Monday, November 22, 2010

Red Ensign

Raise the Red Flag Then Have a Quiet Breakdown in the Drawing-Room the Little Ones Don't Talk About

Red Ensign by Michael Powell, 1934:

"Foreign lines are subsidized by their governments." — Seven words that make up the governing backstory for the 'action' that plays out over 66 minutes / — "...there's to be a quota law for British shipping before the month's up — that means a government guarantee for shipbuilding." — And there's the plot / A lot of "I understand it's part of the government's plan to..." etc. / What film historians refer to as "the quota quickie," this film, a British-cinema equivalent of the just-nascent '30s H'wood B-picture, but whose mandate didn't quite grasp the popular, or cinematographic, register / "In times of depression you must prepare for prosperity!" / Remember the Irish Free State? which dissolved in '37? / A propaganda film of the documentary-within-fiction sort; here, a dash of English pride strewn under cover of educating the Empire's public how ships are built and shipyards operate / Not far from what Microsoft did for Dublin / Industry between scenes of conversation relaying logistical and commercial developments of GREAT IMPORT / Of course the matter is that of British cinema itself in 1934 / A commissioned albeit near-expressionless cinema / But who am I to say what forces drove Michael Powell in '34 / Having my own druthers there would be less talk and more Carol Goodner, more scenes where she smiles on Janus-faced Leslie Bank, his right-side always turned to camera, the easiest trick, special effect, in the world / 'Cause his face was deranged in the Great War / And he's a wonderful actor and a presence and this sidestep of the lens I find very moving / There should be more malformed for the cinema; #flagaspriority / But the grandeur and the scale of the task, the shipbuilding, is what drives Powell on / Kate Bush should have written the song instead of Elvis Costello / This valuable film, a documentary-within-fiction, of sad English glory

Red Ensign by Michael Powell, 1934:


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