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War Starts At Midnight: The Three Wartime Visions of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger by Josh Spiegel

By Yasmina Tawil

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Few filmmakers have made films as thematically rich as those from writers/directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger in the 1940s. From 1943 to 1949, Powell and Pressburger, better known as the Archers, made seven superlative films that leapfrog genres with heedless abandon, from wartime epic to fantastical romance to psychosexual thriller to ballet drama. Thanks largely to cinephilic champions such as Martin Scorsese and his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker (who married Powell in 1984), as well as home-media ventures like The Criterion Collection, the Archers films have received a vital and necessary second life.

While the Archers 1940s-era septet have recognizable throughlines as well as a reliable stable of performers, three of those films are cut from the same cloth, despite telling radically different stories with varying tones. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Canterbury Tale, and A Matter of Life and Death all take place, at least in part, during World War II, and all three films depict a nation at war, as much with other countries as with itself. When we think of British culture, we think of the stiff-upper-lip mentality depicted in popular culture for decades, typified by how Brits acted and reacted in World War II. But the Archers, in this wartime trio, debated the validity of fighting a war with that old-fashioned mentality, offering up films designed to be propagandistic enough to be approved for release but that also asked what it meant to be British in seemingly perpetual wartime.

* * *

But war starts at midnight! – Clive Wynne-Candy

Oh, yes, you say war starts at midnight. How do you know the enemy says so too? – Spud Wilson

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The nuance of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp was likely always going to make it a sore spot for the British government. Colonel Blimp was not original to The Archers; he was a comic-strip character created by David Low in the 1930s, meant to skewer puffed-up elder statesmen of the British military. The stereotype of a fatheaded, pompous fool had pervaded the national consciousness so much that Winston Churchill feared the Archers adaptation would revive the publics critical perception of the military when support was needed the most. But while the title invokes Colonel Blimp, the lead character is never referred to as Blimp, and is much less foolish than he may seem when initially seen attacking a young British soldier in a Turkish bath. Powell and Pressburger used the character and the staid, fusty old notions of British militarism as a jumping-off point for a detailed, poignant character study.

Set over four decades, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp begins near its finale, as Great Britain struggles to gain a foothold over the Nazis. We first see our Colonel Blimp, the portly, bald, and mustachioed Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey), beset upon by younger soldiers in the club where he now lives as part of a training exercise. Clive is infuriated because theyve started hours earlier than planned; before the smug young soldier leading the charge can explain himself, the two get into a tussle that speaks to why Powell and Pressburger wanted to tell this story. In the production of their previous film, One of Our Aircraft is Missing, the directors removed a scene where an elderly character tells a younger one, You dont know what its like to be old. (The idea that this could serve as the thematic backbone to an entire feature was provided by the Archers then-editor, David Lean.) Clives rage at being taken off-guard leads him to thrash young Spud Wilson and teach him a lesson: You laugh at my big belly, but you dont know how I got it! You laugh at my mustache, but you dont know why I grew it!

And so, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp flashes back 40 years, a rare instance where a movie indulging in the now-hoary in medias res technique pays dramatic dividends. The rest of the film focuses on three points in the life of the man known first as Clive Candy: his time in the Boer War, the devastating World War I, and his twilight years of service as World War II ramps up. For a war film, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp offers exceedingly little bloodshed. Powell and Pressburgers film examines how such gruesome action informs men like Clive away from the battlefield, instead of depicting that action in full. Each section of Blimp shows how his noble efforts make him hardened and intractable over time, even against the tide of a truly tyrannical force. At first, Clives militaristic mantra is honorable: Right is might. But as the film reaches its third hour, he learns that his theory, one embodied by his nation, has been so cruelly disproven by the Nazi scourge that he and Britain must change their ways.

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War Starts At Midnight: The Three Wartime Visions of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

By Yasmina Tawil

By Josh Spiegel
image

Few filmmakers have made films as thematically rich as those from writers/directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger in the 1940s. From 1943 to 1949, Powell and Pressburger, better known as the Archers, made seven superlative films that leapfrog genres with heedless abandon...

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John Waters: The Musings Interviewby Alison Nastasi

By Yasmina Tawil

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John Waters, the subversive auteur behind the cult films Pink Flamingos and Pecker, watched Ryan Murphys recent anthology TV series Feud every week. The show chronicles the rivalry between screen legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford during the making of their 1962 film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Waters appeared in the shows first season as William Castle, the director of Crawfords B-grade horror movie Strait-Jacket. Decades before Murphy was championing women over 40 in his TV shows, Waters was doing the same for one of the biggest stars of the 1980s. His 1994 suburban-set black comedy Serial Mom cast former blockbuster darling Kathleen Turner in the role of a loving mother who maims and murders anyone who crosses her family. Serial Mom merges Waters trash film roots with Hollywood, poking fun at the middle-class, and the American obsession with true crimewell before the days of popular podcast Serial. Shout Factory recently released a special Blu-ray edition of the film.

Waters fans have been clamoring for a new film since the directors last major feature, 2004s A Dirty Shame. He spends a lot of time writing and reading (Ariel Levys book The Rules Do Not Apply, about her sad miscarriage and breakup of her marriage to a woman and The Son, currently), and hell be hosting an adult summer camp in September. Im writing two books, Im writing a Christmas show, Im promoting my new book, Make Trouble Ive got so many projects I can barely breathe, he told Musings by phone recently. And he doesnt discount the possibility of directing again. I have four development deals… . None of them happened, but who knows? Next time they say yes, Ill do one. Musings revisits Waters serial killer comedy and the Pope of Trashs career for a chat about sex, screenwriting, and suburban malaise.

Musings: Apart from being a great true-crime satire, Serial Mom is an interesting snapshot of the 90s. You reference things like Pee-Wee Hermanthis was during his adult movie theater arrest scandal. Serial Mom was released two months before the O. J. Simpson white Bronco chase. And then Matthew Lillard would star in Scream, the biggest horror movie of the decade, just two years later. This was also when reality TV, talk shows, and court TV were really starting to become popular.

John Waters: I was ahead of my time! I was The Amazing Kreskin!

How much of the movie was informed by that vibe? You dont strike me as a TV junkie.

I never watched any of that. I still dont. A reality show asks you to put people down and feel superior. I dont think Ive done that in any of my movies. I ask you to love my characters, even though others wouldnt.

Whats happened now is that every cable channel seems to be milking the true crime genre to the point that theres nothing new. These documentaries are not documentaries. Theyre just cut and paste jobs of the same thing over and over. They ruined the genre. Truman Capote started it with In Cold Blood, but now there arent many good hardback true crime books to come out that are well written. There are a lot of cheap paperbacks. The shows on TV are pretty bad, too. It seems like every cable station does another miniseries. The older ones were brilliantbut as we all know, whenever anything good happens, they do fifty bad imitations.

I didnt see the new Casey Anthony. I think the Enquirer was a producer. I wrote something once about why I loved the National Enquirer. Well, I hate it nowbecause its just Trump every week. I cant believe anyone is buying the National Enquirer anymore. The headlines arent funny or exciting. Even Trump supporters I cant imagine they would buy it.

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Youve said many times that whenever you make a movie about one of your obsessions, like true crime, that its over for you. How do you engage in your obsessions?

Obsessed just means interest to me. I keep reading about it. I keep files about it. Generally, I write about it now. I do a spoken word show all year called This Filthy World. I have a Christmas show that I do in 18 cities in 20 days. I write books all the time. Everything Im interested in, I end up reading it and telling my own stories with it, using it for information in my own work. To me, the newspapers are my soap operas. I look at them every day. Theyre my stories.

I went to so many trials when I was young. I went to Patty Hearst. I went to [Charles] Manson. I went to Hillside Strangler. All those trials kinda showed up in [Serial Mom]. In Pink Flamingoes and Female Trouble theres a trial. Theres a mock trial in Desperate Living. I had those scenes in all my movies. I still think that a really good trial is theater.

Serial Mom and the true crime craze also make me think of how the Satanic Panic spread during the 1980s, and people became obsessed with the gory details of these made-up satanic rituals and abuses in the suburbs.

Oh, so many innocent people some innocent people are still in jail! The Satanic Temple, who I am a supporter ofthough Im certainly not a Satanist they go around the country crashing these conventions of doctors that believe in that stuff and exposing them. It all started with the McMartin case. I went to that trial a lot. They were innocent! Their entire lives were ruined, because of that panic. Im not saying there were never any child molesters in daycare centers, but there were many, many, many who were not.

What was the atmosphere of the McMartin preschool trial?

I went a lot. I had lunch. I sat with the McMartins at the table. I said, Why arent you so angry? They said, Because the lawyer wont let us! They were all found not guilty. The trial lasted forever. People burned down their school. When they sued, I think they only got a dollar once it was over. That poor old lady, Mrs. McMartin they had pictures of her in leather S&M outfits in her wheelchair. They said children were taken away on airplanes. It was all bullshit! The children nicknamed the one accused man Ray Ray [Raymond Buckey, the grandson of school founder Virginia McMartin and son of administrator Peggy McMartin]. That was Johnny Knoxvilles name in A Dirty Shame.

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Polyester and Hairspray were made during that time and poke fun at suburban life and the idealism of the 1960s. Does the theres something rotten in the suburbs theme still excite your imagination?

I always make fun of suburbia. Suburbans are always the villains in my movies. I grew up in suburbiaand it was the first thing I tried to escape, so I could go downtown and be a beatnik.

When I hitchhiked across the country, the people picking me up in Mid-America were lovely and great. I dont think its so cut and dry anymore. You can live in suburbia, you can live in the city. Everywhere is cooland there are assholes everywhere, too! You have to weave your way through society no matter where you live and pick and choose carefully.

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John Waters: The Musings Interview by Alison Nastasi

By Yasmina Tawil

image

John Waters, the subversive auteur behind the cult films Pink Flamingos and Pecker, watched Ryan Murphy’s recent anthology TV series Feud every week. The show chronicles the rivalry between screen legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford during the making of their 1962 film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Waters appeared in the show’s first season as William Castle, the director of Crawford’s B-grade horror movie Strait-Jacket. Decades before Murphy was championing women over 40 in his TV shows, Waters was doing the same for one of the biggest stars of the 1980s. His 1994 suburban-set black comedy Serial Mom cast former blockbuster darling Kathleen Turner in the role of a loving mother who maims and murders anyone who crosses her family. Serial Mom merges Waters’ trash film roots with Hollywood, poking fun at the middle-class, and the American obsession with true crime—well before the days of popular podcast Serial. Shout Factory recently released a special Blu-ray edition of the film.

Waters’ fans have been clamoring for a new film since the director’s last major feature, 2004’s A Dirty Shame. He spends a lot of time writing and reading (“Ariel Levy’s book The Rules Do Not Apply, about her sad miscarriage and breakup of her marriage to a woman” and The Son, currently), and he’ll be hosting an adult summer camp in September. “I’m writing two books, I’m writing a Christmas show, I’m promoting my new book, Make Trouble… I’ve got so many projects I can barely breathe,” he told Musings by phone recently. And he doesn’t discount the possibility of directing again. “I have four development deals… . None of them happened, but who knows? Next time they say yes, I’ll do one.” Musings revisits Waters’ serial killer comedy and the Pope of Trash’s career for a chat about sex, screenwriting, and suburban malaise.

Musings: Apart from being a great true-crime satire, Serial Mom is an interesting snapshot of the ‘90s. You reference things like Pee-Wee Herman—this was during his adult movie theater arrest scandal. Serial Mom was released two months before the O. J. Simpson white Bronco chase. And then Matthew Lillard would star in Scream, the biggest horror movie of the decade, just two years later. This was also when reality TV, talk shows, and court TV were really starting to become popular.

John Waters: I was ahead of my time! I was The Amazing Kreskin!

How much of the movie was informed by that vibe? You don’t strike me as a TV junkie.

I never watched any of that. I still don’t. A reality show asks you to put people down and feel superior. I don’t think I’ve done that in any of my movies. I ask you to love my characters, even though others wouldn’t.

What’s happened now is that every cable channel seems to be milking the true crime genre to the point that there’s nothing new. These documentaries are not documentaries. They’re just cut and paste jobs of the same thing over and over. They ruined the genre. Truman Capote started it with In Cold Blood, but now there aren’t many good hardback true crime books to come out that are well written. There are a lot of cheap paperbacks. The shows on TV are pretty bad, too. It seems like every cable station does another miniseries. The older ones were brilliant—but as we all know, whenever anything good happens, they do fifty bad imitations.

I didn’t see the new Casey Anthony. I think the Enquirer was a producer. I wrote something once about why I loved the National Enquirer. Well, I hate it now—because it’s just Trump every week. I can’t believe anyone is buying the National Enquirer anymore. The headlines aren’t funny or exciting. Even Trump supporters… I can’t imagine they would buy it.

image

You’ve said many times that whenever you make a movie about one of your obsessions, like true crime, that it’s over for you. How do you engage in your obsessions?

Obsessed just means interest to me. I keep reading about it. I keep files about it. Generally, I write about it now. I do a spoken word show all year called This Filthy World. I have a Christmas show that I do in 18 cities in 20 days. I write books all the time. Everything I’m interested in, I end up reading it and telling my own stories with it, using it for information in my own work. To me, the newspapers are my soap operas. I look at them every day. They’re my stories.

I went to so many trials when I was young. I went to Patty Hearst. I went to [Charles] Manson. I went to Hillside Strangler. All those trials kinda showed up in [Serial Mom]. In Pink Flamingoes and Female Trouble there’s a trial. There’s a mock trial in Desperate Living. I had those scenes in all my movies. I still think that a really good trial is theater.

Serial Mom and the true crime craze also make me think of how the Satanic Panic spread during the 1980s, and people became obsessed with the gory details of these made-up satanic rituals and abuses in the suburbs.

Oh, so many innocent people… some innocent people are still in jail! The Satanic Temple, who I am a supporter of—though I’m certainly not a Satanist— they go around the country crashing these conventions of doctors that believe in that stuff and exposing them. It all started with the McMartin case. I went to that trial a lot. They were innocent! Their entire lives were ruined, because of that panic. I’m not saying there were never any child molesters in daycare centers, but there were many, many, many who were not.

What was the atmosphere of the McMartin preschool trial?

I went a lot. I had lunch. I sat with the McMartins at the table. I said, “Why aren’t you so angry?” They said, “Because the lawyer won’t let us!” They were all found not guilty. The trial lasted forever. People burned down their school. When they sued, I think they only got a dollar once it was over. That poor old lady, Mrs. McMartin… they had pictures of her in leather S&M outfits in her wheelchair. They said children were taken away on airplanes. It was all bullshit! The children nicknamed the one accused man Ray Ray [Raymond Buckey, the grandson of school founder Virginia McMartin and son of administrator Peggy McMartin]. That was Johnny Knoxville’s name in A Dirty Shame.  

image

Polyester and Hairspray were made during that time and poke fun at suburban life and the idealism of the 1960s. Does the “there’s something rotten in the suburbs” theme still excite your imagination?

I always make fun of suburbia. Suburbans are always the villains in my movies. I grew up in suburbia—and it was the first thing I tried to escape, so I could go downtown and be a beatnik.

When I hitchhiked across the country, the people picking me up in Mid-America were lovely and great. I don’t think it’s so cut and dry anymore. You can live in suburbia, you can live in the city. Everywhere is cool—and there are assholes everywhere, too! You have to weave your way through society no matter where you live and pick and choose carefully.

Read more


moviesinframes:Psycho, 1960 (dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

By Yasmina Tawil



moviesinframes:

Psycho, 1960 (dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Read more


moviesinframes: Psycho, 1960 (dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

By Yasmina Tawil



moviesinframes:

Psycho, 1960 (dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Read more

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