The Return Of The Blimp

London, Media, The Arts

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.

5 comments on “The Return Of The Blimp”

  1. Ford says:

    My favourite is “A matter of life and death!” I was accused by a friend, of being an “old romantic!” I prefer, surrealist!

    No mention of where the opening to “Canterbury Tale” was ‘omgaged?

  2. Jack says:

    And lest we forget the awesome and incredible scene in Blimp where Anton Walbrook talks about leaving Germany and his children who have become Nazis (though my still all time favorite P&P film didn’t even get a mention here: I Know Where I’m Going….)


  3. …and the incredible way that fateful duel is shot! I suppose my favourite P&P movie is Black Narcissus, but there’s something to admire in everyone of them. The cut forward in Canterbury that anticipates the bone into space station from 2001. Or the moment when the static elder in Edge of the World suddenly moves.

  4. Kevin says:

    A Canterbury Tale is one of my favourite films of all time, and I’m not sure I could tell you why. Blimp, I Know Where I’m Going, A Matter of Life and Death, and all the others are also among my favourite films of all time. I’ve no idea how they managed to ensure that every film they made was a masterpiece, but they did.

    My first encounter with P&P was on a quiet Sunday afternoon sometime in the 70’s – the afternoon matinee was on TV, and it looked like a boring old films from before I was born – and then I saw the stairway up to heaven, and the galactic court and I thought ‘What in hell am I watching?’ It was like nothing I had ever seen before, and I watched the rest of the film in stunned delight. It spoilt cinema for me for years afterward though, because I couldn’t understand why everyone else’s films weren’t that good too.

  5. Graeme says:

    How about this aas a summary of act?

    A Canterbury Tale is a fable about not giving up on your dreams. Three modern-day people, each with a different source of regret or sorrow, make a pilgrimage to Canterbury; THEY are drawn together by hunting for a man who pours glue into girl’s hair if they walk around after dark and, at the end, their lives turn a corner.

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