BR: When the Wind Blows (1986)

February 28, 2015 | By

 

WhenTheWindBlows_BRFilm: Excellent

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Near-Perfect

Label: Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  November 11, 2014

Genre:  Drama / Nuclear Holocaust

Synopsis: A retired couple follow the government’s 14 day survival plan after a nuclear bomb explodes in Britain, but they’re unable to grasp the reality of being mislead, and confront their inevitable, tragic fates.

Special Features:  Audio Commentary with Producer-Film Historian Nick Redman and First Assistant Editor Joe Fordham / 1986 featurette: “The Making of When the Wind Blows” (24:18) / Interview with author Raymond Briggs (13:50) / Bonus 2010 documentary feature film: “Jimmy Murakami: Non-Alien (77:41) / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.

 

 


 

Review:

Preamble

After producing an animated version of Raymond Briggs’ beautiful, now-classic, all-ages Christmas weepie The Snowman (1982), producer John Coates set his sights on something more in tune with the more timely subject of nuclear war / utter annihilation, as the eighties seemed ripe with stark dramas meant to provoke theatrical and TV audiences into realizing the bomb of today was more deadly than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

The topic what survives after a nuclear attack was the focus of the U.S. teleplay The Day After (1983), and a family’s slow disintegration occupied the running time of the PBS drama Testament (1983). A more ‘fanciful’ take was found in WarGames (1983), where teenage Matthew Broderick hacks into a military computer and has no idea he’s playing a real-world version of “Global Thermonuclear War” – not a game, but a simulation that’s may set off return strikes from the Soviets.

The grimmest dramas every produced remain exclusively British, and they’re part of a sub-sub-genre I tend to brand as British Bleakism. The message inherent to these films, which can span other classic genres, is very clear: the world is going to utter hell, and there’s not a bloody thing anyone can do about it. Good luck.

Britain’s answer to ABC’s overhyped teleplay was Mick Jackson’s Threads (1984), an attempt to show citizens that the government’s little booklets on protecting oneself and family against a descending bomb with doors and mattresses is utter bullshit, and the world that emerges the following day is almost unlivable. Language, technology, and civilization are fractured, and humanity is reset to grunting, slurring Neanderthals who can’t even comprehend the process of giving birth.

Jackson, however, wasn’t the first director to tackle the idiotic governmental lies designed to calm the scared and the ignorant. That honor belongs to Peter Watkins, whose The War Game was so stark and assaultive in chastising governmental nonsense, the short film was banned by its maker, the BBC.

(In the commentary track that accompanies Twilight Time’s Blu-ray edition, WTWB’s first assistant editor Joe Fordham recalls incorrectly the film’s title and director. Peter Watkins was a skilled provocateur and brilliant filmmaker, deliberately blurring the lines between drama and documentary with vivid recreations that happened to have been captured by a adjunct TV crew. After emigrating to Canada, Watkins directed the epic 14 & ½ hour, anti-nuke documentary series Resan / The Journey in 1987. Project X’s Oliver Groom had plans to release the series, but complexities of the versions, source materials, and study package crafted by Watkins went into stasis. The series remains unavailable on DVD.)

With Threads being the most striking attempt to make it brutally clear a nuclear war is unwinnable, unsurvivable in gritty, emotionally gory terms, it’s interesting that Briggs would take on the challenge to edify adults using his gift for softer images and compelling characters, hence his 1982 graphic novel WTWB.

 

 When the Wind Blows (1986)

In production for 2 years, the film version is a graphic novel come to life, aimed at adults who perhaps felt the nuclear madness wasn’t as grievous as it appeared in the media. The archived interview with Briggs has the author admitting the characters of Hilda and Jim Bloggs (voiced by Peggy Ashcroft and John Mills) were patterned after his parents, a working class couple who survived WWII, and carried on a quaint nostalgia for the heroism and stiff upper lip of their generation.

Redman and Fordham touch upon the film’s reception in America, where the couple and the film’s dry black humour were greeted with a measure of puzzlement: to American (and perhaps non-Commonwealth audiences) the Bloggs seem rather dim, but in the separate interview featurette (ported over, with the making-of featurette, from the 2005 Region 2 DVD), Briggs clarifies the couple are just ‘simple,’ carrying on and obeying official rules in a manner of calm and reason that’s reflective of their generation.

It is admittedly a little curious to see Jim constantly reassuring Hilda that if they follow the post-nuclear guidebook, things will work out; the world will pick itself up and bring back some level of normalcy; and somehow little bits of daily life will endure, whether it’s the morning paper delivery, the return of electricity, or their son eventually getting in touch with them.

The couple’s refuge is an ‘inner core,’ built from a set of doors angled like a tubular lean-to against the wall, and pillows to protect them from any blast shrapnel. Jim repeatedly consults his official manuals to verify they’re following the correct paths to survive in a post-nuclear world, but their absolute naivete coupled with the obvious hopelessness of the post-bomb effects guarantee they will not make it past a few weeks.

Their actions – drinking ‘rainwater’ and reposing in lawn chairs under  a cloudy sky with nuclear ash in the breeze – aren’t portraits of generational stupidity, but a scathing attack on the government’s published quackery that simplified the horrors of a new kind of warfare. It’s the same stance taken by Watkins in 1965: even if you could survive a nuclear attack, you wouldn’t want to, because what’s left for humanity is worse than instant death.

The Bloggs’ tragic lives – it’s pretty obvious by the midpoint they’re going to die slowly – are told through beautiful, almost prosaic animation with some edgy qualities and inventive solutions to budgetary quandaries. Most impressive is the 3-D look of some shots due to the animated characters being overlaid onto 35mm film stills of their house; when there’s a panning or tracking movement, it’s actually stop-motion film instead of fully animated backgrounds.

The colours in this HD transfer are especially vivid – the reds really glow – and the blending of slightly different animation styles in a few flashbacks aren’t as jarring as Briggs may have felt. The Bloggs’ wedding and wartime montages are very affecting, and the nuclear blast sequence is a great mix of live action, stop-motion, and animated drawings, of which the latter were ‘dirtied up’ to give the chilling sequence extra gravitas.

Within the film’s slight stereo mix, Roger Waters’ score (isolated in a separate music & effects track) mostly works – there’s a dated quality to some cues, especially a loping, bumbling theme, and the instrumentation is very mid-eighties – but it manages to support the characters to their end, which director Jimmy T. Murakami handles with great sensitivity.

Redman and Fordham discuss Murakami’s various skills as an animator, especially in deepening character details and little scene nuances, but it’s his respect for the characters and the film’s anti-nuke message that really distinguishes the film. Moreover, in their new post-nuclear holocaust world, the Bloggs behave as they would in peace time, and one wonders if they’re better off being  simple-minded, hoping for the best when so many aspects of their physical lives, including themselves, continues to degenerate, thwarting their facile expectations and not following the romantic survival tales of 1940s warfare.

To contextualize the film, the extras include the aforementioned commentary – one of Redman’s best, and packed with a lot of production history that will please animation fans and animators alike – and a vintage making-of doc, which seems almost jarring today, watching animators draw every meticulous cell instead of rendering the images on a bank of workstations.

WTWB was fully hand-crafted, and alongside the drawn elements, there’s attention given to the stop-motion cinematography, live-action shots, and the brief video news footage that starts the film. A young Murakami appears in the vintage doc, very happy and proud of his association, and his involvement with the film is further detailed in Sé Merry Doyle’s 2010 feature-length doc on the Oscar-Nominated animator who left America and settled in Ireland.

Jimmy Murakami: Non-Alien is a highly personal reflection on the emotional beats in his life rather than his working career as an animator, and ultimately builds towards Murakami’s decision to return to the U.S., and travel with his sister and brother to Tulelake, where they spent four years in a Japanese concentration camp during WWII.

While Muramaki’s film career is outlined in the film, it’s really secondary to his return to the U.S. and how the camp affected his family, if not kept the anger and distrust seething within the animator, and his continuing inability to forgive the U.S. Government and lose a sense of betrayal.

Doyle’s film ultimately becomes an elegy for the victims of the Japanese-Americans sent to the camps, and a subtle political statement on the trampling of basic civic rights, the need for restitution, and the legacy that carries on in further generations. Murakami isn’t wholly bitter, but the anger of losing four years of his life and never feeling fully whole over the following decades bleed from the screen.

Doyle’s film is ripe with gorgeous images – it’s a beautiful HD production – and respectful in spite of capturing many emotionally intimate moments, it’s more a film about personal triumph. Murakami’s very humble about his long career, and Doyle uses extracts from the animator’s film work very sparsely; with the exception of Breath (1967), The Snowman, and WTWB, no other work is excerpted. That may disappoint Murakami’s fans, but in place of anecdotes and film clips, the Doyle offers an emotional human story of personal survival.

Murakami’s best-known credits include directing Roger Corman’s Star Wars’ riff Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), supervising work on the Coates-produced The Snowman (1982) a segment in Heavy Metal (1981), and additional animation work in Free to Be… You & Me (1974) and the classic series The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe (1988). Murakami passed away in 2014 at the age of 80.

Some of his animated shorts are archived on YouTube, including Breath (1967) and Death of a Bullet (1979). A series of interviews conducted in 2010 in which the animator discusses his work is also archived in multiple parts.

Film and TV adaptations of Raymond Briggs’ work include The Snowman (1982), When the Wind Blows (1986), Father Christmas (1992), The Bear (1998), Ivor the Invisible (2001), Fungus the Bogeyman (2004), and The Snowman and the Snowdog (2012).

 

 

© 2015 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
 
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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