BFI Classics: A Matter Of Life And Death

Author: Ian Christie

I studied AMOLAD (1946) (that’s what we in the know call it) at university and have since been a firm Powell and Pressburger fan. So it was with quite a lot of excitement that I approached this little book, expecting new insights and behind-the-scenes info. Unfortunately what I got was a book so filled with its own sense of self-importance that I struggled to make head or tale of it. Unless you’re an academic yourself (Christie himself is a professor of film and media history at Birkbeck), or have a dictionary of both film and literary theory on hand throughout, there’s very little to be gained from this. If you are very, very clever (or have those two books handy) then you may find Christie’s detailed analysis of the film’s historical context enlightening. The section on the production also provides some interesting insights into the (then) new world of technicolour and there’s some well researched background on Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and their previous and later films.

First published in 2000, this edition is a straight reprint which is a shame; some updated material, perhaps considering AMOLAD’s influence in our age of largely secular, CGI-dependent filmmaking, could have made for a more engaging read for younger fans (AMOLAD v Avatar! No?). Christie is obviously a huge fan of both the film and the Archers in general and perhaps I’m doing him a disservice – maybe I’m just too dumb to appreciate his intellectualisms. But as someone who is also a huge fan of both P&P and David Niven, it would have been nice to read something more accessible. Some attractive stills from in front of and behind the scenes soften the blow slightly, but I would recommend this for hardened cinephiles only. For me, the cold analysis served mainly to belittle much of the film’s magic.

Emma Wilkin

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