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A CANTERBURY TALE

UK, 1944 (MIFF 1986, An Introduction to Michael Powell)

Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

A CANTERBURY TALE a 1944 black and white production by Powell and Pressburger. was the first of their productions to be restored by the British National Film Archive The American release version of this originally 124 minute film was cut by 30 minutes The full English release version was restored and presented in London in 1977 at the National Film Theatre, and this occasion was attended by Powell who had not seen the film since the time of its first release.

A CANTERBURY TALE is a brilliantly evocative, if somewhat strange film The film is set in Kent in Southern England, and it concerns three characters, all in the armed services, who converge accidentally on Canterbury in the middle of wartime and, as though they are present day pilgrims, find that their problems are all sorted out, as it were, by supernatural intervention, in the final scenes of the film, which are set in Canterbury itself There is the American soldier who believes that his girlfriend at home has forgotten him the country girl whose archaeologist fiance is missing, believed dead and the organist who no longer believes in his earlier musical ambitions. They arrive late at night in the village of Chillingham just outside Canterbury and the girl promptly has glue dumped on her hair in the blackout.

Who the glueman is becomes the catalyst for a story and a set of relationships, the working out of which leads the characters into Canterbury and thus to the resolution of the film. At the time of its release the film was criticised for the psychological oddity of this glueman figure, something not to be easily swallowed in wartime. While some of the tales told by some of Chaucer s less reputable narrators do perhaps deal in similar oddities it is perhaps better to leave it to the festival-goer to make a decision about this glueman and his role in the film. There is no doubt, however, that there are some remarkable aspects to this film The simultaneous command of landscape and architecture, visual elements which are superbly integrated into the film's narrative rhythms (the presence of the Cathedral across the hills the approach of the characters to it in the fields) lead most viewers to fee] that there is something deeply inspired about the way the film is directed At times the atmosphere of wartime Britain is almost as distinctive as in a Humphrey Jennings documentary at other times the dialogue is witty and evocative in a characteristically Powell and Pressburger manner, and there are many moments rich in imaginative invention,

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