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Michael Powell

Blu-ray: A Matter of Life and Death

A Matter of Life and Death (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)

Michael Powell and Emerich Pressburger’s Matter of Life and Death (1946), originally released in the U.S. as Stairway to Heaven, is as gorgeous and romantic as films come.

Criterion Collection

The film opens with a celestial prologue and narration providing a sense of cosmic comfort of someone watching over it all, of some divine authority in charge. It plays like the British answer to the opening of It’s a Wonderful Life, which came out the same year (is it coincidence that the post-war era inspired such a need for heavenly affirmation?), but immediately swoops down from the majestic calm of the stars into the terror of World War II and a bomber pilot giving his farewell to life over the wireless as his plane burns furiously around him and he prepares to make a blind leap without a parachute. Powell gives the scene terrible beauty—the wind whips the cabin, the fire flickers around his face, the clouds have a texture so palpable they look like you could step out into the sky and walk to heaven on them—and an emotional power to match. Peter Carter (David Niven) is resigned to his fate but his heart beats with the desperate passion of a man determined to embrace every last sensation in the final seconds of his life. That combination of adrenaline-powered strength and mortal vulnerability gives him the permission and the need to embrace, if only through voice, the American girl (Kim Hunter) at the other end of the wireless. And she falls just as surely in love with him.

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The Seattle Cinema Scene: Thelma Schoonmaker Presents Michael Powell

Roger Livesey on the front lines of 'Colonel Blimp'

Oscar-winning film editor and longtime Martin Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker, who has been a frequent special guest at Seattle screenings over the past couple of decades, is coming to the Seattle Art Museum to introduce a newly restored 35mm print of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, directed by Michael Powell (her late husband) and Emeric Pressburger, and Peeping Tom, Powell’s 1960 psychodrama of sex, violence, and the cinema.

Blimp plays Tuesday, March 6 and Peeping Tom screens on Wednesday, March 7, both at 7:30 pm. Series tickets still available, and individual tickets may be purchased at the door (if they have not sold out). Details at the SAM website here, or call the SAM box office at 206-654-3121.

Between the films, Ms. Schoonmaker will make a special in-store appearance at Scarecrow Video to talk with customers and sign copies of her films. Wednesday, March 7 at 2pm. Details via Scarecrow here.

NWFF inaugurates its own late night series with a month of Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale, a pre-“Hunger Games” cult movie of teenage nihilism, adult paranoia, and social sadism revolving around a lottery that sends a randomly-picked high school class to a deserted island for a fight to the death. Call it “Rebel Without a Chance”: part Lord of the Flies, part Massacre at Central High, part Peter Watkins social commentary as a Japanese manga turned nihilistic video game. The 2000 film from Japan never received a formal American release—distributors were too anxious about the subject matter in the wake of Columbine—and still hasn’t been officially released on home video in the U.S. (but it’s coming soon). The Film Forum screenings are from a Blu-ray. More at NWFF here.

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