…And there’s absolutely no doubt that the most important documentary to debut at this year’s just wrapped Cannes Film Festival was Charles Ferguson’s Wall Street/Washington expose, “Inside Job.” Nevertheless, this film geek can’t resist running the trailer for what sounds like a perfectly great documentary about one of the greatest men to ever hold the title “Cameraman.”
What can you say about the man who shot several of the most dazzling, visually groundbreaking films every made, including the ultimate ballet film, “The Red Shoes” and whose resume also includes “Rambo: First Blood 2”?
David Hudson had the scoop and gets a mega h/t for the trailer on this. Just a little bit more of the work of Jack Cardiff after the flip.
England’s Michael Powell was a rare twofer as a director – both a great visual stylist and one of filmmaking’s most adept and original storytellers. While movie history played some very nasty tricks on Powell, depriving him of his rightful status alongside such contemporaries as Alfred Hitchcock and David Lean, his cult continues to grow. Indeed, after a day or two watching this package of two rare films making their long-overdue DVD debuts, you might be joining me for some genius-spiked Kool-Aid.
The first of half of this stunning double bill is 1946’s “A Matter of Life and Death,” one of a number of classics Powell made with Emeric Pressburger, his long-time filmmaking partner with whom he shared writing, producing, and directing credits. Originally released in the U.S. as “Stairway to Heaven,” this post-war romantic fantasy features a young David Niven as a downed RAF pilot whose apparently impossible survival and subsequent love affair with a sweet-natured American (Kim Hunter) arouses celestial interference from the heavenly powers that be – or, perhaps, that what he’s imagining, as a brilliant neurologist (Powell/Pressburger favorite Roger Livesey) grows increasingly concerned about his apparent hallucinations. This might sound like familiar romantic comedy-drama material, but there is a reason this was Powell’s personal favorite of all his films. It is a cinematic brew so rich and strange that on some levels it feels like a rom-com “Pan’s Labyrinth”; this one sneaks up on you.
“Age of Consent” isn’t on the same exalted level, but despite a shaky start and some unfortunate choices, it’s still aces. This rapturous, and often very funny, 1969 tale of initially semi-platonic May-December love stars then-newcomer Helen Mirren (“The Queen,” “Prime Suspect”), as a 17-year-old Aussie island waif, and aging star James Mason as a painter in need of inspiration. Far less giggle or squirm inducing than you could possibly imagine, “Age of Consent” appears to have been the first major-studio film to feature significant nudity (provided, of course, by Ms. Mirren). Despite hitting it big in Australia, it was butchered for its worldwide release and has been almost impossible to see ever since. Fortunately, this DVD does Powell’s last feature proud, including charming reminiscences from the now Queen-aged Ms. Mirren and Powell’s close late-life friend and number one fan, Martin Scorsese.
Life during wartime is getting to English weapons researcher and bomb disposal expert Sammy Rice (David Farrar). He’s in constant pain from an artificial foot and his preferred method of medication, whiskey, is highly problematic. It gets worse because his struggle to avoid drinking is just one of a few thorny issues that’s giving Susan (Kathleen Byron), his very serious girlfriend, some equally serious doubts about their future. Oh, and those damned bloody Nazis have taken to leaving a new kind of tricky unexploded bomb laying around, and it’s killing local soldiers and Prof. Rice’s own colleagues.
Based on a famed wartime novel by Michael Balcon, 1951’s “The Small Back Room” is one of the less well known films from “the Archers,” the writing and directing team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Best known for ravishing and slightly insane Technicolor spectaculars like “A Matter of Life and Death,” “The Red Shoes,” and their masterpiece, “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp,” the influential pair also had a flair for creating genuinely captivating black and white thrillers and love stories. “The Small Back Room” is a bit of both and possesses a degree of complexity and implied sexuality unusual in its time, and also today. Still, the film maybe bites off a bit more than it can chew resulting in a relatively distancing second act, and one semi-dream sequence involving a giant whiskey bottle shows how Pressburger/Powell’s admirable creative risk-taking could sometimes lead to unintended laughs. Still, there is humor, fine drama, suspense in the climactic bomb disposal sequence, and an amazing cast of some of Britain’s best local talent. This may not be the Archers at their absolute best but, trust me, that’s no insult.