But the War Starts at Midnight!
Of William and Michael and David and Emeric and Hein and Stan and
Vittorio and Jack and Allen and John
A truly great film - a tiny epic masterpiece... one of a small
handful of films that break the mold, becoming more than a film; a
transcendent piece of art for the ages
and It came across my
desk... a wonderful gift from Criterion. Not just to me, while I'm
certainly appreciative, but to the entire public, cognizant of DVDs
of quality. Based upon, but entirely different than, the famous
English print cartoon by David Low, I consider it to be one of the
greatest films ever made.
Twenty years ago, when we were working on the Napoleon
tour and the recordation of the score, I had the good fortune to
work within Zoetrope Studios. Under Francis Coppola's aegis, this
tiny motion picture production lot, which used to be the base for
Harold Lloyd, was an oasis. Set up so that older sometimes
semi-retired filmmakers could mentor their younger counterparts, it
was the home of many faces, both recognizable and not.
I had always been an Anglophile when it came to classic cinema. And
one day, it came to pass that the lunch wagon arrived - a special
time of the day - and I found myself standing in line just in front
of a slim scrupulously attired British gentleman, wondering
precisely who he might be. About that same time, Zoetrope's Tom
Luddy arrived and began a conversation with both of us
simultaneously. Realizing that we might not have been previously
introduced, I seem to remember Tom saying something like, "Michael,
do you know...?"
And then it all clicked. I had seen his photograph numerous times,
but somehow had never thought of myself waiting on line with him at
the lunch wagon at the corner of Santa Monica and Las Palmas in Los
Angeles. It was one of those moments when you can literally feel the
hair on the back of your neck standing at attention. And
After regaining my composure, I regaled my new acquaintance with
question after question, attempting to restrain myself to simply the
past half century of British film history. All during which he
attempted to get a sandwich near his mouth.
"Did you see dailies in color," I recall querying. The
answer was that, of a day's shoot, possibly a single shot would be
returned by Technicolor in the miraculous three strip Technicolor
"How often did the cameras go down?"
"What sort of problems came of three strip processing and
"How did you light?
Poor Michael. I realize today that he probably felt as if he had
been hit by a tidal wave of questions. But the gentleman that he
was, I was invited back to his office after lunch
endured more. It took a while for me to finally realize that he
really didn't mind. Here was a man so passionate about his work
that the more technical the query, the more he rose to
the occasion. I doubt that without having him at Zoetrope, Francis'
One From the Heart, which I
would welcome on DVD, would have been anywhere near as beautiful.
In many ways One From the Heart
took its breath from those British films, The
Red Shoes*, Tales of Hoffman,
Black Narcissus* ,
A Matter of Life and Death -
the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, so in tune with
their production designer Hein Heckroth and director of photography
Jack Cardiff (just to be correct, it should be noted that
Christopher Challis was DP on Hoffman,
and Georges Perinal on Blimp,
with Alfred Junge as production designer). Francis Coppola and
Martin Scorsese could not have picked a better filmmaker on whom to
heap their respect.
And so when The Life and Death of
Colonel Blimp* made its way to me, based on a new high
definition, non-widescreen transfer, it didn't make my day or week
or month... but possibly my year.
For those who love the cinema, (or think they do)
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp*
may well be the most important release of 2002. I'll tell you
absolutely nothing about it. I generally don't like to discuss a
film's content anyway. I much prefer that people enter these worlds
But I will merely say, "Go out and buy a copy."
While we're discussing Criterion...
...I feel that I can leak a small bit of information about a March
2003 release based upon the work of another gentleman who's life's
work I hold in the highest esteem. A muti-disc set with many, many
of his films included. One of my favorites is a little film called
And it was this film that brought the greatest concern for DVD.
Compression is based, for the most part, on a continuum of
information going from frame to frame - and precisely how much
information is the same from frame to frame. Well,
Mothlight in no way fits the
mold. I don't understand precisely how it can be compressed. But the
report reached me that it had been tested and had somehow compressed
beautifully, even allowing for frame-by-frame examination. It had
been produced working frame-by-frame and making single exposures of
moth wings, legs and other parts placed on film and
exposed to light.
I don't know if he is an "independent artist" an "experimental
filmmaker" or both... but he is certainly much, much more; one
of the true artists and innovators working in film and one of the
true creative geniuses of our time.
Stan Brakhage has created his own medium on film - his own world
painting with light. That world includes over 300 films. And what a
world it is.
But how does David fit into this?
Fincher that is. For those of you who have seen a little film
called Se7en*, you may recall
the extremely inventive main title sequence.
Pure Brakhage. Lovingly borrowed as an homage.
Color and light are what make up film, exposed to silver halide
grain particles. Whether the final product happens to be in color or
black and white, it's the same thing really.
Examine the work of William Cameron
Take a look at the incredible production design of
Gone with the Wind* or
Duel in the Sun* and you'll
get some concept of what the artistic mind can do with color and
production design. There is a progression of course, as one
generation learns from the previous.
To my mind it went swiftly from Menzies to Powell, via Heckroth and
Cardiff, as they painted with light. From Freddie Young with his
shafts of light found in Goodbye Mr.
Chips and the famous scene in Treasure
Island, as Bobby Driscoll hides in the barrel, to the
following generation of Daviou and Toll and Deschanel and Almendros
and another painterly cinematographer famous for his use of color,
It's all the art of filmmaking.
Color, light and film grain coming together to create
These are all artists who have captured the imagination with
images. Telling stories with bits of light and shadow, they have
given us that particular stuff that dreams are made of. And when
their work makes its way through to us on DVD, with that "wow"
factor intact, we can appreciate the miracle of those little silver
While commentary tracks have become almost a de facto situation on
DVDs, many having not the slightest bit of import, and some being
more of a vanity situation of the participants,
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp*
contains one of the most important documents that we have on the
film - a discussion by Martin Scorsese and director Powell.
It should be noted that Mr. Powell was (at the time of the
commentary) about 82 years old, and while his speech pattern had
become a bit halting, the brain driving it was running on all 12
cylinders. We are indebted to both the participants and to Criterion
for having the foresight to record their thoughts for the original
The Films of Michael Powell &
Spy in Black (Uboat
29) - 1939
The Invaders - 1941
One of Our Aircraft is Missing
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
- 1943 - Technicolor
A Canterbury Tale - 1944
I Know Where I'm Going - 1945
A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway
to Heaven - w/cuts) - 1946
Black Narcissus - 1947
The Red Shoes - 1948 -
Hours of Glory - 1949
The Fighting Pimpernel - 1950
Gone to Earth - 1950 -
Tales of Hoffman - 1951 -
The Wild Heart - 1952 -
Rosalinda - 1955 -
Eastmancolor / CinemaScope
Battle of the River Plate (Pursuit
of the Graf Spee) - 1956 - Eastmancolor/VistaVison
Night Ambush - 1957 -
YELLOW = Available on DVD
* Designates a film worthy of
purchase on DVD.
Don't forget - you can
HERE to discuss this article with Robert and other home
theater enthusiasts online right now at The
Home Theater Forum. And speaking of that, thanks to the
HTF's Ron Epstein for the
picture of Robert seen in the column graphic above.