New DVDs: Two by Michael Powell

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Two more important films by Michael Powell have made their way to DVD, thanks to Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and the Film Foundation:  “A Matter of Life and Death,” from the height of Powell’s British prestige period (1946) and the late-career “Age of Consent,” which dates (1969) from Powell’s wandering-in-the-wilderness days, after the scandal of “Peeping Tom” made him virtually unemployable in England.  This site herewith demonstrates its seriousness of purpose by declining to publish the obligatory “Age of Consent” screen grab of a topless Helen Mirren and offering instead a topless Michael Powell (above, with star and co-producer James Mason).  My New York Times review is here.

435 comments to New DVDs: Two by Michael Powell

  • Alex Hicks

    .. and what of those who don’t like either late-Fosse “integration of dance and editing rythms” or the relentless pulse of the bump-and-grind UMPH-UMPH-UMPH metaphysic that underlies it, permeating the film, and who can find nothing more admirable in the film than Catherine Zeta-Jones’ aerobic virtuosity?

  • Bill Condon does have some very good films behind him, Carlye, most notably his biography of James Whale, “God and Monsters” — a lovely, lyrical tribute to a difficult, unhappy man. I was disappointed by “Dreamgirls,” which seemed only a slight improvement over the slapdash nature of “Chicago,” but I’m sure we’ll be hearing from him in the futre (if only because he’s producing this year’s Oscar show).

  • Carlye

    Dave! Nice to hear your voice again! Yes, yes – “Gods and Monsters” is a solid movie, as is “Kinsey.” I just wish he would keep away from musicals. But it seems he’s become the Hollywood guy with all the answers as far as “tuners” are concerned – he and Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. I personally wish all three would step off where musicals are concerned.

  • jbryant

    Blake: re your comment of 1:42 pm on 1/13: I understood that you appreciated the Chicago cast singing their own numbers — I was simply using your point as a springboard for my own. I didn’t mean to sound as if I were taking issue with you.

    As for the film, I give it a pass because the songs and performances aren’t defeated by Marshall’s less than ideal mise-en-scene, IMO. Kander and Ebb don’t work at the rarefied level of L&L in My Fair Lady or Rodgers and Hart at their best, but within the somewhat limited spectrum of flapper era Tin Pan Alley forms, they create some clever, fun songs. So I don’t want to throw those babies out with the bathwater, the way some My Fair Lady bashers (no one here, of course) seem to approach that film as if the contributions of L&L and Shaw were insignificant.

    I thought Dreamgirls inferior to Chicago in part because the songs were mostly only okay, and not a patch on the Motown Sound (I know it’s a fictionalized take on the Supremes and therefore under no obligation to slavishly imitate their style — but then why throw in a faux Jackson 5 number that’s a near-actionable ripoff of “ABC?”). The film is basically a two-hour montage, in which a few solid moments register amid the blur.

  • Blake Lucas

    Carlye-again, as Kent pointed out, there was some discussion of CHICAGO in an earlier thread and I felt I had my say then at more length than I want to give it now. But briefly, because I did want to answer you…

    I had no feelings about Rob Marshall before seeing it, as I hadn’t seen anything he had done. This is the only film I’ve seen by him and convinced me he is a director I don’t want to spend more time with. So no auteurist prejudice, the one film earned my dislike on its own.

    As Mike Grost, reminded, I hated the cutting (and would say this about the staging too–only the cutting almost makes it hard to really talk about any “staging”). In most films, and musicals especially, my deepest affinities are for a long take aesthetic. In recent years, I’ve felt it has become important not to be doctrinaire about this–and not let a long take aesthetic become a long take prejudice–and have made a point to appreciate every kind of editing when it’s done well: I would now say regard as the ultimate artistic tool in filmmaking for any director, and especially long take directors, who are most likely to appreciate its power and not abuse it, but some fast-edited sequences in cinema are among my favorites, like the hearbreakingly concise, heart-pounding climax of MADIGAN.

    As far as musicals are concerned, I’d just like to remind that when Fred Astaire started and quickly became a star and so had cachet, he insisted his full body be filmed in dances always, and basically pioneered the long take aesthetic for musical numbers along with this. All the great directors of musicals essentially followed this and for me all great musicals do. I don’t know where that leaves Bob Fosse, who does have a sense of rhythm in the way cutting and dancing integrate but I’m ambivalent about it. It’s still hard for me to understand how someone who has been a dancer would let himself film musical numbers this way. This becomes even more hard to bear in the hands of a Marshall, who has no talent. Again, he was a dancer too–but just give some one that toy train set of what they think is cinema and more is more you know.

    My second objection to CHICAGO is its mean-spiritedness. It seemed to despised all of its characters and to hold its world in a kind of contempt all too familiar in so many films now, and a shallow contempt too. I’m not saying this subject shouldn’t have cynicism–I liked the movie ROXIE HART (William Wellman) from the same material, which is cynical but not mean and contemptuous about it. So there is a contrast one can legitimately make.

    I actually believe my two points are related, because the corruption of presentation of the movement of the body in space in a musical might be legtimately seen as a reflection of a corrupt view of humanity and the world.

    Pauline Kael felt she only needed to see a film once because she got it all the first time. I feel that with a good film that’s not true, and one gets more and more as one goes back to it. But I also agree with what someone said earlier here (if I recall it right), that many films are not even worth seeing once, so what one gets in that one viewing is not that important. This was one I wish I hadn’t seen at all.

    I hope that is the answer you are looking for.

    I liked Bill Condon’s direction of both GODS AND MONSTERS and KINSEY, and they were both appealing films to me, but I didn’t feel that way about DREAMGIRLS. However, his script for CHICAGO is neither here nor there to me–I lay the blame squarely at the feet of Marshall. I agree with someone (was it Tom) who said the key to a good film is “direction” (not necessarily the director, even the best and least can have their highs and lows) and it’s plainly Marshall’s sensibility that is all over that film in every way.

  • Blake Lucas

    One correction:

    I would now say I regard it (editing)as the ultimate artistic tool in filmmaking for any director, and especially long take directors, who are most likely to appreciate its power and not abuse it

  • Kent Jones

    Alex and Carlye, one problem I had with CHICAGO, among many, was that the dancing and the cutting seemed like they were at cross-purposes. Not uncommon in what I guess you could call “modern cinema” of the commercial variety, but particularly deadly in a musical. The only Fosse movie I really like as a movie is CABARET, and even that has its share of crudity. I think you’re right about the underlying “bump-and-grind UMPH-UMPH-UMPH metaphysic” – I find it borderline repulsive in the “sexy” airline number in ALL THAT JAZZ. Nonetheless, I find verve and some kind of excitement even in that scene.

    Did Fosse become overly mannered? Actually, at least as a fillmmaker, he was nothing if not mannered right off the bat. I always thought it was more a problem of overvaluing his own talent, inflating certain moves and predilections into a “worldview.” I like the showbiz sleaziness, because, let’s face it, the man was probably a showbiz sleaze himself, but to my eyes, that’s sort of all there is in LENNY or STAR 80 or ALL THAT JAZZ.

    But I love his dancing and even his acting and his choreography in other people’s movies. Carlye, have you ever seen GIVE A GIRL A BREAK? A small, minor film, but a lovely one.

    Whenever I watch a Bill Condon movie, I feel like I’m watching a child play with blocks – one shot, then another, followed by another, and so on. And on. And on. No rhythm, no feeling for movement within the frame. I’m sorry to say that I did not care for GODS AND MONSTERS despite its excellent story and casting. But I did not see DREAMGIRLS and probably should have.

  • Brian Dauth

    As if they were reading these posts, NYC’s Film Forum will present an Evening with Marni Nixon on Monday, February 23rd.

  • Carlye

    Kent, yes, I an familiar with “Give a Girl a Break.” I’m a musical freak, after all. Liked it, but then I love the Champions and Reynolds. I also have a soft spot for “I Love Melvin” (for what that’s worth).

    As for Fosse, I liked “Sweet Charity,” despised “Cabaret” (an anti-musical, as far as I’m concerned), loved “Lenny” and, for some bizarre reason, have fond memories of “Star 80″ (I find something oddly appealing about being in the company of sleaze – and I fully believe that Fosse’s personality permeated that film, for better or worse).

    Sorry I missed the thread on “Chicago.” (How can that be?) But it’s probably better that I didn’t. I’d have been off and running. Why? Because I can think of much worse films to get upset over – and by better filmmakers than the demonized Marshall. (BTW, his “Annie” – hated it!)

  • Kent Jones

    Carlye – I too fully believe that Bob Fosse’s personality permeated STAR 80. What a personality…

  • Blake Lucas

    Gee, Carlye, I hope you read my reply. I kind of expected you to say something, but I guess maybe there wasn’t anything if we see our difference on the film. But I’m now curious, as an avowed lover of musicals, if you are as happy with a lot of cutting as you were with the longer takes so integral to the classics.

    I wanted to also stress that my equivocal view of Fosse as a director–pretty much for the reasons Kent said so well–does not extend to his earlier work in films as dancer, actor and choreographer. I loved his work in PAJAMA GAME, DAMN YANKEES, MY SISTER EILEEN as choreographer and enjoyed his distinctive style, which seems to partly derive from his own dancing. Liked him as a dancer, and he was a wonderful juvenile lead in GIVE A GIRL A BREAK, a movie I’ve always loved, and was great in THE AFFAIRS OF DOBIE GILLIS as well.

    And speaking of Don Weis, a soft spot for I LOVE MELVIN is actually worth a lot around here–and I hope Jean-Pierre Coursodon read that remark of yours.

  • Alex Hicks

    The PAJAMA GAME, like THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, gets a Square rap because, I think, of Doris Day.
    However, PJ, in its unassuminmg garment workers way, is as rich as MFL; and TMWKTM is great Hitchcock, just a shade below Hitchcock’s peak as comedy-triller entertainer in NxNW. It sets the course, and is an even more seminal moment in the emergence of the multiple-climax thriller than NxNW. Neither management nor the KGB was any match or the KGB.

    Fosse did best invigorating dance backgrounds and numbers for her kind rather instead of turning films into them.

  • James L. Neibaur

    Regarding CHICAGO, which I did not love or hate, but found to be just ok, I think the rapid cutting might have been the MTV music video influence that has permeated a lot of editing choices since the 80s. I have found that many films, especially musicals, seem to be geared towards those whose attentions have been influenced by the rapid-edit filmmaking style of many music videos. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. But when I saw CHICAGO (only once, first run) I don’t recall having any real misgivings about its direction or its presentation. No great shakes, but not a complete misfire either.

    While I usually stay away from wretched excess, I admit a real fondness for ALL THAT JAZZ, and all its indulgencies.

    Don Weis seems to be another pleasant-yet-unremarkable director, based on what I have seen (SLIGHT CASE OF LARCENY, I LOVE MELVIN, a few others). He seemed to fare better with TV. I do like some of the choice he made directing THE GENE KRUPA STORY.

    Both Rob Marshall and Don Weis are from these parts, so I guess I feel some geographical obligation to give them each bit of respect.

  • Kent Jones

    At this point, unlikely though it may seem, I would bet that the word count on Rob Marshall at this website has surpassed that of all the 2002 Miramax Oscar campaign memos put together. As the king of Siam put it, a puzzlement.

    Alex, I love THE PAJAMA GAME and THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. I’ve never heard many complaints about the first one. The second, like most Hitchcock films, deepens every time I see it.

  • Carlye

    Alex- I’m not sure what you’re getting at, but Doris is perfect in “The Pajama Game.”

  • Carlye

    Blake-

    I did read your comments. Sorry I didn’t respond. Personally, I really dislike hyper cutting of dance numbers. I don’t see the point. It’s sort of like putting a roller coaster on a carousel. Madding.

  • Blake Lucas

    Talk about a puzzlement. What exactly are you saying about Doris Day, Alex? That she’s unlikeable, untalented, unattractive? Because I feel exactly the opposite about her on all three points. She is an asset to every film she is in. In Bill Krohn’s HITCHCOCK AT WORK, she is one of the few actors (I’m having a hard time thinking of another one) who gets some privileged space all her own for her contributions to THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, and deservedly so.

    She’s one of the most gifted people who ever adorned the screen and with more than her share of fetching films.

  • Johan Andreasson

    Blake, I couldn´t agree more about Doris Day, both as an actress and a singer. Maybe I´m om two different threads here, but I think that both Frank Capra and Doris Day are sometimes underestiamted and considered corny in the same way. I´d say neither of them are simple and one dimensional. Sure, I loved them both from the start as a kid, but I think they have stood the test of time.

  • Carlye

    Blake–

    You said what I always wanted to say about Doris Day – only you said it better. Talk about a criminally maligned screen personality!

    A critic I admire – Molly Haskell, I think – once called her “America’s most misunderstood commodity.” Amen.

    Johan- Thanks for the kind words for Doris. Day rocks!

  • jbryant

    I thought Alex was merely acknowledging the standard rap against Doris, not endorsing it.

    Re Chicago and MTV style editing: I also think it’s possible that some of that cutting style may have been necessitated by the terpsichorean limitations of the lead performers. Gere’s tap number in particular is clearly edited to disguise his lack of chops (it’s been a while – but I’m guessing that some below the knee close-ups were a stunt tapper). While vocal limitations can be charming (as noted elsewhere in this thread), it’s hard to put an impressive dance number on film without good dancers, especially when we’ve all seen Kelly, Astaire, Charisse, et al. And body doubles are usually too obvious, though CGI is probably changing that that (see Cate Blanchett’s head on a ballerina body in Benjamin Button).

  • James L. Neibaur

    I also felt that Alex was acknowledging, not endorsing, a negative reaction to Doris Day. I always thought Doris Day was very well respected, actually. I just recently watched her and Cagney in THE WEST POINT STORY, and while it is not exactly the stuff of great cinema, it sure is a lot of fun. Of course the two were better served when they appeared in LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, which is among either actor’s finest performances. If Ms Day has indeed been relegated to representing “square” tastes in some circles, those nay-sayers could not have seen her work in the afore-mentioned films, or CALAMITY JANE, PILLOW TALK, TEACHER’S PET, YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN, and, of course THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH.

  • Junko Yasutani

    About Doris Day, other great performance she gave was in LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME. I know Charles Vidor is not thought to be great director but he made some good movies. To me LOVE ME OR LEAVE was good movie by Charles Vidor.

  • Blake: “one of my three favorite films he has directed, after UNFORGIVEN and about even with BRONCO BILLY.”

    No love for Eastwood’s A Perfect World, Blake? I think it’s at least half of his best work, anywhere.

    “I don’t know where that leaves Bob Fosse, who does have a sense of rhythm in the way cutting and dancing integrate but I’m ambivalent about it.”

    That sounds like a modified opinion–I remember you totally despised Fosse’s later films.

  • Blake Lucas

    Noel, my qualification re Fosse came after I was persuaded to see ALL THAT JAZZ again and liked it better. He’s still far from a director I warmly favor, but I admire his other talents. But yes, you’re right it’s a modified opinion and that’s why. I still haven’t seen STAR 80 though I mean to now.

    Yes, I liked A PERFECT WORLD, very much, especially the darkest sequence with Mary Alice and that record (tune composed by Eastwood), and other Eastwoods too. I just named the three I liked most. I haven’t seen either of the two newest ones yet, but all the others he directed.

    I almost named almost all of the Day films cited here before but just assumed most of us would agree about those. I would definitely add YOUNG AT HEART to that list. As for Charles Vidor, I’m on record somewhere already that LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME is one of the best films of the 50s, and I also think GILDA is one of the best of the 40s, and the same guy treated adult relationships in an adult way in both films, and very stylishly, so it’s hard to dismiss him.

    I will own, as Johan did, that I’ve loved Doris Day since I was a kid first watching movies; it probably blossomed when she sang “Secret Love” in CALAMITY JANE. When I was finally able to see that film again many years later as an adult, I found I loved it all over again and cried when she sang that song. I liked Jerry Lewis when I was young too, and Richard Widmark too. Any reason to say that was wrong because I was young? I’ve certainly put them all to the test many times over as an adult and only see tremendously talented people who contributed so much to so many movies I care about.

    I think in the case of Day, there was some naive presumption she was a goody two-shoes, eternal virgin, always sunny kind of person because of some roles she had. Of course, those WERE roles and it is absurd to see them outside of the professional talent she brought to them. But it’s kind of well-known now that her life was not nearly so happy–for her sake, I wish it were more like what one sees in ON MOONLIGHT BAY and BY THE LIGHT OF THE SILVERY MOON but no one’s life really is, and we should all know that.

    But as for the actual range of her roles, as the titles given have suggested, there is a range of characters there addressing many aspects of life, dark as well as light. Her characters have affairs, face complex challenges, negotiate difficult relationships, sort out identity issues in a way anyone ought to be able to emphathize with. It’s just hard to understand how anyone could complain about someone who could sing the way she does, act as well as she does–in drama or comedy, do anything asked of her as well as she does.

    I guess I’ve gone on about this too much now, but she did have years of being undervalued for the most absurd reasons. I’m glad that’s over–and do feel we are free to simply enjoy her now.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Some industry Doris Day gossip – I’ve heard from a source of some credibility that the Academy Board of Directors has batted around giving Day an honorary career Oscar, but before they get around to some resistance there is a feeling that she’d want no part of it, since she apparently has tried to completely break from her Doris Day identity for many years and wants no contact with the entertainment world.

  • Larry Kart

    On screen I like the (IMO sexy/playful) early Day of the musicals better than most of the later Day (though “The Man Who Knew Too Much” certainly used her evolving later persona well), but in her heyday (so to speak) she was one of the great female pop vocalists.

  • Larry Kart

    There’s a good deal of solid-gold Day on this 2-CD set (try her “The Very Thought of You,” with a small group led by Harry James):

    http://www.amazon.com/Golden-Girl-Columbia-Recordings-1944-1966/dp/B00000J7RW/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1231995045&sr=1-7&tag=wp-amazon-associate-20

    Also, was there ever a female entertainer whose persona changed more when she changed hairstyles (or her hairstyle was changed for her)? Whatever the specific name was for the later Day’s cropped very short on the sides, kind of corseted “do,” it couldn’t be more different in effect than her earlier flowing tresses, as seen on the cover of the album linked to above). One could write an essay about this, though I believe John Updike has already done so. I think there’s some relationship between Day’s later hairstyle and the boxy yet (so it obviously was thought) forward-looking design adopted for the 1949 Ford line:

    http://www.hubcapcafe.com/ocs/pages01/ford4901.htm

    which was a radical change from previous Ford models and which lasted (with slight variations) for a good many years.

  • She’s very good in Man Who Knew Too Much, showing a lot more steel that the fluff she was remembered for in ’60s comedies.
    Maybe someone should reprint the review Kael did for Salt of the Earth. It wasn’t mere red baiting; it was actually a very measured summing up of a movie’s flaws. Salt of the Earth’s subject matter was such that no one in Berkeley (where she was working at the time) would have dared to admit Salt wasn’t in the best shape, despite the importance of the subject matter.
    Which brings us back to Slumdog Millionaire. A poster about 200 posts back was asking for fellow sufferers to chime in if they thought this movie was rather bad. Count me in. Even if they did think it was bad, many critics wouldn’t say so on the grounds that such a comment is anti-Indian, or callous to the suffering of the orphans of Mumbai–

  • Alex Hicks

    For the rexcord, i’m very pro Doris Day. Perhaps I should have written “The PAJAMA GAME, like THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, gets a bad rap because, I think, of Doris Day perceived squareness” instead of “The PAJAMA GAME, like THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, gets a Square rap because, I think, of Doris Day.”

    Isn’t “Slumdog Millionare” a great popular entertainment and worth something for that?

  • John M

    Alex, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE might be popular, but far from great. A jumbled mess of cynical International Market Brainstorming, if you ask me. I’m impressed by its massive following, but also really, really puzzled. The critical reception has been nothing short of astounding. (How on earth did this thing win an award for Best Cinematography?)

    There are so many more worthwhile movies out there.

  • James L. Neibaur

    Re: Slumdog Millionaire.

    I have not yet seen it, but the reaction on these blogs is how I felt about the way JUNO was lauded last year. I just couldn’t figure it out. But it seems to have gone away rather quickly.

    I want to see SLUMDOG now because of how well it is received at one level, and how severely it is dismissed as simply a bad movie by many cinephiles. That piques some curiosity.

    Re: Eastwood. I’d like him to direct another western, actually.

  • Alex Hicks

    John M., By “great popular entertainment,” I didn;t mean a popularly entertaining movie that is a great movie but a movie populalry received as great entertainment. Of couse my judgement may be mistaken, but people seem to love it, I enjoyed it (though its award succcesses are one more awarding outrage in my own aesthertic terms), and my intuition is that SM is a movie that I can recommend very confidently to most people (short of those who’ll gag on the violence and the literal shit). I will confess that I enjoyed Danny Boyle’s “Trainspotting,” “28 Days” and “Millions” quite a lot, though I’d have been shocked to se them get big awards. “Slumdog” seems to me a virtuosossynthesis of the adrenalin rushes of “Trainspotting” and “28 Days” and the adroit sentimentality of “Millions,” as well as bit of a pop education in LDC poverty and unruliness, and I’m not at all shocked at its successful award-season trajectory, though “Stil Life,” ” Journey of the Rred Balloon,” Benjamin Button,” “Milk,” “Conye de Noel” and even “Frost/Nixon,” and a nuber of more 2008nfilms are more my cup tea.

  • Shawn Stone

    Anyone know what contribution Boyle’s “co-director in India” made to Slumdog?

  • Margaret

    I’m a little late here but, I also think that Pauline Kael was a very talented writer with an appealingly personal enthusiasm for film. I enjoyed reading her when my own appreciation of film was just starting to grow, but a lot of her opinions turned me off from wanting to continue reading her. Like most of the other commenters I find much of her criticism frustrating and have no problem labeling it wrong, maybe because it’s so clearly personal and based on opinion. Whereas when Manny Farber disgraces some of my favorite films, it stings but doesn’t detract from my Manny-love, probably because his criticisms follow his own logic and his put-downs better fit his critical attitude.

    Correct me if I’m way out of line here, but I see a rebellious enthusiasm similar to Kael’s in some of Amy Taubin’s writing, although it bothers me to even suggest a connection between the two. Some of Taubin’s arguments are based on personal opinion and arbitrary logic but I like how she sticks to her guns. Occasionally it serves a nice offensive against the critical uh, “gangbang,” that another commenter mentioned earlier. It feels cathartic to read her opinions when they line up with my own but even when they don’t–like her contribution to the Cineaste forum on internet film criticism–I like the way that she stands her ground. (Now that I think of it, I think that she fulfilled the ‘unlikely neo-con’ quotient for that Cineaste piece).

    Another Eastwood western would be nice but how about another one from Kevin Costner?? I really liked Open Range.

  • Joseph Bryl

    For those looking for a great deal, I recently purchased thru Amazon UK a 11 DVD Powell and Pressburger box set. Titles in the box set include:

    “A Matter of Life and Death”, “The Red Shoes”, “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp”,“A Canterbury Tale”, “I Know Where I’m Going”, “49th Parallel”, “Battle of the River Plate”, “I’ll Met by Moonlight”, “They’re a Weird Mob”, “The Tales of Hoffman” and “Black Narcissus”.

    The prints seem rather nice (although I haven’t made a comparison to the others available and for the cash-strapped the box set is priced extremely reasonably at @ £17.99). There are limited extras but I’m quite forgiving at the cost offered.

    I had the pleasure of seeing a Michael Powell retrospective in many years ago at the Film Center of the Art Institue, now the Gene Siskel Film Center. Michael Powell was in attendance and if my faulty memory serves me correct he was introduced at some point by Martin Scorsese. Besides Powell, I had the wonderful opportunity during those years of meeting legends like Joseph H. Lewis and Sam Fuller. Being an emerging cinephile at the time and rather bold I brazenly followed Fuller into the men’s bathroom, waited for him to finish his buisiness and proceeded to ask him to sign my copy of the paperback “Shock Corridor”. Although taken slightly aback he was a complete gentleman and readily complied.