939 A Matter of Life and Death

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
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swo17
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939 A Matter of Life and Death

#1 Post by swo17 » Mon Apr 16, 2018 5:16 pm

A Matter of Life and Death

Image Image

After miraculously surviving a jump from his burning plane, RAF pilot Peter Carter (David Niven) encounters the American radio operator (Kim Hunter) to whom he's just delivered his dying wishes and, face-to-face on a tranquil English beach, the pair fall in love. When a messenger from the afterlife arrives to correct the clerical error that spared his life, Peter must mount a fierce defense for his right to stay on earth—painted by production designer Alfred Junge and cinematographer Jack Cardiff as a rich Technicolor Eden—climbing a wide staircase to stand trial in a starkly beautiful, black-and-white modernist heaven. Peppered by humorous jabs intended to smooth tensions between the wartime allies Britain and America, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's richly humanistic A Matter of Life and Death traverses time and space to make a case for the transcendent value of love.

SPECIAL FEATURES

• New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
• Audio commentary from 2009 featuring film scholar Ian Christie
• New interview with editor Thelma Schoonmaker, director Michael Powell's widow
• New interview with film historian Craig Barron on the film's visual effects and production design
• Interview from 2009 with filmmaker Martin Scorsese
The Colour Merchant, a 1998 short film by Craig McCall featuring cinematographer Jack Cardiff
• PLUS: An essay by critic Stephanie Zacharek

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DeprongMori
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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#2 Post by DeprongMori » Mon Apr 16, 2018 5:19 pm

Somewhat surprised they are not including the US cut, Stairway to Heaven, as a supplement.

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Ribs
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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#3 Post by Ribs » Mon Apr 16, 2018 5:22 pm

This might sound totally ridiculous, but I've long had this belief that when I saw this movie it would become my new favorite movie, ever, all time, full stop. I have adored all of the other major Archers stuff, and this was their masterpiece, their all-time enduring classic among those. I put off seeing this for literal years until it would be restored with the same care as the other films (as that's how I've grown to appreciate them), and ideally played theatrically. Suffice it to say, I was there for the first showtime on Friday when the restoration played around here, and it did not disappoint one bit. Maybe not as immediately strong as I expected (because what could be?) but it's definitely up there, for me.

It coming out in the middle of the BN sale is obviously cherry-on-top stuff, though. And the cover looks real spiffy, too. Love it - let's hope that Thelma Schoonmaker's also been interviewed by Criterion to bring out Tales of Hoffman on this side of the Atlantic before year's end too.

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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#4 Post by FrauBlucher » Mon Apr 16, 2018 5:24 pm

Ribs, could be your expectations were so high that it couldn't live up to them. That happens to me too.

Shocking... there is a Martin Scorsese interview.

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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#5 Post by Ribs » Mon Apr 16, 2018 5:29 pm

No, it did live up to them, because I literally do not think it is possible for me to come out of something and three days later say it's my favorite X of all time. I may well feel that way, because I honestly was considering going to every single showtime it played this week (decided against it). I wouldn't feel comfortable making such a grand proclamation without more distance - but I usually cite Blimp as my favorite of all time, which would possibly be eclipsed by Red Shoes if it didn't exist. I feel a very strong connection to their movies, and this is absolutely on a level with those two (and all their other movies, which I adore pretty much as unconditionally perfect too), which is obvious based on its longstanding reputation. Not meant to say I was disappointed at all!

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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#6 Post by KJones77 » Mon Apr 16, 2018 6:40 pm

This is easily my favorite release of the month. Day one buy. I'll be there on July 24, even if I make my sale pick-ups earlier on in the sale. The bad part about the July 24 release is I probably won't be able to help myself and only grab this one, haha.

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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#7 Post by movielocke » Mon Apr 16, 2018 6:55 pm

I'd buy this full list price day of even without the sale, one of my all time favorite films.

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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#8 Post by John Shade » Mon Apr 16, 2018 7:08 pm

Ribs, I completely relate to your reaction to this movie. It is very hard for me to pick a favorite Archers film, but this is it. I think I had this as #2 or 3 on the All-Time Project List. I envy those of you who can see the 4K projection on a big screen, but as you said, it's a cherry top that this comes out during the sale, and one week before my birthday. If it were being released today I'd also just buy it full list price on the website. I selfishly hope Tales of Hoffman still has a shot of being released before the year ends.

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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#9 Post by david hare » Mon Apr 16, 2018 8:24 pm

Finally!!

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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#10 Post by bugsy_pal » Mon Apr 16, 2018 8:27 pm

This is Criterion release of the decade for me!

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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#11 Post by Robespierre » Mon Apr 16, 2018 10:39 pm

How appropriate--released on my birthday. Can't wait to pick it up!

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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#12 Post by Luke M » Tue Apr 17, 2018 11:57 am

I might be the only one in this thread to have never seen this movie but the praise for it is unlike anything I’ve seen on this forum. I’m sufficiently excited.

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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#13 Post by Ribs » Tue Apr 17, 2018 1:39 pm

I mean, it might be a little overblown, but this is a real classic, pretty consistently listed in the top 100ish of any of the bigger all-time film polls, and it's the first decent release it's getting in a decade if not more, after every single other P&P film has seemingly gotten the lavish presentation (that they also deserved!) almost as though they were getting ready to make sure they did this one right when they got to it. I must wonder what's next for this restoration project - Thief of Baghdad seems like the next logical step, I guess.

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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#14 Post by swo17 » Tue Apr 17, 2018 1:46 pm

Whatever happened to Criterion redoing Tales of Hoffman?

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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#15 Post by domino harvey » Tue Apr 17, 2018 1:47 pm

Luke M wrote:I might be the only one in this thread to have never seen this movie but the praise for it is unlike anything I’ve seen on this forum. I’m sufficiently excited.
My take a few years back was far more subdued

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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#16 Post by Ribs » Tue Apr 17, 2018 1:51 pm

swo17 wrote:Whatever happened to Criterion redoing Tales of Hoffman?
I had this outside hope that it would be paired to this, and that's why it was taking so long, but I think it's probably just rights issues holding it up. Schoonmaker said Criterion was doing it, but maybe she wasn't privy and lacks the credentials that the Tati estate had to be able to push StudioCanal to license the rights. I was really very disappointed that, probably due to keeping the commentary, the Filmstruck upload of Tales of Hoffman was based on an older SD master and not the wonderful restoration, and the idea anybody is actually watching it look like that when the newer version exists is straight-up depressing in the extreme.

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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#17 Post by colinr0380 » Tue Apr 17, 2018 1:57 pm

Well, its no Oh...Rosalinda!!, but it will do for now. :wink:

But seriously this is the one Powell and Pressburger film that arguably has the widest appeal - a romance against the odds tinged with a hint of tragedy, and a delicate balance between flights of fantasy and darker reality. Where death can be argued with, but only when you have a good enough lawyer, or a skillful enough brain surgeon! Quite influential as well from unofficial John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John 'remake' Two Of A Kind, to quotations of the score over sequences in Patrick Keiller's 'state of Britain' film Robinson In Space.
Last edited by colinr0380 on Tue Apr 17, 2018 2:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#18 Post by knives » Tue Apr 17, 2018 2:05 pm

Seriously would be delighted for that one or The Spy in Black.

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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#19 Post by colinr0380 » Tue Apr 17, 2018 2:15 pm

Absolutely, those are definitely films that deserve to get their due sooner rather than later.

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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#20 Post by Rayon Vert » Tue Apr 17, 2018 10:29 pm

colinr0380 wrote:Absolutely, those are definitely films that deserve to get their due sooner rather than later.
...and Gone to Earth. (Is Kino still doing this?)

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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#21 Post by Ashirg » Tue Apr 17, 2018 10:40 pm

Rayon Vert wrote:...and Gone to Earth. (Is Kino still doing this?)
Kino Insider has Gone to Earth / The Wild Heart listed as upcoming. Before it was only The Wild Heart...

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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#22 Post by Luke M » Tue Apr 17, 2018 11:30 pm

domino harvey wrote:
Luke M wrote:I might be the only one in this thread to have never seen this movie but the praise for it is unlike anything I’ve seen on this forum. I’m sufficiently excited.
My take a few years back was far more subdued
I had no idea that was the actual plot. I’m even more intrigued now.

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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#23 Post by colinr0380 » Wed Apr 18, 2018 3:29 am

The only argument I would make about domino's comments on A Matter of Life and Death is that I feel that we are meant to only be experiencing the film through the main character's point of view, and everything in the world is filtered through his perspective. It is part of what makes the film so powerful, as while the film can be viewed rigorously literally, with an actual Heaven and a fight to stay on Earth (and be a satisfying watch viewed in that Here Comes Mr Jordan/Heaven Can Wait/A Guy Named Joe-way), it becomes even more interesting when seen as a kind of post-traumatic response on Niven's part to his war experiences.

How does someone cope with having inexplicably survived something whilst everyone around them died? Does that tinge every experience afterwards with a general feeling of guilt for somehow being undeserved compared to those who died sooner? Why did I get the opportunity to live and fall in love by chance when so many others perished arbitrarily?

We get a development in Peter from a flippant character bantering over the radio as he cheerfully prepares for his death to someone who finds he has something still to live for and who he wants to see again. In that sense it makes the love story much more powerful as June (or at least an idea of June) actually has pulled Peter back from death.

It is a film that walks a beautiful tightrope between realism and magical fantasy, especially in its visions of Heaven in which care is taken to constantly allow for the idea that this is all just in Peter's head, the urgency of the situation getting more pronounced until the final trial scene as he undergoes his perilous brain operation, which there is a strong possibility that he might not survive. The time freeze moments and shifts into black and white can be interpreted matter-of-factly as just symptoms of Peter's brain damage. The accidental death of his friend (another trauma, and one that is a bit T.E. Lawrence-esque) is folded into Peter's fantasy and used in a way that allows his inspirational mentor figure to live on in Heaven and continue to inspire him.

Even the eventual heavenly conflict between Britain and America (and low key antagonism with the French!) is a kind of abstraction of the potential trans-Atlantic romance 'special relationship' between Peter and June, as a situation is created and archetypal characters formulated (all of these famous figures taking an active interest in your tiny individual situation) whose main purpose is to debate whether to keep the lovers apart or not. If they are satisfied (much as if the simultaneous brain operation is survived) the couple can be together.

The entire film is a love letter to the world that we have inside our heads (built up of accumulated knowledge, experiences, places and people that we have met along the way, as well as our feelings about it all) that can help us get through the most difficult experiences of our lives. In that sense all of our Heavens are uniquely tailored to each of us!

The film is so powerful because the viewer can take it both ways - magical or mundane - and both approaches are valid!
Last edited by colinr0380 on Thu Apr 19, 2018 3:29 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#24 Post by bugsy_pal » Wed Apr 18, 2018 9:59 pm

Nicely put Colin!

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Re: 939 A Matter of Life and Death

#25 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Apr 19, 2018 3:18 am

Thanks! As well as being the perfect entry point for general audiences A Matter of Life and Death also feels interesting to unlocking the themes in later films as well. If we see the film all about a fantasy world that comes about in the wake of a traumatic experience, this film is the 'love conquers all' version of the darker takes on the internal concerns, fears and fantasies (caused by real world factors) of characters that we later see in The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus or even Peeping Tom!

And it is interesting that there is a move into full artifice in the later musical works (musicals and dancing of course being the ultimate fantastical liberation! If tragically only momentarily, until the song ends!)

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