A Matter of Life and Death (1947)

It takes something special for a film from the ’40s to inspire a song by Phil Collins and a sequence in the Harry Potter series, but if there ever were a special film it’s this romantic fantasy. Writer-directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger wanted to explore the state of Anglo-U.S. relations as World War II was ending, so they constructed this tale of a British pilot (David Niven) who cheats Death due to a mix-up in heaven when his plane crashes. Before fate can catch up with him, he falls in love with an American servicewoman (Kim Hunter) stationed in England, then has to defend his new life in a heavenly trial. The production was a massive undertaking, with the team having to wait nine months just to get the film stock they needed to shoot in Technicolor. The massive escalator to heaven, dubbed “Operation Ethel” by the crew, took three months to build. But the finished film was a spectacular success that continues to draw fans, dazzled by its delicate acting, wonderful combination of black and white with Technicolor and highly original fantasy sequences, achieved without aid of computer animation.

Dir. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

In attendance: Thelma Schoonmaker