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It’s hard to categorize THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP, one of the many collaborations between Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, and my favorite of the ones I’ve seen. The film spans 40 years in the life of General Candy as he navigates three wars, a changing society, friendship, love, and loss. So it’s both a historical epic and a lovingly rendered character portrait. It’s also a comedy, when it’s not being a heartfelt drama. The film manages to be both satirical and sympathetic towards the old British ideals that Candy represents. And in 1943, at the height of WWII propaganda, it gives some of its most beautiful monologues to a German officer. The amazing feat of the film is that it does all this without contradiction, and without losing its focus. What could easily be a sprawling mess is instead a tightly woven tapestry of British history and life experience. Special mention goes to Deborah Kerr, who takes on three distinct roles with aplomb, and a downright gorgeous use of Technicolor.
I think the first thing that needs to be said about BLACK NARCISSUS from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is that it’s a stunningly gorgeous film. The story revolves around a group of nuns who try to set up a school and hospital in the Himalayas, but soon find themselves tested by the harsh weather, the fickle natives, and their own memories and desires. I was never quite invested in the plot, despite some engaging moments—particularly the dramatic ending. And the writing predictably suffers from some well-meaning racism. But that doesn’t detract from how beautiful everything is, with the film’s rich color and striking cinematography. The extreme bird’s-eye angles and careful pans of the camera set the mood without any story at all. And the tension between Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron, who give wonderfully contrasting performances as two antagonistic nuns, is equally worth watching.
The 1960 thriller PEEPING TOM follows shy, soft-spoken Mark—a disturbed cameraman who films women while murdering them, and with the same device. When first released, critics despised the film for its overtones of voyeurism and sexual innuendo, emphasized by suggestive cinematography and a powerful lead performance. Today, it’s those seedy psychological elements that are completely engaging, despite being predictably outdated. I only wish the film had been a bit scarier. It failed to frighten even at its most suspenseful, but it was still worth the ride. This is only the second film I’ve seen by Michael Powell, one of the most represented directors in the collection, and I look forward to seeing more.