Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Classic Scene #35

Arguably the greatest opening scene of any film, Squadron Leader Peter Carter (David Niven) redefines gentlemanly bravery in the face of impending death in Powell and Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death. It's a little movie unto itself. Carter is heartbreaking, facing his fate with stoic good humour, quoting Walter Raleigh's The Pilgrimage and Andrew Marvell's To his Coy Mistress. He's an ideal of a certain kind of Englishness, of gentlemanly values, a chivalric echo. Throughout the war years in films like A Canterbury Tale and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Powell was preoccupied with this English tradition, and here he gives us it's epitome in Peter Carter. Niven is fantastic but let's not underestimate what Kim Hunter brings to the scene. Her reactions are just as important to the connection they make. She provides American vitality and youth, the grave empathy of her peaches and cream complexion and not incidentally, all the information Peter needs to dream the rest of the film. And finally there's the technicolour which is like no other, a gorgeous burnished glow that's like life itself as seen for the last time.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Over twenty-five years ago (don't want to think too much about how long ago that was) a friend of mine went to America on holiday, still a reasonably exotic thing to do in those days, the mid 1980s. When he returned I called to his house to hear all about it and discovered that he'd brought me back a present, a book, this book.

Truffaut had died in October 1984 so looking back now it was probably why the book was in the shops and caught his attention. I have to admit I had no idea Truffaut was dead. I was still in the early days of my film education and huge swaths of cinema were a mystery to me (not to mention what it was like to live in a cultural backwater with no internet or anything else to keep you up to speed with things like the deaths of European film directors.) Hitchcock, on the other hand, was already an obsession. I still have the book and dip into it every now and again. Here is a clip from a interview Truffaut did in April 1984, his last TV appearance, on the show Apostrophe, in which he discusses the book and Hitchcock in general with host Bernard Pivot and fellow guest Roman Polanski.