The result isn’t just Powell’s most personal film, but his favourite of his work, too, with Pressburger always saying that The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp was his. “Michael always said this was his favourite because it gave him a chance to play with all of the filmmaking techniques that he knew. He had a fantastic time,” says Schoonmaker, who believes that Hollywood wouldn’t allow a film as ambiguous and complex as A Matter of Life and Death to be made today.
“Everyone wants to explain everything. One thing that Michael said to [Scorsese] and me was, ‘Never explain. Show it. Don’t explain it.’ Marty really has taken that to heart in a very big way. That’s what makes this so beautiful. They’re not preaching at you. They’re making you feel. They’re making you engage. You might be a little confused at first. But then you say, ‘Oh, I see.’ Then you really start to be enchanted.”
To this day, young film fans tell Schoonmaker how astounded they are by A Matter of Life and Death. “I think so much of it is the boldness and the humour and just the love story. It constantly challenges and shocks,” she says, with Christie adding that he believes its messages of love, hope, and intellectualism are so perennial that it can always be reinterpreted.
“That’s the measure of a great work of art. I always tell students that the definition of a classic is something that can be reinterpreted quite differently at different times,” he explains. “We pick to see different things in it because of where we’re at in that moment.”
Thankfully, Powell was well aware of the film’s importance and legacy before his death at the age of 84. Even in his final moments, Schoonmaker could see the zest for life that made A Matter of Life and Death so inspiring and life-affirming.
“He always said about this movie, ‘Love involves sacrifice and sacrifice is about love.’ So when [June] steps on the stairway to give up her life for [Peter], that is Michael Powell. He would have done that for me, and I would have done it for him. He did not have a fear of death. Even when he died, a smile appeared on his face… He just loved life. He knew how to live life. Some artists are so tortured and neurotic and he wasn’t that way. He savoured every second of life. He was wonderful to live with for that reason. It was a joy always.”
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