The life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is a classic of British cinema. It stars a wonderful Roger Livesey as Colonel Candy, Deborah Kerr as a variety of great women and Anton Walbrook as a complex and sympathetic German character. Something that caused controversy at the time, but reveals a liberal and cosmopolitan view that is lovely to see. My ace friend Nat had given me a box set of eleven Powell & Pressburger films about three years ago so I have seen it before. I have to admit that it isn’t one of my favourites (I much prefer A Matter of Life and Death and The Red Shoes), but it is always nice to see wartime British films. I used to collect Utility/CC41 clothing and furniture and have always had an interest in that period of history. I also enjoyed this film a lot more on the second viewing.
I loved the tapestry opening sequence. It was a weekend of good opening sequences, I especially enjoyed the neon lights in My Man Godfrey. A good opening sequence is crucial in a film and sets the tone. Obviously the Saul Bass era was especially rich, I will always remember dad showing me the opening of Walk on the Wild Side, but there are some great ones being made now. The Catch Me If You Can titles were lovely and lots of telly programmes make an effort with them – Mad Men, Dexter – that always makes me happy.
For some reason I never remember it being in colour and yet, of course, the beautiful Technicolor cinematography is crucial to its success. It photographs the lush mise-en-scene perfectly. I guess I think that Britain in the middle of the century was black and white. I still have to check that The Ladykillers is in colour, it seems wrong.
The narrative is beautifully structured in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. From the very complex initial present day Turkish bath sequence and transition in him coming out of the bath, weaving the cloth in a factory to show they are getting married to the use of taxidermy to show movement of time. Surely the only time this has ever been done in a film?
Although this film has a focus on the male protagonist and war, there is a lot of proto-feminist ideas from Kerr’s character, such as what roles where left open to women and why she is a Governess. I love that she is accused of being a Suffragette as an insult.
This film has some lovely messages. It is obviously about friendships crossing borders, but it is also about lives past and to not let the young judge the old.
I think I want to focus on what is Britishness. I could do this through words (I like the idea of British and American English being confused in the film), or images or moving images.