s, with Carol Reed not far behind. It's a film one never tires of as there is always something new to discover.

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