A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1946)

Fantasy, especially in British hands, can easily go twee, and though Powell and Pressburger had surer hands than most, A Matter of Life and Death (released in the United States as Stairway to Heaven, long before Led Zeppelin) still manages occasionally to tip over toward whimsy. There is, for example, the naked boy playing a flute while herding goats, the doctor's rooftop camera obscura from which he spies on the villagers, and the production of A Midsummer Night's Dream being rehearsed by recovering British airmen, all of which are freighted with symbolism. And there's Marius Goring's simpering Frenchman, carrying on as no French aristocrat, even one guillotined during the Reign of Terror, ever did. Many find this hodgepodge delicious, and A Matter of Life and Death is still one of the most beloved of British movies, at least in Britain. I happen to be among those who find it a bit too much, but I can readily appreciate many things about it, including Jack Cardiff's Technicolor cinematography. On the whole, it seems to me too heavily freighted with message -- Love Conquers Even Death -- to be successful, but it must have been a soothing message to a world recovering from a war.