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Movies for Grown-Ups: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

 "My idea of perfection is Roger Livesey (my favorite actor) in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (my favorite film) about to fight Anton Walbrook (my other favorite actor)."

-- David Mamet, 2003

“Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.”

-- T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land” (1922)

For a bunch supposedly dedicated to “peace,” the cadre of anti-war anarchists who met once a week in my first apartment fought furiously about everything. The one thing we all agreed on was that meetings were to conclude (with a chorus of “shhhh!”) just before the latest episode of Twin Peaks (1990-91) began.

Now, I experienced two profound (for me) revelations while watching TV in that old apartment. I wrote about one of them here.

The other happened during one of the earliest Twin Peaks episodes, when characters were still being introduced.

Bad boy Bobby Briggs, his mom, and his father Major Garland Briggs (an Air Force office) are gathered for a meal. In heightened, formal language that sounds almost like the ponderous narration of a “mental hygiene” short like Reefer Madness, the major -- a stocky, balding, pasty fellow, looking particularly stiff in his uniform (at the dinner table?) -- tells Bobby he wants to have a serious talk with him.

Conditioned by M*A*S*H and Dr. Strangelove to view U.S. military officers as stupid, pompous, lunatic hypocrites, my friends and I dutifully snickered while the major spoke. Bobby rolled his eyes, and so did we.

Until we stopped.

One by one, it dawned on us that, come to think of it, the major was kind of sort of being reasonable and sensible. And Bobby (the young “rebel” we’d normally sympathize with) was being a brat and a creep.

My anarchist pals and I found ourselves seduced into obsessing over a TV show in which the heroes (a sheriff, an FBI agent, and an Air Force officer) were the very people we hated in real life. Major Briggs in particular turned out to be an intelligent, sensitive, and noble character, who just happened to look like a human cartoon.

Twin Peaks prepared me to stick with, and appreciate, the 1943 Powell & Pressburger film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, which I only discovered a few years ago.