Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist
poliphilo

In And Around A Canterbury Tale

First time I watched it  was on TV. I'd been channel surfing and  came in a few minutes late. John Sweet was waking up in his huge Elizabethan bed and then the little boy appeared at the window perched on top of the hay cart. I had no idea what I was seeing, but I knew it was amazing.

The summer skies piled high with cumulus, the white blossom in the orchards.

About ten years later I had a chance to see it in the cinema. I settled into my seat- and up came the opening titles and they were in colour. What the hell? It turned out the BFI had sent Pasolini's Canterbury Tales by mistake. 

Shortly after that intensely frustrating experience it showed up on TV again. This time I was ready- and saw the amazing opening for the first time. The bells, the modernised Chaucer and the cod Chaucer, the medieval pilgrims riding across the North Downs, the falcon that turns into a spitfire...

It's my favourite movie. It's the one I'd snatch up and run with if the vault was on fire. Powell and Pressburger made an armful of great movies, but this is the most authentically strange, the loveliest, the most moving. 

Last night, after watching it on the lap-top, I did some research. John Sweet died earlier this year. Sweet by name and sweet by nature is what everyone says. I'm glad he had such a long life. This is the only acting he ever did at this level.  He's like Jimmy Stewart without the artifice. 

Sheila Sim is lovely too. She's still alive. She's been Mrs and then Lady Attenborough for the last 60 odd years.

It seems the cameras never got inside the cathedral. Oh surely that can't be true? The light, the space, the acoustics, did they really manage to re-create all that at Denham? Apparently they did. 

One of my favourite sequences is the one where the camera dollies through the bombed out streets of Canterbury East. Among the signs telling passers-by that such and such a business has moved to new premises is one I hadn't registered before that reads "Ancient Light". Was that already there or did Powell plant it? And If genuine what an earth did it mean?

Another thing I'd not noticed before: John Sweet's pal says tea is something you get used to- like  marijuana; Sweet says he'll take the marijuana. I guess the censor was dozing at that point.

I'm sure that teashop is still there. Next time I'm in Canterbury I mean to go stand in the corner of the window where Sweet stood to watch the parade.
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