Michael Powell Double Feature [2 Discs] [DVD]

Two Michael Powell movies from very different parts of the director's 40-year career -- one of them very long-awaited in the United States -- have made their debut with this double DVD set from Columbia Tri-Star. A Matter of Life And Death (aka Stairway To Heaven) (1946) marked the end (and the peak) of a string of extraordinary wartime films made by Powell and his writer/director/producer partner Emeric Pressburger. Starring David Niven and Kim Hunter with Roger Livesey, Marius Goring, and Raymond Massey, and shot in a strange mix of Technicolor and monochrome, it has long been avaiable as a Region 2 disc in England, which included that participation of cinematographer Jack Cardiff. For this release, the producers have included a commentary track by Ian Christie, a longtime writer on the movies of Powell and Pressburger, and an introduction by Martin Scorsese, an admirer of both filmmakers. Christie's commentary is lively and informative, though he misses a few opportunities to delve further into certain aspects of the production, the cast and crew's work, and the stylistic unity of the movie's aesthetics. The full-screen (1.33-to-1) transfer of the movie overcomes some of the problems inherent in the source material that have marred theatrical showings over the last couple of decades, though some graininess and other deficiencies does remain in certain of the black-and-white sequences. The second film in the package, Age Of Consent (1969), came at the end of Powell's directorial career, though it was also the beginning of the screen career of co-star Helen Mirren, who contributes a very generous, moving on-camera reminiscence of the production and the participants. Also present in framing interviews are the director's son, {$Kevin Powell], who worked on the picture, and the husband-and-wife underwater cinematography team who photographed those sequences; and there is a commentary track by film historian Kent Jones. Age Of Consent, which is shown here in its unedited and uncensored director's cut, has gotten a stunning letterboxed transfer (1.85-to-1) that makes it almost of demonstration quality. The sound on both movies is also mastered at a very healthy volume, though the 23-year newer Age Of Consent also has an advantage in this area. And Jones's commentary is a good companion to Christie's, as he is able to focus more on Powell's post-war output in discussing various attributes of the newer movie. Each disc opens automatically to an easy-to-use two-layer menu that is simple to maneuver around.
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Special Features

  • A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway To Heaven)
  • Director Martin Scorsese on A Matter Of Life and Death
  • Commentary by Historian Ian Christie
  • Age of Content - Director Martin Scorsese on Age of Content
  • Commentary with Historian Kent Jones
  • Making of Age of Content
  • Helen Mirren: A Conversation With Cora
  • Down Under with Ron and Valerie Taylor
  • Closed Captioned


A Matter of Life and Death
Also known as Stairway to Heaven, A Matter of Life and Death is the remarkable British fantasy film that became the surprise hit of 1946. David Niven stars as Peter Carter, a World War II RAF pilot who is forced to bail out of his crippled plane without a parachute. He wakes up to find he has landed on Earth utterly unharmed...which wasn't supposed to happen according to the rules of Heaven. A celestial court argues over whether or not to claim Carter's life or to let him survive to wed his American sweetheart (Kim Hunter). During an operation, in which Carter hovers between life and death, he dreams that his spirit is on trial, with God (Abraham Sofaer) as judge and Carter's recently deceased best friend (Roger Livesey) as defense counsel. The film tries to have it both ways by suggesting that the heavenly scenes are all a product of Carter's imagination, but the audience knows better. Among the curious but effective artistic choices in A Matter of Life and Death was the decision to film the earthbound scenes in Technicolor and the Heaven sequences in black-and-white. The film was a product of the adventuresome team known as "The Archers": Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Age of Consent
James Mason is Bradley Morahan, an Australian artist far away from home and trying to prod his muse in the bowels of New York City. Disgusted with life in the big city, Bradley decides to return to his roots and heads back home to Australia. Once there, he decides to become a Gauguin primitive and sets up shop on a deserted island on the Great Barrier Reef. To his disappointment, however, he discovers the island is populated by a drunken old harridan (Neva Carr-Glyn) and her attractive granddaughter Cora (Helen Mirren). One look at Cora, and Bradley excitedly begins to mix his pigments, offering Cora a job as his model. Soon enough, Cora goes native and poses for Bradley in the raw. Love is, of course, in the air. But just as things seem to being going fine in every way, Bradley's old friend Nat (Jack MacGowran) appears on the island out of the blue and proceeds to rob Bradley blind. Barely recovered from the theft, Bradley must also deal with an irate grandma, who discovers that Cora has been posing nude for Bradley and has been keeping her earnings hidden from granny. Bradley's island paradise is shattered and he finds he has to deal with an old woman threatening to turn him in to the authorities for having a minor pose naked before him and his easel. The character of Morahan was based on real-life Bohemian artist Norman Lindsay, who later became the subject of John Duigan's Sirens (1994). ~ Paul Brenner, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • David Niven
    David Niven - Peter Carter
  • Kim Hunter
    Kim Hunter - June
  • Marius Goring
    Marius Goring - Conductor 71
  • Roger Livesey
    Roger Livesey - Dr. Frank Reeves
  • Raymond Massey
    Raymond Massey - Abraham Farlan
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