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The Powell & Pressburger Pages

Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.

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Submitted by Roger Mellor

"The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" by A.L. Kennedy
1997 London, BFI Publishing pp. 73, illus.

A Book Review by Graham Roberts

Michael Powell - a name to conjure with - a symbol of a previous age when (we fondly imagine) the British cinema was commercially (possibly) and artistically (definitely) healthy. Two new books have emerged to coincide fortuitously with the British film renaissance to celebrate the great man's work. To be more accurate, one of these volumes does and the other one celebrates its own author.

BFI Classics is a series based on personal responses and can be superb. An example of the possible strengths of this approach can be seen when David Thomson brings his formidable knowledge and understanding to bear on The Big Sleep whilst also sharing his personal response. A. L. Kennedy's book is sadly not of the same quality.

Kennedy, a prize winning novelist, acknowledges her debt to Kevin MacDonald's essential Emeric Pressburger: The Life and Death of a Screenwriter and to Ian Christie's edition of the script (both Faber, 1994). Apart from that, her contextual perception of the film comes from its (unhelpful) reception by Prime Minister Churchill. Indeed, the back of book blurb also stresses Churchill's opposition to Blimp. Far more relevant should be Martin Scorsese's lionising of the film and its makers. Surely it is now possible to get beyond the tired old story of official resistance and concentrate on the film itself.

Along with Churchill, Kennedy emerges as the main focus of this book. This point of view approach could have been an interesting springboard for an analysis. Instead we get rather too much self-examination. We are also promised a view of 'how England dreamt of itself as a nation'. Unfortunately, we get too little of that too, beyond unsubstantiated cliches and, indeed, too little insight into the film or its filming. This is a shame because at points Kennedy writes with a genuine feel for the work, particularly Black Narcissus, of 'Powallan Pressburger' (as she misheard and conflated the names as a child). This volume is in the well-presented tradition of the series but may have leaned too far to the 'personal' for readers of this journal. [But that's WHY I like it, it's such a personal view]

Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television
August 1998 v18:n3. p453(2)

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