The Bridge, 1959, Bernhard Wicki
Anti-war films are not easy to pull off. Some of the best of them, like Rossellini’s War Trilogy, Battle of Algiers and even the American Best Years of our Lives are so effective because they were produced shortly after the end of the war. The wounds are personal and fresh. The pain is evident in all of these examples. Sure, there is a long list of fantastic war films to come out years after the war, although many of those use prior wars as analogies to current conflicts, but there are many more misfires (pun intended). The first two examples I gave above were shot in neorealistic style, and the third could be argued to be as close to neorealism that a film could get during the Hollywood studio system. The Bridge was also in the neorealistic style, but it was produced fifteen years after the war was over.
Germany is different. Nazism had dominated society up until the war, and Third Reich fascist rhetoric (or propaganda) had become adopted by the entire country. Nazism was celebrated, as many cinephiles have seen in Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will. The ending of the war and Nazism forever altered German society, and the manner of thinking needed time to change. Berlin was occupied for a long time, and eventually the nation was split during the Cold War. Even though there were forward thinkers in West Germany, many of the older generations still clung onto vestiges of Nazism and German heroism. As I learned in the supplements for this disc, there were German war films being made prior to The Bridge, but they were often celebrating German heroism. They may not have been completely pro-war, but they certainly were not decidedly anti-war as Wicki’s film would be.
Keep in mind that I will spoil major plot points and the ending of the film. Read and look at the images at your own risk.
The first two acts of the film are primarily spent on exposition, establishing the foundation of the children as they are drafted, their families, school, lovers, and so on. Even the scenes as they enter the military are mostly expositional, as we are still learning the circumstances of the war, the motives of those in command, and the feelings of the children as they enter this frightening chapter of their lives.
The film also incorporates many locations early in the film that will come into play later. The most notable of these is the actual bridge. We get to see the bridge as it would normally be used, as a center of the town that citizens use as a walkway and meeting point. During the early scenes, it is portrayed as an area of peace. Even when a bomb is dropped and misses the bridge, people are hardly fearful of it. The children even make jokes about.
Thus far, much of the early response to this Criterion release seems to be positive, but one individual whose opinion I respect was not singing the same tune. While he enjoyed the last third, he took exception with the first two acts, finding them dull and uninteresting. He also compared it unfavorably to All Quiet on the Western Front, which also came to my mind. There are so many parallels that I think the filmmakers must have had Remarque’s book or Milestone’s film in mind. Ths friend makes valid points and I appreciate his critical thinking, and in some ways I agree, but my take is different.
The heavy exposition is used to show the generational gap between the children and the adults. We have to remember that they had all been indoctrinated into the Nazi system, but on different levels. The children are still naïve about the world. Many of them had been in the Nazi youth and had learned the propaganda about honoring and protecting their fatherland in school and elsewhere. The kids may all have different personality types and upbringing – wild and rebellious or tame and obedient, lower class or upper class – but they all share the same feelings about bravery and patriotism. Even if they are fearful and apprehensive about leaving their homes, getting their draft cards is not disappointing. Many of them are excited by the prospect of going to war and fighting like adults, without realizing the grim realities that would follow. They are innocent. They are dumb. They are just kids.
The adults, on the other hand, are not so naïve and innocent. While they all undoubtedly love and care for their children in their own way, they are all imperfect and corrupted in some capacity. One family is broken because of what appears to be marital infidelity. One of the upper class fathers has bought into the Nazi system to the extent that he benefits from the party. This is one of the most powerful of the early scenes, as the son throws this privileged position in his face, lashing out at him for being a disgrace. The father retorts by reminding his child how the military is about to break him. He calls his child a “snotty brat,” and says, “they’ll make a man out of you.” The child gets the last word, “a man like you?” The kids, however invested in the system, are aware of the decadence that comes with age.
A reoccurring theme that follows the film along at every stage is the fact that children are being sent to war. One of the fathers laments that the children “belong in kindergarten, not the barracks.” The child takes the meaning as an insult to his masculinity, and the use of the word ‘kindergarten’ will come back later in the story. Everyone knows that they are in the last throes of the war, and they are ashamed that children are being thrown out there as pawns as an act of futility. The school teacher approaches the military Captain, trying to reason with him to not use these children as cannon fodder. He realizes that the ideology he has been stuffing into their brains has culminated in them being used as sacrificial lambs. The Captain is obstinate, but the seed is planted, and again this comes back into play later.
After a single day in training for the kids, the military installation is notified of a breach. The Americans are encroaching and will arrive in the town. Every able person, whether seasoned or brand new, are told to take up arms and not let his country down. He addresses all of the military, and reminds the youngsters that even though they are not experienced, that the German way is to always go forward, not backward, and not to forget that they are being charged to protect the fatherland. We see uncomfortable looks, both from the crowd and from other officers. They all know what this means. We as the audience know that the officers are pressing the buttons of the programming that the children had undergone at school. This is phrasing they can relate to. They want to be men and do their duty. Wicki is attacking the fact that children were led to believe such things.
Through a mishap of communication, the boys end up on the bridge without supervision. They are surprised that they are ordered to defend the same bridge that they walk over everyday, with their homes within walking distance. They eat food together, laugh together, mostly oblivious to the horrors of war that await them. They even ignore a warning from a citizen passerby. It isn’t until they see a truck of troops coming back, specifically the gravely wounded troops, that it finally dawns on them what their near future could hold.
When an aerial attacker shows up nearby and one kid hits the deck, the children lambast him for his cowardice. Soon after, a viable air threat heads straight for them. The entire company hits the deck except for that one brave soldier, proving that he is just as brave as all of them. This misguided thinking costs him his life.
The onslaught continues as tanks appear within the town. The kids, without any orders to respond to, take it upon themselves to ferociously defend the bridge. They even succeed in taking down a tank, but the Americans realize that they are fighting children. One of the Americans even calls at the kids in English to stop. “Kid, what are you doing in this friggin’ war?” he yells. Good question. Another American says, “we don’t fight kids. Stop! Go home!”
The children do not listen to any of these warnings, just like they hadn’t heard any of the other ones. Wicki is saying that it was the system that placed these ideas in their head, and shielded them from the true horrors of war. When they finally see the horror, it is too late. They shriek and cry, but their fates are sealed. It is a tragedy, and their blood is on the German machine’s hands. Coming in 1959, this film at least to the younger generation is a way of processing and coming to terms with how misguided the older generation was. The Bridge, however tragic, is a catharsis.
Film Rating: 8/10
Gregor Dorfmeister: Author of the novel in 1958 in 2015.
The book was a fictionalized account of his experiences as a teenager at the end of the war. He was 29 when it was published. He was 86 during the interview.
He lived the situation. They were high school classmates that were ordered to defend a bridge. He remembers getting his draft notice at 16 and being excited. He was in the Hitler Youth because he enjoyed the time in sports, but of course they were being groomed to become soldiers.
He remembers hearing the sound of the American soldiers coming into town, which he says was captured perfectly in the film. In reality they threw eight grenades at the tank, and two of them hit. He saw an American GI leaving his tank with his back completely ablaze. The experience horrified him and made him a pacifist for the rest of his life.
The premise of the book was to show that they were caught up in the Third Reich, like “cogs in the wheel.”
Bernhard Wicki: 1989 excerpt from German TV.
Wicki graduated in 1938 and was arrested by the Nazis before the Kristallnacht, and was then sent to a concentration camp for 10 months. It is a difficult memory for him to reflect upon, but because he was 18 probably made it easier. He ended up making political films not just because of these experiences, but mostly because this was something he knew.
The interviewer called The Bridge “drastic realism,” which Wicki disagreed with. He likened it to neorealism, and noted Rossellini, De Sica, Visconti, who were his models. The success of the film became a burden on him professionally because it set expectations high. People wanted him to make a film of its caliber.
Volker Schlöndorff: 2015 Criterion Interview
The Bridge was his cinematic role model. There had been a number of war films in the 1950s, most of which were about “the good German” soldiers. The younger generation did not want to see the movies. Wicki’s film resembled some of those films, but the spirit was different. The Bridge is about death being an abstract notion and then the realization of it as a reality.
To the young filmmakers in the 1960s, Wicki was a something of a Godfather. At the time, they had reservations about the older generation. Most of them stayed away from the old actors, even Wicki (except for Wenders in Paris, TX. They all liked him and visited him, but few of them worked with him.
Against the Grain: The Film Legend of Bernhard Wicki: Excerpt from 2007 documentary with behind-the-scenes footage.
The Germans did not have suitable tanks,. And the Americans would not give them until they read the script. Initially Wicki did not want to work on the movie because the novel was about German bravery. He had to change certain elements of the tone.
The film because famous worldwide and was notable as a respectful anti-war film that showed a sea change. It had political implications.
Criterion Rating: 8.0
Criterion: The Night Porter, Liliana Cavani, 1974
I knew going in that The Night Porter was controversial. What I didn’t expect was for it to be so perplexing, confusing and illogical. It is certainly artistic, brave and creative filmmaking, but it is also needlessly provocative, tasteless, and in some ways insulting. I’m not referring to the nude or sexual scenes, most of which are tame given the Italian cinematic landscape of the time (see any early 1970s Pasolini film for an example). What is unsettling is the way two people deal with their tragic memories of captor and prisoner.
From a filmmaking perspective, Cavani is right there with her art house Italian peers from the era. The film looks tremendous, especially in this restored Blu-Ray version. She uses crooked angles for many of her shots, which adds to the disturbing nature of the narrative as it unfolds. She shoots in a darker hue, with lots of muted blues, greys and blacks, which looks great, yet is consistent with the mood of the primary characters.
Most of the early film consists of a back-and-forth between the war years and a Vienna hotel, where one of the Nazi camp leaders, Max, works as a night porter. He encounters one of his prisoners, Lucia, who recognizes him and that triggers some terrible memories.
The flashbacks are of the harsh realities of the war. There is one scene where Germans are taking shots at kids on a swing set, disturbing because it combines a playful, jovial activity with atrocity and murder. There is another scene where a large group of prisoners are stripped naked in a room and examined by the Nazis. This is not an erotic scene, but instead one of abject humiliation, not just of Lucia, but all of her imprisoned companions.
The best and most effective scene comes about a third into the film, and is a strong example of contrasting horror with beauty. Both Max and Lucia are attending a performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. They see each other in the audience, and again the memories are triggered. The wonderful, uplifting music continues in the background as we see a woman’s dormitory, crowded with cots a few feet away from each other. Lucia is lying in one cot as a German soldier is raping another woman within earshot. There are other powerful flashbacks, such as an instance where her captor inserts two fingers into her mouth, simulating fellatio. She looks fearful and apprehensive as this happens, still with the joyful music playing in the background. When we see her in the audience of the performance, her face is solemn and she looks distracted. This is not a pleasant memory to re-live.
From there the plot takes a left turn into the perplexing territory that I noted above. There are a group of former Nazis that Max belongs to. Most of them are proud of their deeds, yet Max feels shame. They know of the “witness” to their crimes and agree that she needs to be eradicated. The audience would expect Max to act according to the orders of his peers, but he defies them. Soon enough we will discover why.
This is where I have problems with the film. Max and Lucia are in love. He calls her “my little girl,” confesses his love, and they rekindle their romantic and sexual relationship in the hotel. Lucia reciprocates the love, yet there are still grossly disturbing flashbacks, like her singing a song bare-breasted for the German soldiers, and receiving a severed human head as her reward. This is what is baffling. The Stockholm Syndrome is a real thing and may have happened to a certain extent during the war, but being a captor of the Nazis is not the same as Patty Hearst being captured by the SLA.
Together they rebel against the Nazi conspirators that want to silence Lucia. He wants to save her, while she does not want to expose him. They want to live together even if circumstances, society, and their wartime past makes that an impossibility. They become the prisoners, and the post-war society is their captors.
Even though this turn defies logic, I am willing to forgive it to a certain degree because Cavani is using the horrors of war and imprisonment to make an artistic point about post-war society. She goes out of her way to reveal Max’s shame for his actions, and how he is protecting his “little girl” as a sort of penance, while Lucia is masochistically re-living a version of the worst years of her life in order to support him. They suffer in the hotel room because of their isolation and inability to escape. They starve, just like the prisoners during the war were starved. This could be read as society being imprisoned in 1958 by not being able to come to terms with the terror, with some who participated in the torture quietly being prideful of their actions, and the sufferers still haunted and unable to deal with the transformed world.
In this last paragraph I am going to spoil the ending, so please stop reading here if you have not seen the film.
Lucia had no option to leave her captivity during the war. The Germans, including Max, would not allow it. In 1958, he even chains her to the room, which is unnecessary since she is committed to remaining with him. Together, they have limited options. If she goes to the authorities, Max will be discovered and punished. Max has no options that do not involve killing Lucia, since she is the witness. Their only avenue is to leave willingly, famished, with barely enough energy to move one leg in front of the other. Their ending is inevitable and tragic, as they are shot in cold blood as they try to cross the bridge. We can tell from their body language that they have accepted this ending as inevitable. In some respects, this is also Cavani attempting a form of closure. The captor and the prisoner are gone, however tragic, but life goes on. The world needs to accept what was terrible and move on.
Film Rating: 7/10
Introduction to Women of the Resistance – Cavani introduces the film and says that The Night Porter originated with this documentary project for TV. She had watched a lot of western footage between 1940-1945, but could not get any footage from the Eastern Block. She says it is the only resistance documentary that focuses on women.
Women of the Resistance, 1965
Much of the documentary consists of archival footage and interviews with women who were directly involved. The images are not sharp, but that probably has more to do with the TV format rather than any restoration issues.
As with anything about the war, this is difficult and not altogether pleasant to watch, but it is rewarding. There are difficult issues that the women discuss, and one simply refused to discuss her own situation because it was too difficult.
The film begins with letters that imprisoned women write to their family hours before they are to die. All of the letters are powerful. One example: “Don’t think of me as being any different from any soldier on the battlefield.”
The resistance began in France and united all against the anti-fascist parties. Many were killed in the resistance, men and women. The women that participated were sometimes in service roles, but they also served as effective partisan fighters. Just like with the men, they suffered harsh treatment and persecution if they did not go along with the fascist regimes. Of the female resisters, 623 were shot while 3,000 were deported to Germany. The captured women were beaten, had their hair pulled out, starved, and suffered countless other tortures. One lady tried to make earplugs out of her clothing in order to not hear the screaming. They did not work so she tried to kill herself.
There are many topics in the documentary that would form the narrative of The Night Porter. While many of the subjects did not describe the sexual torture on camera, Cavani likely heard many such stories and chose not to broadcast them. Starvation of course becomes a theme, as Lucia and Max are unable to obtain food, not even from their neighbors, yet they live in a free society and have money. In the documentary, the ladies talk about how they were starved and many would die from hunger. One way they were tortured was by being tantalized by delicious food that they would not be allowed to eat. This comes into play in The Night Porter with the jam that Lucia eats ravenously. She sees it on the counter and cannot contain herself. The only difference is that in this captivity, she is allowed to eat what is in the room, but nothing else.
Most of the stories are tragic and painful, but there is an undercurrent of gratitude towards women who served and satisfaction from the participants. After the war, these women are remembered for their service and bravery. One person states that the women were sometimes sent in with the front lines because they simply had more courage than the men. All women that survived are proud of their experience and their service, even if the memories are filled with sorrow. Most importantly there is still a sense of duty to be watchful and wary of the potential of fascism and racism to come back. We know from history that it does not happen again, at least not anywhere close to the extent that it happened in the war.
Film Rating: 7.5/10
Liliana Cavani 2014 interview – She knew right away that she wanted Rampling or Mia Farrow to star in the lead role. She made the right choice as Rampling was brilliant. She did not want the female character to be Jewish because she did not want it to be about race or the Holocaust. Instead, Lucia was the “daughter of a socialist.” She had to make the movie as a tragedy because of the era. It was not possible to make a happy film about this topic.
She speaks about the controversy surrounding the film. Catholics came out against the film, although they were not bothered by the torture or misogyny. They were simply against the sex.
Criterion Rating: 7.5/10
SHOAH, CLAUDE LANZMANN, 1985
Roger Ebert famously refused to rank or categorize Shoah with other films, whether they were narrative or documentary, because it simply could not be compared with other films. It stands on its own. As a history buff, I hold similar feelings. This is as much an historical document as it is a documentary about the holocaust. That said, it also turned out to be a groundbreaking documentary with a distinct style that influenced other films. The documentaries of Ken Burns and Werner Herzog owe a debt to Shoah, as do many others. It turned out to be a certain benchmark of documentary filmmaking, and it still stands near the top.
The right time to create an all-encompassing, reflective, history of the holocaust was exactly when Lanzmann set forth on his lengthy project, in the early-70s, which we spent an exhaustive 12-years working on until it was finally finished and released in 1985. The timing was ideal for two reasons.
The first is obvious, because many of the major players were still alive. The second is because there had been a time to reflect. Many of the stories that were told during Shoah could not have told 20 years prior. It was simply too close to the tragedy of the actual events. People could not have delved so deep into a painful past without having time to process and reflect on it, time to move on. This is the case with the barber, talking about how he had to participate in the ruse to lure unsuspecting Hebrews to the gas chambers, when he encounters people he knew. These are excruciating memories, and he can almost not tell the story. The same is the case with a lot of these people. These are wounds that cannot be re-opened when they are fresh.
Additionally, people were able to come to terms with the impact of the holocaust. Even after the war, people didn’t really know what to make of it. The fact that a nation would nearly successfully exterminate an entire race is simply unfathomable. Some that were closer to the actual events had to deal with their own guilt of being caught up in the wave of anti-semitism, even if they didn’t participate in the holocaust nor would have wished it to happen. Lanzmann captures this sentiment when he interviews Polish towns near the extermination camps. They were aware that the Jews were going away and had feelings about it, but in many respects the full impact was kept at arms length. One witness, when asked about her feelings towards the Jews during that time, boldly points out that she does not feel pain when someone else cuts their finger. Ouch!
And then there’s Lanzmann. Without his obsession in getting the countless hours and hours of interviews, or deciding to finally travel to Poland to see and film the camps themselves, to painstakingly and patiently search for financing what must have been a tough sell. His obsession was the key in making this film what it is, and his presence is felt in nearly every frame, as his curiosity and interviewing technique is how the layers are peeled that reveal the process of how the Jews were exterminated.
Shoah is not an easy film to watch. Not by a long shot. There’s the 9+ hour length, making it impossible to watch in a single sitting, and the unwieldy translated subtitles, which make you wait for the translation from Polish/Hebrew/Yiddish to French before you see the subtitle. It is a film that has to be split up and requires patience. And then there’s the actual content. Lanzmann asks the penetrating questions about how the Jew-killing machine actually worked, and the answers arrive in graphic detail. Hearing stories about the death panic, the screaming, the cruel teasing by the German soldiers, and many others, are among the darkest you’ll ever hear. Some of the most difficult portions are the clandestine interviews with German Nazi’s who proudly unveil the killing ritual step-by-step. This is a film that will leave you shuddering many times, in disbelief that such acts could have actually happened.
However difficult and sobering, it is a worthwhile tribute to the events and to the departed. The visual film language complements the troubling stories. They are not manipulative, but respectful. The cinematography is muted, with a lot of blues and greens, with slow moving cameras that tour the camp sites, or the slow-moving trains as they approach the camps that we know mean the end for thousands, but the people who actually traveled to their ends were completely unaware. Even though it is unimaginable what these people endured during their last days, weeks and months, we can almost put ourselves in their shoes, if only for a second, thanks to Lanzmann putting us there with his many tracking shots shown as the stories are told.
Shoah may be one of the most heart-wrenching and difficult movies to watch, but it is also one of the most important and one of the deepest. It requires some investment to dedicate the time to view, and the patience with the dialogue, but it is a film that almost has to be seen. However dark, disturbing and at times grotesque, by the end, it is a thing of beauty to capture such a tragic era of world history.
With all due respect to Ebert, Shoah is a film that can be ranked against others. It ranks as one of the greatest documentaries ever made and is a monumental historical achievement.
Movie Rating: 9.5/10
The Criterion boxset has three discs, two for the film and one of the supplements, the latter of which could comprise about half of the actual film.
There are three more documentaries, all from Shoah outtakes:
A Visitor from the Living – This documentary is about a Swiss Red Cross official who toured what turned out to be a façade of a camp. The Germans had anticipated his visit and put together a show of better conditions, but that’s all it was, a show. He made his report and they later exterminated all who he encountered. The interview is compelling because the interviewee now knows about the horrors of the holocaust, and talks about sensing how things were out of order, but his report was glowing. They dance around how he looked the other way until the very end, when Lanzmann uncharacteristically calls him out for either not being honest in the interview, or not being honest in the report.
Sobibór, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m. – This is one of the rare uplifting tales on the entire disc. It is the story of a young man who had previously escaped concentration camps eight times only to eventually be recaptured. He eventually ends up in Sobidor, which was an extermination camp where hundreds of thousands were processed. He took part in an uprising and describes it in detail, as it began at 4pm exactly, and would not have happened if Germans were not so punctual. Even though this is a sit down interview and there is a language barrier that requires two translations, this is an adventure of freedom that is told to Lanzmann.
The Karski Report– I realize that Jan Karski is an influential figure that reported on the travesties going on in the ghetto, but I had trouble getting through this one. He also was one of the weaker parts of Shoah, partly because his story was a digression from the majority of the film (the ghettos versus the extermination camps), and also because of his manner of speaking in English that makes him hard to understand. I did not complete this documentary.
Both of these are fascinating. The shorter one is Lanzmann talking about A Visitor from the Living and Sobibór, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m., which is brief and interesting to hear why these stories were omitted from Shoah and why he made certain decisions in bringing them to their own films. The cream of the supplements was an hour long discussion between Lanzmann and Serge Toubiana, which gives a lot of background information on the making of the film and what Lanzmann was trying to accomplish. It was random that he was given this project, and if he had known what it would eventually entail, he might not have gone through with it. We’re lucky that he did.
There is also a segment with Caroline Champetier, who was an assistant camera person, and filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin, who has written about Shoah and has a respectable body of work of his own.
Criterion Rating: 10/10
Criterion: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP, POWELL AND PRESSBURGER, 1943
“BUT THE WAR BEGINS AT MIDNIGHT!!’ frustratingly exclaims General Wynne-Candy, known to the film audience as Colonel Blimp. There are a lot of points to the Powell and Pressburger epic, and the most potent and appropriate is that in the era of the Great War, wars do not begin or end at a certain designated time. They begin when they begin and end when they end.
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is an unparalleled masterpiece. It is far and away from most historical epics, but in a completely different way. You cannot really compare it to something from David Lean. It is no Lawrence of Arabia; nor is it anything that could have come from the vision of a Cecil B. Demille or anything that starred Charlton Heston. It is unquestionably a Powell & Pressburger film, and it captures the lofty rise and thudding fall of the British ideal of civilization. It encompasses the Boer War, two World Wars, the rise of Naziism, and a lot of hunting expeditions that would yield mounted animal heads on an upper class British wall.
I remember taking a history class on the two World Wars, and we talked a lot about the actions that led to them, and how effectively war had changed. WWI was a war of attrition and ended with a harsh peace for the Germans. WWII was something entirely new, total war, and it was exceedingly difficult for the British ‘Blimps’ who used to run the entire world to come to terms with. In that class, we had the benefit of decades of academic study and hindsight, but Powell & Pressburger arrived at the same prescient conclusion right in the thick of it. And they were absolutely right. You could not fight a gentleman’s war in that era or any era since. That was the lesson that was so difficult for Candy and the Blimps to discover, but it was the right one. The enemy was not notified of the starting date and time of D-Day, or things might have ended quite differently.
It is almost unimaginable that any other actors would play the three leads in this film. Roger Livesey carried the swagger, the charm, and the pomposity of Blimp from his foolhardy youth to his rotund and thick-headed old age. Deborah Kerr plays three roles, and each one is the object of his affection, essentially the motivation for everything he does. However, it is the performance of Anton Walbrook, and the way his friendship unfolds with Candy, that is the emotional core. He has lived the highs and lows of the wars, whereas Candy has been comfortable hunting trophies, drinking sherry and hunting trophies all his life. My two favorite scenes in the film are Walbrook monologues – the one he delivers to the alien board when trying to return to England, and the one he delivers to Candy as they engage in a timely political debate after the General is sacked.
One of the strengths of the film is that the partnership between Candy and Theo are familiar territory given the partnership with the British director Michael Powell and the Hungarian ‘alien’ writer Emeric Pressburger, an unlikely pairing that would produce some of the most magnificent works of their time. You can see both of their voices in the characters, and they are wonderful.
I cannot say enough good things about this movie. It is one that I adore and thanks to such a wonderful restoration, is one that I will revisit many other times in my life.
Movie Rating: 10/10
Martin Scorsese gives a passionate introduction. He has been obsessed by Powell and Pressburger for many years, and cites them as influences for much of his work. He references the duel in Colonel Blimp, which doesn’t actually happen on screen, but is one of the best shots in the film as the camera flies away from the building into the snowy wonderland. He used that same technique in Raging Bull. Sometimes it is not necessary to show the conflict, but instead the magnitude and reactions of the outcome.
The commentary is given by Scorsese and Michael Powell. The beginning portion is mostly Scorsese, and he talks a lot about the use of color, the technical matters of the production and the staging. Michael Powell was quite old when he recorded his portion. His speech staggers some and is at times unintelligible, but his presence is comfortable. He tells small stories about the production, points out the many Deborah Kerr hats that he is proud of, and shares a lot of what came from him and what came from Pressburger. It is like watching home video with a grandfather you love.
The 2000 documentary [i]A Profile of “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp”[/i] is also excellent. It talks a lot about the background and controversy of the film, and you hear from a lot of British directors who were directly influenced by it, including Stephen Fry and a young Kevin MacDonald.
The restoration demonstration is again mind-blowing. The original print had a lot of mold and resulted in many green waves flowing across the screen. Plus the color plates and aged poorly and resulted in a disorienting view. The before and after swipes of the restoration are truly impressive. Given the condition and age of the original print, this is one of the most impressive restorations that I’ve seen.
And this just scratches the surface. There is also an interview with Thelma Powell, production stills, and the original Colonel Blimp cartoons that inspired the film. If you are going to choose a handful of Criterion Blu-Rays to own, this would be near the top of a short list.
Criterion Rating: 10/10