Posts Tagged With: Powell and Pressburger

When Life is Up For Sale

ATTENTION: NSFW and some disturbing content below and links. For mature readers only.

As I wrote earlier, I’ve been on a film kick lately. I’m usually attracted to stuff which explores metaphysical themes anyway so I struggled with writing this blog post and whether to publish it or not. I then decided, that as disturbing, ugly and painful as some aspects may be, in the end, the message is too important to pass up.

Pier Paolo Pasolini was a bit of a genius polymath. A writer, journalist, art critic, poet, painter, actor, novelist, philosopher, intellectual, political commentator, and finally, film maker and director, there was not much on the creative side of culture he did not study or work in. More than a little ahead of his time, Pasolini often stumped or enraged the critics of his day and nearly 40 years after his death, people are just starting to understand him and his work with a deeper appreciation, mostly because for his uncanny foresight and prescience of the world to come.

Film poster of  "The Canterbury Tales"

Film poster of “The Canterbury Tales”

 

Pasolini had made a trio of films called the Trilogy of Life, which included “Decameron”(1971), “The Canterbury Tales”(1972) and “The Flower of the 1001 Nights”(1974) which in themselves were bawdy, lusty but joyful depictions of human sexuality. There is a joy and playfulness in the Trilogy which is pretty obvious to anyone who takes the time to watch them. Pasolini was no prude. He was openly gay in a time and culture when that was socially unacceptable and no doubt that bled into his work.

Criterion Collections DVD jacket cover for "Salo"

Criterion Collections DVD jacket cover for “Salo”

His next and final film was the mother lode.
In 1975, Pasolini did Salò, (or The 120 Days of Sodom), based of course, on the notorious book by the Marquis de Sade. Only Pasolini changed the setting completely and placed it in the final days of Fascist Italy in the 1940s. (Before I go any further, I should warn anyone who wants to watch this film or take it lightly that this is a VERY disturbing film, and not in a slasher-horror film kind of way. Even if  nothing is real in the film and props and fakes were used, the content is very troubling. You have to be very, very , very strong to watch it and should weaker, more delicate souls watch this, it will affect you on a subconscious level so you’ve been warned and need to take personal responsibility if you decide to watch it.)

The 4  aristocrats, representing Royalty, Clergy, Law, and Political Leadership

The 4 aristocrats, representing Royalty, Clergy, Law, and Political Leadership

The film instantly was banned in practically every country in the world because of its graphic depictions of sexual mutilation, sadism, mental and physical torture and coprophagia. It remains banned in Malaysia and Singapore even now. There’s not much to the plot, only in Republic of Salò, the Fascist-occupied part of Italy, in 1944, four wealthy men of power, the Duke (Royalty), the Bishop (Religion/Clergy), the Magistrate (the Law), and the President (the Leader/Executive), agree to marry each other’s daughters as the first step in a debauched ritual. They recruit four teenage boys to act as guards and four young soldiers (called “studs), who are chosen because of their large physical genital endowments. They then kidnap nine young men and nine young women and take them to a palace near Salò. Accompanying them are four middle-aged prostitutes, also collaborators, who recount arousing stories for the men of power, who, in turn, sadistically exploit their victims.

The four older prostitutes.

The four older prostitutes.

The story depicts some of the 120 days at the palace, during which the four men come up with even more abhorrent tortures and humiliations for their own pleasure. The film follows four different segments inspired by Dante’s Inferno, the Anti-Inferno, the Circle of Manias, the Circle of Shit and the Circle of Blood. I am not going to recount what happens in the film, you can read that elsewhere, but rather focus on what the film and it’s aftermath really shows up.

The kidnapped.

The kidnapped, at right.

Reader, this film will break your heart and your shake your will to live.
I had to force myself to watch it through and had a good cry afterwards but as horrific as the scenes and actions are, there is a method to the madness here and I understand what Pasolini was trying to warn us of. Pasolini understood what market forces ultimately do to human beings, human souls and human bodies. When life becomes commoditized to market forces, that’s when the real torture begins. When you lose respect for life and look at it as a commodity, you lose your ability to feel any empathy and start treating others as objects to your own whims and inclinations – and the results often do end up becoming horrific.

Various contestants from the reality TV show, "The Swan" where candidates show up for extreme plastic surgery and surgical makeovers.

Various contestants from the reality TV show, “The Swan” where candidates showed up for extreme plastic surgery and surgical makeovers.

Pasolini saw the writing on the wall back in 1975, before globalization really took hold of the world, before drug cartels controlled economies and before Banksters, Royalty, Religion, Law and Political Leaders hoodwinked the public to pay for their gross ineptitude and greedy appetites. He understood and saw all too clearly what the final outcome was going to be and started to ring the warning bell in the most brutal, urgent way possible. Unfortunately, he paid the price for it with his life. Shortly after production wrapped, Pasolini was brutally murdered in what many suspect was a Mafia hit. He was run over by a car, several times in a row, and pictures of his mangled, crushed body were published in the newspapers, shocking the Italian public even more. Somehow man and myth became one.

Matching gold toilet and bidet, from the Dubai Boat Show.

Matching gold toilet and bidet, from the Dubai Boat Show. Does anyone really need this?

 

The antithesis of “Salo”, a film which argues very well against this materialism, I think is “A Canterbury Tale” (1944) by the dynamic duo of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Set in wartime England, and like Geoffrey Chaucer’s original story of a group of eccentric pilgrims on their way to Canterbury Cathedral, it follows three young people: British Army Sergeant Peter Gibbs, US Army Sergeant Bob Johnson (played by real-life Sergeant John Sweet), and a land girl, Miss Alison Smith.

(L toR) Sargeant Bob, Alison and Sargent John

(L toR) Sergeant Bob Johnson, Alison Smith and Sargent Peter Gibbs

The group arrive at the railway station in a small Kent town of Chillingbourne, near Canterbury, late on night. Peter has been stationed at a nearby Army camp, Alison is due to start working on a farm in the area, and Bob left the train by mistake, hearing the announcement “next stop Canterbury” and thinking he was in Canterbury. As they leave the station together, Alison is attacked by a mysterious assailant in uniform who pours glue on her hair, before escaping. The remainder of the film is about the three of them sleuthing to find out who is”The Glue Man”.

That’s just the plot. It’s also a meditation on why nature has to be protected at all costs, the true cost of war and technology in human terms, the joy of childhood innocence and that miracles do happen. Chaucer’s pilgrims travelled to Canterbury to “receive a blessing, or to do penance”.  It’s really at the end which brings the film to a glorious, spiritual conclusion where each of them receives a blessing. (If you’re feeling lost or adrift, watch “A Canterbury Tale”.  It will help you find your bearings. )

The film also highlights The Pilgrims Way, an often-forgotten walking pilgrimage route which still runs through the English countryside ending at Canterbury Cathedral, and not unlike Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain. The route is actually far older than the medieval pilgrimage route we know it as today and dates back to the Iron Age. (Quite often people doing the Pilgrim’s Way looking for blessings, end up doing penance and those looking to do penance end up with blessings. In other words, the route is some sort of karmic balancer and that is why I strongly suspect there’s a very powerful and still-pure ley line along that route.)

Map of The Pilgrim's Way.

Map of The Pilgrim’s Way.

Powell and Pressburger may have made the film in 1944, far earlier than Pasolini’s film, but I’ll leave you with the words of Sergeant John Sweet who played Sergeant Bob Johnson in the film. Sweet died in 2011 but he gave an interview in 2001 which is on the Criterion DVD of the film, when he returned to Canterbury for the first time after 57 odd years.

“When I say heads raised in the film, I do mean the spiritual, I mean that very much. This is about the human spirit. Indeed. I realized it yesterday. I saw it …clearly on the film, but I’m a little older and I know a little more than I did when I was 27… And today we’re hungry for this, without knowing how to move on it. …We’re hungry for something… For meaning. We’re talking about meaning… And we’re all short of it. We’re all trying to get it from science or from technology or…or mobile phones. And that’s… that’s silliness. There’s no spirituality in it or in the internet or facts or mobile phones…. It’s a poor, poor substitute for the spirit.”

Categories: Ascension, Conspirio, False prophits, Politico, Pop culture, Prophecy, Raise your EQ, Think like the Illuminati, This is why the planet is screwed up | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Some Mysticism in Some Films

The National Library and Archives of Quebec

The National Library and Archives of Quebec

One of the few benefits of living in Quebec is that it is easily the most leftist place in North America with strong socialist leanings. Yeah, our taxes are high and we have bad roads with winter potholes which will do a number on your car maintenance bills. However that also means extremely affordable university education, fantastic community services and wonderful public libraries with excellent collections in many languages with speedy inter-library loans.

Inside the library

Inside the library

It’s a very rare public library that can say it carries the entire catalogue of the Criterion Collection of DVDs. For those of you who aren’t film buffs, the Criterion Collection produces the most amazing versions of all those art house films you’ve read or heard about but never had the chance to watch. Those films and directors which are often quoted by more mainstream movie directors or those covered in basic courses in film studies and communication, like Luchino Visconti, Akira Kurosawa, Ken Loach, Alex Cox and countless others. The Criterion DVDs also contain those extras like rare documentaries on the making of, interviews with surviving actors or directors.

Boss. The mystical poet of cinema, Andrei Tarkovsky. If Rumi had been a filmmaker, the closest approximation would have been Tarkovsky. His gravestone in Paris reads,"To the man who saw the Angel."

Boss. The mystical poet of cinema, Andrei Tarkovsky. If Rumi had been a filmmaker, the closest approximation would have been Tarkovsky. His gravestone in Paris reads,”To the man who saw the Angel.”

You gain a special insight and understanding about the art form and a basic free education in film studies (Film was always considered an art form by the Europeans and more of a business by the Americans, with few exceptions which is why the “look” and message is so different.). Once you watch the masters at work, you begin to have the ability to discern when fifth-rate Hollywood directors try oh-so-hard to copy them or insert scenes in their films which have been “inspired” by the real maestros (and usually fall flat on their faces).

Scarlett O'Hara in Victor Fleming's classic "Gone With the Wind"

Scarlett O’Hara in Victor Fleming’s classic “Gone With the Wind”

...and Steven Spielberg's rip-off version at the end of the film "War Horse"

…and Steven Spielberg’s rip-off version at the end of the film “War Horse”

One thing the Americans could never do was portray spiritual and serious mystical ideas on film effectively. I don’t know why, maybe the puritanical religious history has something to do with it or the lack of exposure or understanding of religious traditions outside of the strictly Protestant/Catholic framework until fairly recently. When they do, it either comes across as New Age-y like “What Dreams May Come” or like “City of Angels” (an excretable version of the original German masterpiece “Wings of Desire”) or it has to be based on biblical or religious dogma like the more recent “Noah”. Mysticism, because it is so porous and open-ended, does not lend itself well to the medium of film.

Russell Crowe as Noah (you're kidding me, right?)

Russell Crowe as Noah (you’re kidding me, right?)

When it’s done in the hands of directors, who themselves may have the best credentials technically but have low spiritual insight or maturity, the films usually fall flat like in the case of Martin Scorsese‘s “Kundun” (which is why I think he keeps repeating the same themes and keeps making the same gangster film all the time – he doesn’t have very much range IMHO).

Kundun (1997) a film about the Dalai Lama. Movie was nothing to write home about.

Kundun (1997) a film about the Dalai Lama. Movie was nothing to write home about.

When it’s done right, the results are beyond fabulous and keep you running back for more.
The films can haunt you for days and more often than not, raises more questions, which then forces you to re-watch the film with these questions in mind – and the process keeps repeating itself from there. Andrei Tarkovsky’s entire body of work and especially “Andrei Rublev” (read the user reviews at the bottom), Wim Wender’s “Paris, Texas”, Louis Malle’s “My Dinner with Andre” or Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Decalogue, easily come to mind here.

Recently I stumbled on the works of British filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger aka “The Archers”. There has already been volumes written on them to say nothing of the countless PhD dissertations on their work, but what I would like to focus on is the almost-lyrical mysticism which seems to pervade their films, most notably in “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp”, “I Know Where I’m Going”, “A Matter of Life and Death”, “Black Narcissus” and “The Red Shoes”.

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger at work. They had one of the most successful working partnerships in British film history

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger at work. They had one of the most successful working partnerships in British film history

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

Roger Livesey and Deborah Kerr at the beginning of General Wynne-Candy's career

Roger Livesey and Deborah Kerr at the beginning of General Wynne-Candy’s career

This is a film about missed chances, realizing the truth of the matter a little too late and looking back on life. For anyone who has had to live with regret and then had to make the best of it, the film will ring true especially for you. The film follows Major General Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey’s performance of a lifetime) from 1902 until 1942 and watches the changes in culture played out in the theatre of war. Particularly from when war was once fought by gentlemen to when war became an outlet for brutes.

Probably one of the best close-up shots of an actor ever.

Probably one of the best-looking close-up shots of an actor, ever. A gentleman, moments before his fight.

Powell and Pressburger took the piss out of war and the British idea of “empire building” and even had Winston Churchill and the British War office on their backs for making this film, particularly for showing up the humanity of a German highborn soldier. The war propagandists of the time just couldn’t take it because the film refused to take sides. This was a film which was not supposed to be made but 70 years later has finally been restored to its original form and is now becoming recognized as the masterpiece it was. An undercurrent theme of lost love also runs throughout the film. English actress Deborah Kerr plays 3 characters in this film, a different incarnation of Clive Wynne-Candy’s Twin Soul at different stages in his life.


I Know Where I’m Going (1945)

Looking out towards Kiloran from Mull.

Looking out towards Kiloran from Mull.

A tale about Destiny, Fate and Love (and I capitalized those words on purpose here). Wendy Hiller plays Joan Webster, an ambitious young lady who is engaged to be married off to the much older but very wealthy industrialist Sir Robert Bellinger. The wedding is to take place on the remote Scottish island of Kiloran in the Western Hebrides and the only way to get there is to catch a boat from the island of Mull. Setback after setback hits Joan as a sudden storm and windy conditions prevent her from leaving Mull and Joan meets a dashing naval officer named Torquil MacNeil (again, Roger Livesey at his most handsome I find) who kindly offers her to stay at his friend’s home.

Captain MacNeil doesn't have eyes for anyone else but for Joan.

Captain MacNeil doesn’t have eyes for anyone else but for Joan.

The storm lasts a few days and with each passing day Joan and Torquil’s unsaid feelings for each other become deeper and more apparent. Joan, fearing that she is going to lose everything she has worked so hard for in her life if she stays any longer, tries to flee but Mother Nature, the Fates (and especially Captain MacNeil) have other ideas. Set against the harsh beauty of Northern Scotland, this film has a solid cult following and hundreds of fans of the film have made the trek to the filming locations over the years. No one can quite explain WHY the film seems to resonate with so many people, but I personally think that the mysticism of the story, the atmospheric Scottish landscape and excellent acting all have something to do with the films longstanding appeal.

 

A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

a_matter_of_life_and_death

Here, Powell and Pressburger decide to tackle Death, Life after Death and the Power of Love. David Niven plays Peter Carter a pilot who jumps out of his plane and doesn’t die. Death has been robbed and a trial has been set and Carter has to argue for his life before the powers that be. Problem is, Carter has fallen in love during his “stolen hours” which has complicated matters somewhat.

powell_pressburger_a_matter_of_life_and_death_gallery_2

Roger Livesey (who many speculate was an alter-ego of Michael Powell’s) is Dr. Reeves, who looks after Carter and ends up having to defend him against historical persons in a heavenly court of law. Really, at its heart, it is about the redemptive power of love on Earth and speculates wildly on life after death, the nature of Time and why we are really here. It’s worth watching just for the “Stairway to Heaven” sequence alone and the laughable “English Culture vs. American Culture” trail. Be warned, stereotypes abound.

Black Narcissus (1947)

How does one balance out sexuality with spirituality? More often than not, many spiritual teachings talk about squashing those feelings and sentiments – usually with disastrous results and “Black Narcissus” shows up how these instincts can sometimes go wrong. Very wrong. Based on story by Rumer Godden, the film is set at a convent high in the Himalayas where the wind never stops blowing. The convent itself used to be a bordello but has since been converted. The exotic, sensual but isolated surroundings eventually get to the nuns.

Sister Ruth -Yikes!

Sister Ruth -Yikes!

Having a mentally unbalanced, but sexually repressed nun in the form of Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) and a walking stud-muffin like Mr. Dean (David Farrar) doesn’t help matters in the least. The entire film was shot on a soundstage in England, very far from India yet you’re taken in completely. The fight between the “good” nun and the “bad” nun will leave you on the edge of your nerves.

The Red Shoes (1948)

How does the artist answer his or her true calling, remain faithful to it in face of outside pressures particularly, Love? Can two great passions, such as love and the artistic impulse truly occupy the same space? Loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, it follows the rise of a ballerina Vicky Page (real-life ballerina Moira Shearer) from relative obscurity to the heights of artistic success, all under the watchful eye of an artistic Svengali ballet impresario Boris Lermontov. Moira falls in love with a composer and that places her role as prima ballerina within the touring company at odds with Lermontov who has even bigger plans for her. Upon telling him of her wishes to follow her heart, Lermontov declares, “A dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love will never be a great dancer. Never.”

I'm positive Darren Aronofsky copied a lot of ideas from "The Red Shoes" and used them in "Black Swan"

I’m positive Darren Aronofsky copied a lot of ideas from “The Red Shoes” and used them in “Black Swan”

The highlight of this film is the actual ballet sequence which runs for 15 minutes during the middle of the film and is probably the most surreal, beautiful piece of film-making ever committed to celluloid. A young woman sees a pair of red shoes in a shop window, which are offered to her by the demonic Shoemaker. She puts them on and begins to dance with her beau. They go to a carnival, where she seems to forget about the beau as she dances with every man she comes across. She attempts to return home to her mother, but the red shoes, controlled by the Shoemaker, keeps her dancing. She falls into a netherworld, where she dances with a piece of newspaper which turns briefly into her beau. She is then beset by grotesque creatures, including the Shoemaker, who converge upon her. They abruptly disappear, leaving her alone. No matter where she flees, the shoes refuse to stop dancing. Near death from exhaustion, clothed in rags, she finds herself in front of a church where a funeral is in progress. The priest offers to help her. She motions to him to remove the shoes, and as he does so, she dies. He carries her into the church, and the Shoemaker retrieves the shoes, to be offered to his next victim. (In the case of the fairy tale, the red shoes can be read as any earthly enticement).

If you love watching serious films as much as I do, do yourself a favour and find these movies. They just don’t make them like this anymore, that’s for sure.

Categories: Pop culture, Raise your EQ, Those unseen things | Tags: , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

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