Program of films by Michael PowelI and Emeric Pressburger

The Master of Visual Imaginativeness

Michael Powell is the classic of British cinematography of the 30’s, who had
a good ear for the very harsh reality.

Michael Powell worked on film from 1926, first as a photographer, editor, and as
a screenwriter (not listed in credits) on Hitchcock’s first sound film Ucjena
(1929), but he started his directing career in 1931 by making low budget films.
One of them is The Edge of the World (1937), about poor inhabitants of an
island in northern Scotland with documentary elements, which ensured him a
contract with the famous producer Alexander Korda.

For Korda he will make many films in collaboration with Emeric Pressburger,
which will be broken in 1956. In the time of the war they were very influential,
and both audience and critics undivided accepted the spy film The Spy in
(1941) and the action film Forty-Ninth Parallel (1941).
Encouraged by their successes, in 1942 Powell and Pressburger founded their own
company Archers, and their first more important film was The Life and Death
of Colonel Blimp
, a war melodrama and an unordinary film for the war period
because it tolerantly showed a long friendship of a British and German officer.
This film infuriated Churchill himself: “I’m sick of Blimpism”, roared the
premier. But the real success for Powell and Pressburger will follow in the
first six years after the war. I Know Where I’m Going (1945), A Matter
of Life and Death
(1946), Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes
(1948) and The Tales of Hoffman (1951) are the films that made Powell
internationally famous. But, at the time when the most appealing films were
those with war or post-war themes, when British people adored Shakespeare’s
(Laurence Olivier) and Dickens’s (David Lean) adaptations, Powell’s work
represented a sort of expressive esotery which made him interesting for the
critics’ eyes but at the same time not a representative of British
cinematography. In one way his films were mostly melodramas, and that genre
would be rehabilitated only in twenty years. On the other hand they were very
serious music films and as such only received praise for the director’s visual
refinement and skilful direction of ballet scenes. However those praises were
close to the margins on the critics’ list of wants and needs. What was tangible
were the Oscars for Jack Cardiff’s innovative photography in Black Narcissus,
and a few others in supporting categories. Still originality and authors were
not valued enough, and they still won’t be in 1960 when Powell’s last important
work Peeping Tom about a psychopath was severely criticized by the
conservative critics. But, around the world there begins to prevail the
so-called author critique that begins to respect directors’ individual and
consistent style as well as personal point of view. So, British critique stops
calling Powell an eccentric and a decorator, and emphasizes his visual
imaginativeness, sense for discrete eroticism, dream-like atmosphere and bizarre
experiences. All around the world his retrospectives are organized (among others
promoted by Martin Scorsese in the US), and on the list of the hundred most
successful films of all time by the New York Time Out, we can find as many as
four films by Powell. And no other “non-runaway” British director can say that
for himself! Those films are The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Matter of
Life and Death
, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoe. At the end
it can be concluded that The Edge of World, along with Hitchcock’s films,
is the only genuine classic of the British cinematography of the 30’s and that
Powell had a good ear for the very harsh reality. (Ante Peterlic)