Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A handful of thoughts about A Canterbury Legend (1944)

Not to get mildly confessional here, but one of the joys of blogging as relatively regularly about movies as I do here is that it’s unavoidable to watch films I’d never expected to watch, and find joy in films I’d never expected to find it in. Not that I’m afraid of Michael Powell’s and Emeric Pressburger’s war time efforts, but this particular film, with its exploration of the English national character (which is a thing I don’t believe in), and its near-spiritual feelings for the countryside (which I don’t have but admittedly enjoy in my fiction) is pretty far off from my usual interests and obsessions.

The thing is, of course, that the way Powell and Pressburger treat them, these things I don’t usually feel or relate to become relatable, human, and therefore turn into something curiously universal, at least curiously for a film so focused on the very local and highly specific. It’s as if Powell and Pressburger, while setting out to explore a national character - and certainly doing that also - couldn’t help but recognize that there are other, even deeper experiences and thoughts connecting people. And because this was made by the Archers, the film also carries a sense of whimsy, a sense of joy, and one of believable sadness. I’m not suggesting someone’s putting the whole of the human experience into what was supposedly meant as a piece of wartime propaganda about American/English friendship and a paean to the countryside; in fact, I’m quite sure that’s exactly what’s going on here.

Speaking of propaganda, the British really had the superior sort, what with the film not only not pretending war isn’t hell but also more interested in truths than lies; thanks to some incredible filmmaking even the film’s “miraculous” parts feel true to this atheist, not providing some kitschy way to help keep calm and carry on but merely suggesting that hope does exist as much as loss does. Selling that to a natural born pessimist like me, born in a very different country in a very different time, is no mean feat.

No comments: