Criterion Press Release: A Matter of Life and Death (Blu-ray)

3 Stars

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After miraculously surviving a jump from his burning plane, RAF pilot Peter Carter (David Niven) encounters the American radio operator (Kim Hunter) to whom he’s just delivered his dying wishes and, face-to-face on a tranquil English beach, the pair fall in love. When a messenger from the afterlife arrives to correct the clerical error that spared his life, Peter must mount a fierce defense for his right to stay on earth—painted by production designer Alfred Junge and cinematographer Jack Cardiff as a rich Technicolor Eden—climbing a wide staircase to stand trial in a starkly beautiful, black-and-white modernist heaven. Peppered by humorous jabs intended to smooth tensions between the wartime allies Britain and America, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s richly humanistic A Matter of Life and Death traverses time and space to make a case for the transcendent value of love.

  • New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary from 2009 featuring film scholar Ian Christie
  • New interview with editor Thelma Schoonmaker, director Michael Powell’s widow
  • New interview with film historian Craig Barron on the film’s visual effects and production design
  • Interview from 2009 with filmmaker Martin Scorsese
  • The Colour Merchant, a 1998 short film by Craig McCall featuring cinematographer Jack Cardiff
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Stephanie Zacharek
    • United Kingdom
    • 1946
    • 104 minutes
    • Color
    • 1.37:1
    • English
    • Spine #939July 24, 2018

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Kevin Collins

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63 Comments

  1. Thank you for supporting HTF when you preorder using the link below. If you are using an adblocker you will not see link.

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  2. haineshisway

    Second greatest release announcement in the history of Blu-ray.

    I’m inclined to agree… after A Man For All Seasons for me.

    OK – I’ll bite. Which for you was the first greatest?

  3. Thank you, Criterion !!!
    As usual for us all, one amazing release announcement seems never to suffice; as it is the gateway to our further greed and delights; but, one can only hope that all other Criterion DVDs of P & P will soon be following.:)

  4. haineshisway

    Second greatest release announcement in the history of Blu-ray.

    and the third would be….the recovery of either the lost Chan films, or Erich von Stroheim's original cut of Greed? 🙂

    i agree with both of your choices by the way

  5. dana martin

    and the third would be….the recovery of either the lost Chan films

    Not wanting to rain on anyone's parade, but this would actually be of much more significance to me.
    —————

  6. Will Krupp

    Second only to FIRST NUDIE MUSICAL? 😉

    With respect, Will, I believe I already said that:

    RMajidi

    Bruce meanwhile might have some barely – a musical in mind?

    Never the same when you have to spell out these things <he wrote, with a smile distorted by tongue firmly pressing on cheek>

  7. Richard V

    Never seen the film but the plot sounds like a mash up of Here Comes Mr. Jordan and A Guy Named Joe.

    In some ways [e.g. the leading character’s external outcome depending on the resolution of the internal battle and perhaps vice versa; the character and viewer never really being sure as to what’s real and what’s not etc.] this film may be closer to the outstanding UK BBC series Life On Mars.

    But the thing is, in its imagery and artistry, this film stands unique.

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  9. RMajidi

    With respect, Will, I believe I already said that:

    Never the same when you have to spell out these things <he wrote, with a smile distorted by tongue firmly pressing on cheek>

    LOL. I totally didn't get that.

  10. Patrick McCart

    Especially if one is starved for Technicolor…

    And not just any old Technicolor either…

    Jack Cardiff – Archers Three-Strip Technicolor – a classification of art all its own.

  11. Patrick McCart

    Especially if one is starved for Technicolor…

    Ha, if you look at Marius Goring's lips at that point, he doesn't actually say Technicolor. I dunno, maybe they didn't have permission to say Techicolor when they filmed, or someone thought of it after filming.

    It will of course be a day one purchase when it's released in the UK (I don't know which company is releasing it yet). I must have been around 10 when I first saw it on TV (all in b/w), wide-eyed with wonder. Actually, I think my favourite P&P is The Red Shoes, but two masterpieces.

  12. Billy Batson

    Ha, if you look at Marius Goring's lips at that point, he doesn't actually say Technicolor. I dunno, maybe they didn't have permission to say Techicolor when they filmed, or someone thought of it after filming.

    It will of course be a day one purchase when it's released in the UK (I don't know which company is releasing it yet). I must have been around 10 when I first saw it on TV (all in b/w), wide-eyed with wonder. Actually, I think my favourite P&P is The Red Shoes, but two masterpieces.

    released in UK…I wonder if that will happen unless we get this release from Criterion……..otherwise ……………….. ?

  13. commander richardson

    released in UK…I wonder if that will happen unless we get this release from Criterion……..otherwise ……………….. ?

    I'd think Network are the favourites (they released Black Narcissus), after that maybe Arrow or Eureka or Criterion UK. It will happen.

  14. Patrick McCart

    Day one purchase. Anyone on the fence should just go ahead and get it because you won't be disappointed.

    Especially if one is starved for Technicolor…

    I always thought that "A Matter of Life and Death" was in Black and White. Guess my Kinescope copy was really older than I had ever realized.:roll:

    P.S. The only reason I'm buying it on Day One is because Yesterday was not a Pre-Order option.:cool:

  15. PMF

    I always thought that "A Matter of Life and Death" was in Black and White.
    Guess my Kinescope copy was really older than I had ever realized.:roll:

    P.S. The only reason I'm buying it on Day One is because Yesterday was not a Pre-Order option.:cool:

    It bounces back and forth between black and white and colour.

  16. Roger Grodsky

    Any idea how this release will compare to the blu-ray I purchased in Paris?

    https://www.amazon.fr/Une-Question-…pID=61XzwCCeCoL&preST=_SY300_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

    Considering how maligned the French (and German) blu-rays were and that this is being touted as the new restoration everyone has been waiting for, I'd say the difference should be, oh I don't know, HUGE!

  17. What ho! Sorry for being a tad late to the party.

    This is obviously quite wonderful news. The only thing taking the slightest edge of the excitement is that we knew this was coming – there was no way the 4K restoration as not going to get a Blu-ray release.

    Having seen this at the Cubby Broccoli in Bradford last December it gets the biggest recommendation I can offer. It was simply breathtaking.

  18. haineshisway

    Second greatest release announcement in the history of Blu-ray.

    Almost correct. You're just the one place off. 😀

    The greatest film ever made gets a 4K restoration? No contest. I pity every other film.

  19. PMF

    Any bets that "A Matter of Life and Death" will become Criterion's largest pre-order?

    That would be hard to judge. Given that this is being released during the (probable) July B&N sale, many may not preorder.

    It may be a sales leader though.

  20. PMF

    Any bets that "A Matter of Life and Death" will become Criterion's largest pre-order?

    I seriously doubt that. No one outside of die hard cineastes has ever heard of this film, unlike say The Breakfast Club or Silence of the Lambs.

  21. Worth

    I seriously doubt that. No one outside of die hard cineastes has ever heard of this film, unlike say The Breakfast Club or Silence of the Lambs.

    But wouldn't you say that it is the die hard cineaste that buys Criterion, to begin with?

  22. The cinematography in this film is so beautiful that I would venture to say it is perhaps the most beautiful ever put on film. They way they go from black and white to color with Kim Stanley close up on the radio in very stark shadows is breathtaking. This is right up there with Black Narcissus — perhaps even better. And, yes, classic film buffs have heard of this film and love it.

  23. PMF

    Any bets that "A Matter of Life and Death" will become Criterion's largest pre-order?

    It wouldn't surprise me if that honer is with Night of the Living Dead, it was around $17.XX at both Walmart.com and Amazon.com and during its release week it sold enough to make it to # 7 in the top 10 Blu-rays sold that week.

  24. Derrick King

    It wouldn't surprise me if that honer is with Night of the Living Dead, it was around $17.XX at both Walmart.com and Amazon.com and during its release week it sold enough to make it to # 7 in the top 10 Blu-rays sold that week.

    Consumers probably got mixed up and confused, being that the Living Dead falls in-between Life and Death; which is just a "Matter" of opinion.;)

  25. PMF

    But wouldn't you say that it is the die hard cineaste that buys Criterion, to begin with?

    True, but I think even among film fans this has a lower profile than most of the Fincher, Cronenberg and Wes Anderson stuff.

  26. Richard V

    Never seen the film but the plot sounds like a mash up of Here Comes Mr. Jordan and A Guy Named Joe.

    …er, no. Not even in the same universe, let alone the same ballpark. We're talking about one of the true masterpieces in the history of cinema here.

  27. How annoying is it that the Beaver gets these things six weeks before we mortals? Which makes his caps even more irritating than usual 🙂 But for those who want a peek here it is. Even knowing that if his caps look decent this may well be an incredible transfer and what we've all been waiting for, I think we can get the idea here. This cannot get here fast enough. http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film5/blu-ray_reviews_67/a_matter_of_life_and_death_blu-ray.htm

  28. haineshisway

    How annoying is it that the Beaver gets these things six weeks before we mortals? Which makes his caps even more irritating than usual 🙂 But for those who want a peek here it is. Even knowing that if his caps look decent this may well be an incredible transfer and what we've all been waiting for, I think we can get the idea here. This cannot get here fast enough. http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film5/blu-ray_reviews_67/a_matter_of_life_and_death_blu-ray.htm

    I saw the DCP at Film Forum back in the wintertime, and you're welcome to insert any superlatives you want right here:————–. Now that we've got that out of the way, I was never that crazy about this film, but now that I've seen it in what I'm assuming is its perfect state, I've changed my mind. Intellectually, I'm still ambivalent, but the colors and the textures, and let's also not forget the seemingly casual performances of David Niven & Kim Hunter, work together so perfectly, that I've come around. The Blu-ray of THE RED SHOES & TALES OF HOFFMAN almost fade into insignificance beside the visual glories that reside in this DCP. And what I found most amazing is that, unlike THE RED SHOES, where the colors are definitely expressionistic, rich and strange, the colors and performances in A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH seem so natural and kind of just a bit of everyday reality, well, possibly a tad more real than the everyday, that one is kind of swept up into this very unreal and yet so tantalizingly sensuous work.

  29. The Beav's 'caps reflect what I saw last winter during the theatrical run; an almost religious experience, certainly the most satisfying cinema visit I've made this century. A pity Criterion UK announced this for release before they'd tied up home video rights and then had to cancel; but I will be importing it.

  30. I just looked at Beaver's caps, and if I hadn't seen the DCP, using those caps as a reference, I probably wouldn't buy the Blu-Ray. "Paltry" is the kindest word I can think of to describe those caps. It's not just that the color is wrong. Everything looks flat and undernourished. The DCP of A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH is one of the most vibrant, living, multi-dimensional, beautiful things I have ever seen in the cinema. As I mentioned in my post above, the color is natural, yet at the same time otherworldly. The scene at the beginning where David Niven falls upon the beach and awakens is so incredibly transcendent looking, with amazing blues of a variety and texture that I've never really experienced, except possibly in Picasso. It also has incredible depth of field, so that every mark in the sand stands out, with the blue puddles of water all shimmering under a bright morning sun. Beaver's cap of that scene is completely flat and almost colorless. While his caps of the Criterion looks a bit better than the others, none of them has any connection whatsoever to the way this film looks in the DCP.

  31. But that's his caps – I have no doubt that the Criterion will look fantastic. Let us not forget the six-week brouhaha over his Midnight Cowboy caps – six weeks of sturm und drang over nothing but bad caps. And now, conveniently, the minute the disc proves to be stunning not a post for over a week at the usual place. I cannot wait to get this, and I wish, just wish, Criterion would stop sending him discs.

  32. haineshisway

    But that's his caps – I have no doubt that the Criterion will look fantastic. Let us not forget the six-week brouhaha over his Midnight Cowboy caps – six weeks of sturm und drang over nothing but bad caps. And now, conveniently, the minute the disc proves to be stunning not a post for over a week at the usual place. I cannot wait to get this, and I wish, just wish, Criterion would stop sending him discs.

    Either that or maybe some kind person would teach him how to photograph images from his monitor and also post them on the internet so that they look similar to what's on the disc. I generally don't look at his caps, because they usually have very little to do with how those discs really look. But in the case of A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, I was a mite curious, & surprised that the color in those caps had nothing to do with the DCP at all. So I posted here so everyone would know how spectacular A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH looks, and to ignore the caps on Beaver. To give Beaver credit where credit is due, he does rave about the visual quality of the Criterion disc, and gives it his highest recommendation. However, the caps are rather lackluster, like the film was shot through a scrim of last week's dishwater.

  33. They are always filtered for a start and apart from that his weak choices for this review are extremely atypical for the movie itself. THey're incredibly ill chosen.How about a screen from the Camera Obscura sequence, or the frozen ping pong match, or Maiurs Goring in the glade sighing "one is starved for Technicolor up there"? I have seen a gorgeous IB print of this (over forty years ago) and both this and Black Narcissus were the two most striking Powell color films I had seen to that time. (Hoffman's recent resto takes that prize now.) A propos of that I wish somebody would remaster Black Narcissus from the earley 2000s photochemical restoration and doa 4K master – it badly needs much greater color saturation and better grading . LIke a big dose of HDR.

  34. The DCP was fantastic. 'Caps are invariably a rough guide; I've lost count of the number of times that I've been amazed at the difference between 'caps and seeing an image in motion. I've no doubt the BD will blow socks off.

  35. "One is starved for Technicolor up there"

    One of the wittiest lines from one of the very best classic films I have had the opportunity to watch for the first time this evening.

    Bought this totally blind based on the very positive reactions in this thread.

    I must admit, as soon as the film started and I saw that it starred David Niven, I wasn't particularly happy.

    I first became known of Mr. Niven in the late 60s and throughout the 70s. Always thought him to be a dry, stuffy, pompous individual. I hated The Pink Panther simply because he was in it, and tolerated him in one of my favorite comedies, Murder By Death.

    But there was a young David Niven as I had never seen him before. More charming than I expected, and with his uncanny ability to deliver dialogue in a very unique way (which is a complimentary remark).

    What is so fascinating about this film is how much it's ahead of its time. For a film released in 1947, the set designs, special effects, and editing techniques look far more advanced for its era.

    A Brilliantly told story with a very mythical feel to it, beautifully lensed in Technicolor. Criterion has done a superb job with the restoration.

    If ever there was a film to buy blindly, this would be it. It now stands as one of the very best classics in my collection.

  36. The recreation of the sepia tint in heaven, as per Bob's research, would have made this release of AMOLAD, perfect. So we'll have to subtract a percentage point out of what could have been a perfect score. Alas!
    Damn, if they could do it for OZ, why not for this? Or for The Ox-Bow Incident, Torrid Zone, Across the Pacific, etc, etc.?

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