04 September 2003

Last night I watched The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, an incredibly moving, witty, and beautiful film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, whom I'm increasingly beginning to regard as the two greatest directors in British history (and yes, I'm counting Alfred Hitchcock). At the moment, I can't think of any other artist in any medium whose career I admire more than Powell's: his films provide a thrilling example of what popular entertainment can and should be, and he's increasingly become my role model as a writer. (My role models have always been more cinematic than literary.)

Anyway, I've probably said this before, but if you haven't seen The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, Peeping Tom, or Colonel Blimp, you should. These are films that have nothing obvious in common except astonishing visual imagination, wonderful plots, and endless ingenuity, and The Red Shoes especially comes close to the limits of what movies can do. (To my mind, The Red Shoes is significantly more entertaining and moving than Citizen Kane, and just about as ingenious.) But Colonel Blimp is wonderful, too. This entry from imdb.com does a nice job of summing up what makes this movie unique:
Imagine if Tim Burton was given the opportunity to make a movie based upon the exploits of the dirty politician from "The Simpsons", "Diamond Joe" Quimby. Imagine if, instead of a riotous send-up, an excoriating lampoon of politics and stodgy ideals, what Burton delivered was a sentimental and very sympathetic portrait of Quimby as a young man, who is turned into a shyster politico by time and public tides. You'll then have some idea how confused the British were in 1944 to see The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Colonel Blimp was a caricature of ineffective Brit bureaucracy and the old home guard, created by cartoonist and humorist David Low for The Evening Standard. But when Archer Production's master filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger drew their bow on Blimp they had other ideas in mind. We first see Blimp as he was often found in Low's cartoons, wrapped in a white towel in a Turkish bath, but soon we're transported to 35 years earlier and we encounter a young Clive Candy (the unforgettable Roger Livesey), who'll one day mature into the barrel-chested Col. Blimp. Clive is reckless. He duels with Germans over questions of honor. He falls in love (with the reoccurring Archer favorite Deborah Kerr) and he grows old. His swagger becomes a waddle and his adventurous nature turns into complacency. It's ironic that Winston Churchill was advised by his staff to oppose the release of Blimp (it was supposedly going to be anti-military) and yet he's often the one ascribed with reiterating the Bismark quote, "He who is not liberal when young has no heart, and he who is not conservative when he's old has no head." That's essentially the storyline that Powell and Pressburger chose to tell about their poor, misguided, heroic, tragic, Col. Blimp.

Incidentally, for some unknown reason, Netflix doesn't carry Colonel Blimp on DVD, even though it's readily available at most large DVD stores. (I had to buy my own copy off Amazon.) This is just about the only shortcoming I've seen in Netflix to date.

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