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The Films of Michael Powell: A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway to Heaven) / Age of Consent

4.5 out of 5 stars 102 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

As part of the legendary filmmaking team known as "The Archers," Michael Powell, in partnership with Emeric Pressburger, created a string of masterpieces that continue to dazzle and enchant audiences the world over. A Matter Of Life And Death (Stairway To Heaven) is one of the highlights of their incredible body of work. The film tells the story of a British airman (David Niven) who must plead his case in Heaven's court so he may return to Earth to be with the woman he loves (Kim Hunter). Age Of Consent, the last feature film directed by Michael Powell, stars James Mason as a frustrated painter who seeks new inspiration in Australia - and finds it in the form of a young island girl (Helen Mirren). Eagerly awaited, these two treasures, available for the first time on DVD, belong in every movie lover's collection.

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A true marvel, A Matter of Life and Death is one of the best films by the storied English filmmaking team known as the Archers: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Among other felicities, this 1946 fantasy has one of the most crackling opening ten minutes of any movie you'll ever see: after a deceptively dreamy prologue, we are thrown into the conversation between an airman (David Niven) whose torched plane is about to crash in the English Channel, and an American military radio operator (Kim Hunter) operating the radio on the ground. Their touching exchange, made urgent by his imminent death, is breathtakingly visualized (you have never seen a WWII plane interior quite as vividly as this). What follows is glorious: Niven's death has been missed by an otherworldly collector (Marius Goring)--all that thick English fog, you know--and so he gets to argue his case for life before a heavenly tribunal. The heaven sequences are in pearly black-and-white, the earthly material in stunning Technicolor (the color is the cause of a particularly good in-joke). The Powell-Pressburger brief on behalf of humanity is both romantic and witty, and the wonderful cast is especially enriched by Roger Livesey (the star of Powell and Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp), as a doctor with a camera obscura and an enormous heart.

Age of Consent, the other film in this two-disc set, comes from a much later period in Powell's career--indeed, close to the end of it. Made on a low budget in Australia in 1969, the movie depicts a disenchanted painter (James Mason) finding renewal in the isolation of an island and the beauty of the young woman (Helen Mirren) who models for him. The salt-and-pepper authority of Mason and the nubile freshness of Mirren give pleasure, although the theme is too on-the-nose (and Jack MacGowran's comic relief too broad) for a really subtle take on Powell's part. Extras include a seven-minute Martin Scorsese comment for AMOLAD, and a commentary track on that film by Powell-Pressburger authority Ian Christie; Scorsese chimes in again for Age of Consent, as does Helen Mirren, whose memories of her first movie are specific and fond. Kent Jones contributes the commentary track, a 10-minute interview with underwater photographers Ron and Valerie Taylor includes some Mirren comments, and a 16-minute making-of documentary gives some flavor of the set, including the memories of Powell's son Kevin. --Robert Horton


Special Features

  • Director Martin Scorsese on A Matter of Life and Death and Age of Consent
  • Commentary by historian Ian Christie on A Matter of Life and Death
  • Commentary by historian Kent Jones on Age of Consent
  • Helen Mirren: A Conversation With Cora
  • Down Under with Ron and Valerie Taylor

Product Details

  • Actors: David Niven, Kim Hunter, Robert Coote, Kathleen Byron, Richard Attenborough
  • Directors: Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell
  • Writers: Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell, Norman Lindsay, Peter Yeldham
  • Producers: Emeric Pressburger, George R. Busby
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: French, English
  • Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated:
    Unrated
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: January 6, 2009
  • Run Time: 211 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B001IZNIV4
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,543 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Films of Michael Powell: A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway to Heaven) / Age of Consent" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Doug Murray on March 2, 2009
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I was introduced to Michael Powell's work by a friend who loved 'The Red Shoes'. Although I dislike musicals, that film had such visual poetry that I loved it the instant I saw it.
I have made it a point to see his other films wherever possible and 'Stairway to Heaven', seen several times on TV, was always a favorite. Oddly, it has never been available in any video format--until now.
This double feature has a pristine print of Stairway which remains a favorite and a film everyone should see.
Accompanying it is Powell's final film--'Age of Consent', which I had never before seen. It features a fine, measured performance by James Mason--and a first-time showing by Helen Mirren.
Viewing these and Powell's other films show just how good this man was. I find it amazing that one film--'Peeping Tom', derailed his career so completely.
In any case, this is a great DVD with two amazing films--and when you see them, you will seek out his other works.
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Age of Consent is long overdue and a delightful film to see. As with some films of that vintage set in Australia, it has an English director and stars, but the native joy of the novel by Norman Lindsay (the painter in Sirens) shines through. James Mason plays the painter who spends a season on a remote Queensland island, and finds a youngish (and solidly built) Helen Mirren to paint. Most of the film is fluff, except for a nasty turn by Mirren's mother, but Powell's light touch is perfect and you get to spend time in an astonishingly beautiful corner of Oz. Actually, watching this film feels like taking a holiday. Recommended.
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I think the original title, 'A Matter of Life and Death', is far more explicit than the North American, 'Stairway to Heaven'.
The first time I saw the film I was in my early teens and felt it offered a far more interesting view of an 'after-life' than the vague religious idea the church tried to depict.
In 1949 while serving with the RAF I flew on a liaison mission with the USAAF. We landed at Los Angeles and during our brief stay were entertained by Hollywood. I met David Niven at that time and we corresponded for many years -- his letters were full of comic comments on his movies.
'A Matter of Life and Death' is quite an historical film as it demonstrates the incredible amount of work that had to be put into special effects long before FX technology was developed. Michael Powell had to work with cut and paste filmwork and extensive manpower for things like his moving staircase.
Having the film on DVD means that I will probably rerun this one at least once each year.
David Chesterton
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If you are unfamiliar with the magnificent film work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, have you got a treat in store for you! Two of my favorite films, the unforgettable "A Matter of Life and Death" (known in America as "Stairway to Heaven"), and the witty, mature "Age of Consent", have been packaged together as the "Michael Powell Double Feature (Age of Consent, Stairway to Heaven)". This is a MUST-BUY DVD SET!!!

1946's "Stairway to Heaven" is as close to a perfect fantasy as you'll ever see on film, offering one of David Niven's greatest performances, as a downed airman, living, literally, on borrowed time, as he missed being snatched by death. Soon, he starts hallucinating from a brain tumor, and he stands trial in heaven (strikingly portrayed in black and white, as opposed to the rich, technicolor 'real' world), for his right to continue living. A perfect cast, including young Kim Hunter, Marius Goring, Raymond Massey, Robert Coote, and the fabulous Roger Livesey, plus a humane, witty script, combine to create one of the best films ever made!

1969's "Age of Consent", Powell's last film, while not as 'stellar' (in every sense of the word) as "Stairway", is a remarkable film in it's own right, as a bohemian Australian artist (James Mason, in one of his favorite roles), walks away from a lucrative art career in New York, and takes up a beachcomber life on an island of the Great Barrier Reef. He soon meets nubile young Helen Mirren (in her film debut), and they enter a richly productive (and platonic) relationship, as he paints unabashedly sensual nudes of her, and she renews in him a passion to create.
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I've been begging for a DVD release of "Stairway to Heaven" for years. So I was glad to find a copy at the local library and it's "A Matter of Life and Death." the original with precious moments of Powell/Pressburger humor left intact from the TV trimmer's shears. When I opened the case and saw another disk, I had to put my glasses on and found "Age of Consent." What a find! Powell films Norman Lindsay (I've been an admirer for decades and "Sirens" was a long overdue homage) with the youngest Helen Mirren to date. And such scenery! In every sense. And Jack McGrowan, over-the-top and three-sheets-to-the-wind as only an Irishman lost and broke in Australia can be.

What a delight. AMoLaD has always been one of my favorites and the transfer is pristine, the audio crisp and delightfully audible (as compared to the older prints they'd show on old broadcast TV late shows. Even the grunts and farts(!) of the little naked shepherd boy (the funniest earth angel ever) and such garish, glorious Technicolor ("We are so starved of Technicolor, Up There...!")

And painterly expressionistic Norman Lindsay sketches of Helen Mirren. A heavenly "paradise" in black-n-white. An earthly Parardise in sensuous color and sand and saltwater on skin. Utter double heaven.
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