Thursday, July 27, 2006

New DVD Release: A Canterbury Tale (1944)

“Pity when you get home and people ask what you've seen in England and you say ‘Well I saw a movie in Salisbury. And I made a pilgrimage to Canterbury and I saw another one.’”

So says an Englishman to an American soldier in the Powell and Pressburger film that was released on DVD this week. To me, it’s the typical outlook conveyed in many P&P films; it cuts to the heart of the sentiments of longing and regret omnipresent in much of the Archers’ work.
I bought this film without ever having seen it (the mark of a true psychotic buff) knowing that I enjoy the P&P films of this period and I certainly don’t regret the purchase. Admittedly, it is going to take me several viewings to catch all the virtues of the movie and perhaps then I can begin to really like it. But it’s abundantly clear that this film is layered with subtlety and worth the investment of multiple viewings.
This brings me to my internal (eternal?) dilemma about my prejudice in favour of old films, particularly if they are from a Derek-friendly actor or director. I have always devoted more energy to old movies. If I viewed a modern movie and was as lukewarm as I was towards A Canterbury Tale not another thought would be given; but since I am beholden to P&P for much of my cinematic delight, this movie gets a second, third and fourth chance.
The story of 3 “pilgrims” echoes Chaucer’s work by converging at Canterbury near the end of the war is somewhat silly (our pilgrims are out to catch the “Glue Man,” a creep who’s been assaulting village girls with --yes, horror or horrors-- glue) but there seems to be a certain English mythology at work. Most enjoyable. One of the special features visits the locations the movie was filmed on, which I naturally eat up, and it’s truly surprising how lyrical the countryside still looks. Looks like a place that one must visit and revisit, much like this film itself.

Derek’s Essential Powell and Pressburger:
I Know Where I’m Going (1945)
A stark and beautiful continuation of A Canterbury Tale, with a simpler, more focused story and very appealing performances.
A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
A rather magical film that ends on an annoyingly patriotic note. The rest is superb.
Black Narcissus (1947)
My favourite P&P film. Sexually repressed nuns high in the Himalayas- what’s better than that?
The Red Shoes (1948)
Their most famous film takes some time to warm up to but the color, sets and music make it a one-of-a-kind movie experience.

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