Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Archers: The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus

Critics discussing last year's Black Swan often made reference to Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Red Shoes and suggested its influence on Darren Aronofsky.  Regardless of whether you liked Black Swan or not (I liked it quite a bit), you should put The Red Shoes in your queue if only to introduce yourself to the films of Powell and Pressburger, the team also known as The Archers.

Between 1939 and 1957, Powell and Pressburger collaborated in various capacities on 19 films.  They first adopted a joint writer-producer-director credit on One of Our Aircraft Is Missing in 1942.  In his book on Pressburger, Kevin Macdonald cites a letter from Pressburger to actress Wendy Hiller, in which Pressburger outlined the aesthetic goals of The Archers: 
  1. We owe allegiance to nobody except the financial interests which provide our money; and, to them, the sole responsibility of ensuring them a profit, not a loss.
  2. Every single foot in our films is our own responsibility and nobody else's. We refuse to be guided or coerced by any influence but our own judgement.
  3. When we start work on a new idea we must be a year ahead, not only of our competitors, but also of the times. A real film, from idea to universal release, takes a year. Or more.
  4. No artist believes in escapism. And we secretly believe that no audience does. We have proved, at any rate, that they will pay to see the truth, for other reasons than her nakedness.
  5. At any time, and particularly at the present, the self respect of all collaborators, from star to prop-man, is sustained, or diminished, by the theme and purpose of the film they are working on.
The Archers strong sense of independence produced some of the most interesting not to mention most visually gorgeous films of the 1940s and 1950s.  For more information about The Archers, The Powell and Pressburger Pages is a website dedicated to their work.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, UK, 1943, 163 minutes)
Netflix: From the Criterion Collection comes the magnificent epic The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. The passions and pitfalls of a lifetime in the military are dramatized in this 1943 film, which follows the exploits of pristine British soldier Clive Candy (Roger Livesey) as he battles to maintain his honor and proud gentlemanly conduct through romance, three wars and a changing world. Netflix link.

Black Narcissus (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, UK, 1947, 100 minutes)
Netflix: Secular matters consume five missionary nuns who head to the Himalayas to establish an Anglican school. In the meantime, the quintet's leader (Deborah Kerr) must grapple with the envy of one nun (Kathleen Byron), the bitterness of a man (David Farrar) and the cruelty of the elements. The film received Academy Awards for Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography, in part for its Technicolor innovations. Netflix link.

The Red Shoes (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, UK, 1948, 135 minutes)
Fledgling ballerina Victoria (Moira Shearer) falls in love with brilliant composer Julian (Marius Goring) while they collaborate on a ballet that makes her a star. But overbearing company owner Boris (Anton Walbrook), jealous of their love, fires Julian and forbids Victoria from performing. Julian and Victoria wed, and his career takes off, but she longs for an opportunity to dance. When Boris makes an offer, she faces a heart wrenching choice. Netflix link.

I look forward to your responses and feedback in the comments section.  --JLK

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