When Bob asks how I am.
Califone patiently, relentlessly explore the limits of a singular sound, a sound that’s been fully formed since the beginning of this century. Noise and folk live together on their records as though that’s a completely normal thing. Their albums present elements of Krautrock and country songwriting intertwined seamlessly. They’re special, unique even. I couldn’t be more enthused to see them tomorrow night. Oh! and William Tyler is opening. It’s gonna be great.
Madonna writes children’s books. Yes, that Madonna.
Herein follow my thoughts on a movie I’ve recently watched. This should become a regular occurrence. Enjoy.
I finished watching Powell & Pressburger’s A Canterbury Tale today, which leaves one with a slightly unsettled feeling. On the one hand, much of the film is typical wartime propaganda and mid-’40s whodunit. However, sections of the film (the latter third in particular) leave the viewer with a strangely euphoric sensation through their use of romantic and religious imagery.
Released in 1944, A Canterbury Tale follows Alison, a buoyant but sad English landgirl, Bob, an American soldier in England soon to be shipped to the mainland, and Peter, Bob’s English counterpart. Through chance, and Bob’s misunderstanding, they all come together at night in Chillingbourne, a hamlet outside of Canterbury. In the beginning of the weak “glue man” arc, a mysterious phantom (later revealed to be the magistrate and local historian Thomas Colpepper) dumps glue on Alison’s hair. Good chunks of the next hour are spent discussing or finding out the glue man’s identity. This whole sequence is, as I said, weak. Nevertheless, once Colpepper’s character complexities and motives are revealed, the silliness stops bothering you. Additionally, Sheila Sim, who played Alison, revealed in a 2006 interview that the original crime was supposed to be a man with a knife cutting open the dresses of the local girls. This sexual assault makes for a much more sinister terror and a much less comical chase to find a “glue man”.
I’m tired of writing about the particulars of the plot, though. The real power of the film lies in its ability to transform an old church, an uplifted head, or a ray of light into breathtaking inspiration. Despite the clunky propaganda of Bob’s conversation with the little boy, I was still drawn into the glorification of the pastoral English village and its inhabitants and eccentricities. Despite how silly the glue man chase is, I was still sucked into the discussion of his fate in the train and his ultimate blessing instead of penance. In fact, the film does a great number of things wrong. Bob is an annoying-voiced rube, but I still rooted for him to get his girl back. Why? The aforementioned expressionistic scenes that are cut throughout the first two thirds and which dominate the final third. Much has been (rightly) made of the scene in which Alison climbs the hill and first sees the church at the same point the pilgrims would have. Here we are in nature…on this imperfect earth, and we are reminded of it at every turn. Colpepper practically devours Alison with his eyes during their conversation, he a married middle aged man and she in mourning for her deceased fiancé. Yet the physical lust is below the surface. Their conversation, though meaningful, is truly innocent…two people who love this hill, this view, this idealized version of their country. From this scene on, the film takes on a quality that I can only describe as heavenlike. Even when the tone is jolted by the marching band (this is a nationalist film after all) or Bob’s army buddy, it seems like an aberration, a pesky fly rather than a return to reality. And really, Bob’s friend sees him through his lense initially, as though to say that he is on the outside of this bliss…nothing more than a means of delivering letters. See Bob’s face uplifted as he is awestruck by the cathedral ceiling and its woodwork. See Peter entranced in the fulfillment of his boyhood dream to really play a great church organ, while he’s been used to the worldly pleasures of cinema organ. See Alison overcome with shock and then joy as her fiancé is, literally for the sake of the plot, raised from death. In this denouement, the viewer is taken through heaven.
So what is this paradise? Does it represent the only thing worth fighting for? Peter and Bob are, after all, very potentially going to their deaths, and at the time, there was no guarantee that Germany wouldn’t bomb England indefinitely. Is it the euphoric state of being at one with the material world, as the primary characters are before they take their ride to Canterbury? Death is, after all, a prerequisite to both being buried (literally at one with the earth) and being admitted to paradise. Or perhaps this heaven is experienced when one simply seeks it, as the characters each do. Their blessings are poured out as soon as they take the effort to get into this place that’s been at the heart of the film for so long but never actually entered until this moment.
The film leaves the question unanswered, but it is indeed glorious, as Colpepper says. They followed the old road and reached their destination.
Cannot Un-see… Where’s their Wookies?
People tend to forget that, before the forced postwar expulsion of Germans from Poland, much of what is now Poland was German…either in ethnicity or national fact.