Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"A Canterbury Tale": a wonderful 1944 film about "serendipity", weaving Chaucer with WWII-era "pilgrims" solving a mystery

High school English teachers, especially for AP classes, might want to look at the 1944 film “A Canterbury Tale”, originally from The Archers and Eagle Lion, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.  The film, on the surface, follows a “land girl”, American soldier and a British soldier on a “pilgrimage” to Canterbury during the early days of WWII.  A mysterious “glue-man” pours epoxy into the hair of girls dating GI’s, as if to punish guilt by association. But, to solve this "leitmotif mystery" the characters must draw closer to one another  and various levels in an experience that perhaps anticipates the style of the NBC series "Lost".  Many of the "clues" map back to some of the Chaucer Canterbury Tales.  There is a scene in the middle of the film, in a blacked-out classroom, with a discussion of coincidence and serendipity.  The opening of the film migrates from 12th Century England with a falcon transforming to a plane with soldiers marching to defend the country against Germany. 

 The American version of the film had a prologue, set in the US, to frame the movie; the British version had a credits epilogue of boys playing soccer, with triumphant music, by Allan Gray, to close the film. There’s a lot of material here for themes.

The ending with “Onward Christian Soldiers” (including the epilogue) sends the viewer to the heavens (look for it on YouTube with PeterAndres18). The triumphant orchestral music (in the closing credits, after the hymn) resembles the conclusion of Havergal Brian's Symphony #3 (in the coda finale) a bit. 

This is indeed a strange classic film.

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