The Wind Still Blows
Many issues are on voters’ minds as Election Day 2016 nears, one of which, though in a sense generations old, pops up in the campaign rhetoric more often that one would expect in our enlightened 21st century: In whose hands would you entrust the nuclear codes? Imminent armageddon has become a talking point again, and in each decade since the first atomic bombs were deployed in 1945, filmmakers sought to come to grips with the terrible prospect of devastating weaponry being unleashed again via personal, character-driven stories of relatable individuals being overwhelmed by the uncontrolled antagonisms of nations or terrorist states. A first wave of films in the late 1950s/1960s (On the Beach, The Last War, Dr. Strangelove, Fail-Safe, The War Game, The Bed-Sitting Room) was followed by another batch in the 1980s (The Day After, Special Bulletin, Testament, Threads, Miracle Mile). How does one cope in a Cold War world pitched on the brink of oblivion? How do you push back against the unthinkable? Thirty years ago today marks the theatrical opening in its native Britain of an “eloquent work” of “striking simplicity,” “a deeply moving parable of nuclear holocaust” (Jay Robert Nash and Stanley Ralph Ross, The Motion Picture Guide) called When the Wind Blows (1986), a staggeringly effective animated fable of average folk facing catastrophe with naïve, unstinting faith in institutional leadership. A comic, moon-faced pensioner couple named James and Hilda Bloggs (incomparably voiced by John Mills and Peggy Ashcroft) who proudly soldiered through the homefront hardships of World War II, live in an idyllic British countryside cottage. When radio reports warn of an imminent “first strike,” after initial discussion about whether this means labor action or something more atomic, James sets about building a regulation shelter to shield them from this pesky thing called radioactive fallout and soldiering through again. After the bomb drops and their comfortable everyday routine is forever shattered, they strive to survive with as much decorum as the deteriorating environment allows – and their gradual descent into illness is punctuated by dreamlike reveries of their unfailing love and their unblinking faith in government leadership that has now betrayed them. Adapted from his graphic novel by Raymond Briggs and directed by Jimmy T. Murakami, When the Wind Blows blends a variety of animation styles. Again from The Motion Picture Guide: “James and Hilda’s house is a miniature set, while the characters are animated over this background by cels. This combination gives the film a slightly three-dimensional look. At times the camera merely explores the destroyed set while Mills and Ashcroft are heard on the soundtrack discussing how to deal with their growing troubles. Other sequences, such as single shots depicting the war’s buildup, use model animation and there’s also stock footage of WWII employed during James and Hilda’s reminiscing.” Innovation flowers not only in the visual scheme but in the edgy soundtrack score by Roger Waters (late of Pink Floyd), with a memorable title song from David Bowie and contributions from Genesis, Squeeze and Paul Hardcastle. Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-ray of this extraordinary movie is accompanied by documentary filmmaker Sé Merry Doyle’s revelatory feature-length portrait of the visionary animator, Jimmy Murakami: Non-Alien; an Audio Commentary with First Assistant Editor Joe Fordham and Film Historian Nick Redman; plus the behind-the-scenes pieces The Wind and The Bomb – The Making of When the Wind Blows and An Interview with Raymond Briggs. As the questions of a so-called nuclear option recur, the power of the very unique and very absorbing When the Wind Blows grows like a mushroom cloud.