Stairway To Heaven(A Matter Of Life And Death)
a selection of film clips
Excerpted from a Review
by ROGER EBERT
by ROGER EBERT
One of the most audacious films ever made - in its grandiose vision, and in the cozy English way it's expressed. "This is the universe," a voice says at the beginning, "Big, isn't it?" The camera pans across the skies - but the story, as it develops, is both awesome and intimate, suggesting that a single tear shed for love might stop heaven in its tracks. What follows is a breathtaking pastoral moment, as the pilot, somehow alive, washes ashore and sees a young woman, far away, riding her bicycle home. It is, of course, June, and soon they are deeply in love. But there is a problem. Peter was not intended to live.
The British title of this film was "A Matter of Life and Death," and when the Americans retitled it "Stairway to Heaven," Powell wrote in his autobiography, he felt they had missed the point. But "Stairway to Heaven" may be a more expressive title, and certainly there is a stairway in the film, part of the incredible contribution of production designer Alfred Junge, who also provides one of the most spectacular shots in movie history, a view of heaven's underside: Vast holes in the sky with tiny people peering down over the edges. The heavenly scenes are shot in black and white, and the movie is filled with technical tricks, as when "real life" freezes while spirits leave their bodies.
"Stairway to Heaven" has as its subtext the jockeying for power between Britain and America that took place after World War II. British critics, at the time, sniffed that the film was too pro-American. What today's audiences will find amazing is the sheer energy of its invention. Powell and Pressburger (who always shared the writing, directing and producing credits, and whose production company was known as the "Archers") were not timid in reaching for new visual effects, and among the many startling sights in "Stairway to Heaven" is an eyeball's point-of-view of its eyelid closing, before the brain operation.
Today's movies are infatuated with special effects, but often they're used to create the sight of things we can easily imagine: crashes, explosions, battles in space. The special effects in "Stairway to Heaven" show a universe that never existed until this movie was made, and the vision is breathtaking in its originality.
The whole film is available on HULU if you can put up with a few commercials