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November 11, 2009


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Joseph "Jon" Lanthier

One of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite films, and also a fantastic example of how the artificiality of a very obvious soundstage can add flourishes of magic that locations cannot (Powell and cameraman Cardiff were masters of this technique).


I don't really remember why now, but this was the first film I saw after I moved to Berlin ten years ago, just as the city was preparing to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Wall coming down, with all the historical examination that implied. Context or artistry or both inextricably intermingled, it completely floored me, even hard on the heels of the rest of the work from The Archers, and I can't see even a still from it without associating film and city.

S. Porath

Mr. Lanthier perfectly captures my thoughts...though Cardiff was not yet cinematographer for Powell, Georges Parinal deserves the credit for that shot (along with Powell, of course). But even more than Blimp (my favorite Archers film), Black Narcissus represents the amazing use of soundstage. At times it's convincing, other times it's realer than real, and sometimes, it's just baldly fake. But fake in such a unique way...watching Deborah Kerr ring that bell over that legendary pained chasm bellow, I never fail to be utterly aware of how fake it is, yet at the same time, I am always totally convinced that if she took a step forward, she'd plunge into an that eternal drop.
I've only seen 4 of the Archers films (Blimp, Narcissus, Red Shoes and Matter of Life and Death), but I feel confident in my sense that cinema doesn't get much better than this.

GK, thanks for the post, it was a nice way to ease into my evening after a long day (hearing 22 speakers speak about their vision of my country's film movement).

Joseph "Jon" Lanthier

Thanks S Porath -- and yes, I was aware that Cardiff only did 2nd unit work on "Blimp," but was referring more to future films such as "A Matter of Life and Death" and "Black Narcissus" where, as you astutely point out, the fakeness is also a source of uncanny numinousness. George Perinal is definitely an unsung cinematographic hero (cf the recent Alexander Korda Eclipse set) deserving of praise for the shot above.


This is one of my favorite movies. I had to ease into Powell/Pressburger, and am still ambivalent about some of their films I've seen, but COLONEL BLIMP really knocked me out. It's such a rich film, in tone and look and performance and theme, with Walbrook's speech about the course of the war, towards the end of the film, being especially riveting to me. Even when I watch a P&P film that I don't connect with, it's still abundantly clear that there is nothing else in the world -- not just in cinema, but the world -- like their films.


A good picture to take in on any day.

Mark Salisbury

An amazing film. But I still prefer A Matter Of Life And Death.

D Cairns

Perinal's problem is he was a little slow, and Powell was a worrier. Somebody is supposed to have said "Perry fiddles while I burn," and I think that someone was probably Powell. He also shot The Fallen Idol, and was Carol Reed's complete collaborator in getting that amazing performance from Bobby Henrey.

Arthur S.

Perinal also worked for Preminger on Saint Joan and Bonjour Tristesse, his advancing age and slowness caused a big problem during the lab processing of that film shoot but things worked out.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp was Emeric Pressburger's own personal favourite of the Archers work(although he felt The Red Shoes was perhaps their highest achievement) while Powell leant in favour of A Matter of Life and Death. Thelma Schoonmaker prefers Blimp and that film has always been my personal favourite of all their films, I like it above all their movies. The main reason is that Roger Livesey gives one of the greatest performances ever as do Anton Walbrook and Deborah Kerr. And the story is an epic that's at once grand in scope but personal and intimate. And it's amazingly brave for film-makers to make a movie about the death of the British Empire during it's "finest hour".


Well said, Joseph. Sometimes artificial backdrops bring emotional realism into higher relief. Here I must confess my hopeless crush on Roger Livesey, a little more crush-able in I Know Where I'm Going than Colonel Blimp, but an actor who always brings emotional realism into high relief.


Churchill didn't like it.

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