The Return Of The Blimp
Martin Scorsese has recently been in London promoting his wonderful film ‘Hugo’ (see review on this site) and introducing another restored Powell & Pressburger film, ‘The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp’.
Powell & Pressburger’s films are impossible to define – each one is unique and special, and fits no clear demographic. ‘The Red Shoes’ (think ‘Black Swan’ without the whining, blood and vomit) inspired a national interest in dance, ‘Black Narcissus’ is an extraordinary tale of sexual tension in a Himalayan nunnery, and ‘A Canterbury Tale’ is actually indescribable*, while ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ concerns the fight for the soul of a pilot hovering between Heaven and Earth.
‘The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp’ was born from a newspaper cartoon that used to appear in the Daily Express. Powell was a quintessentially English director who surrounded himself with foreign collaborators. “It’s a 100 per cent British film but it’s photographed by a Frenchman, it’s written by a Hungarian, the musical score is by a German Jew, the director was English, the man who did the costumes was a Czech; in other words, it was the kind of film that I’ve always worked on with a mixed crew of every nationality, no frontiers of any kind,” he claimed of Blimp.
But the film, about war’s subservience to love and friendship, upset Winston Churchill, mortifying Powell. “Don’t make it, because everyone will be really cross, and the Old Man will be very cross and you’ll never get a knighthood,” Powell was warned by the Ministry of Information.
But he did and the film was cut to ribbons, especially severely for American audiences. Finally, though, there’s a stunning restoration of this complex, beautiful film in which Deborah Kerr plays three separate roles.
Mr Scorsese has a special hold over Londoners’ hearts for championing Powell and Pressburger, and for doing so much work to restore their reputation over the years. The British Film Institute will no doubt reissue the film on DVD, but catch it on the big screen if you can.
*All right, I’ll have a go. A man pours glue in girls’ hair but he’s actually alright, and Canterbury’s past haunts its present. Erm, that didn’t really nail it.