POWELL & PRESSBURGER MOVIES
One writer. Six films. In a row. Pray for them
MICHAEL POWELL & Emeric Pressburger are one of the finest filmmaking teams the UK has ever produced. Today I’m going to pay them the respect they deserve by blitzing six of their films in one 12-hour sitting. It all feels rather boorish and uncouth for directors who extolled old-fashioned British mores. At least I have tea.
8AM THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (1943) “War starts at midnight”, famously bellows Major General Wynne-candy (Roger Livesey, giving quite literally the performance of a lifetime). My own personal battle begins at 8am. Our struggles are comparable, I think. Audaciously sad for a war movie at the time, it sees Wynne-candy witness the old world order being incrementally pulled from under his well-fed heels, while there’s incredible pathos in Anton Walbrook’s German officer-turned-refugee. And yet it zips along with such buoyant charm that I only remember to make one cup of tea.
11AM A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946) Another war movie with Roger Livesey — but it could hardly be more different from Blimp. This is a science-fiction fantasy romance which alternates between the most English village ever conceived, and an Art Deco approximation of heaven. It’s cinematic manna. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen it and it still has me marvelling and misty-eyed. Tea count: two.
1PM BLACK NARCISSUS (1947) After two outstanding films, I’m not sure I’m in the mood for psychosexual mountain nuns. I know, I know, Black Narcissus is a masterpiece — but yeesh, all this sexual repression and casual racism leaves me as cold as the Himalayan winds. It’s gorgeously shot, of course, but for my money lacking the sly, seductive wit of Powell & Pressburger’s best. Perhaps it’s a different story viewed in isolation. Slightly bored, I find myself Googling if it’s possible to drink too much tea. Did you know an excess of tannins can lead to an iron deficiency?
3PM THE RED SHOES (1948) Martin Scorsese called this “the most beautiful Technicolor film ever made”, and it is certainly an explosion of glamour that feels very at odds with my increasingly musty living room. Perhaps it’s the delirium of binging, but I can’t help feeling this tale of creative obsession is in some way a metaphor for my own selfless pursuit of artistic perfection. As a small tribute to all this dazzling colour, I treat myself to a mug of Echinacea & Raspberry.
5.15PM THE TALES OF HOFFMANN (1951) The Tales Of Hoffmann is an opera. A straightup opera. It occurs to me, shamefully, that I have never actually seen an opera. A grand experiment in cinematic theatre, it’s like a feature-length version of The Red Shoes’ famous dance sequence: baroque, lavish, and frequently bonkers (Moira Shearer’s head falls off at one point). I don’t always entirely know what’s going on. But it’s glorious! Maybe I like operas! I’m probably supposed to write about how exhausted I am from all this binging, but honestly, if the films are this great, the iron deficiency is worth it.
7.30PM THE BOY WHO TURNED YELLOW (1972) A wacky kids’ film about a boy who literally turns yellow is an odd note to end the day on, and a curious final collaboration for the filmmakers whose partnership had mostly dissolved a decade or so earlier. Their heyday is clearly behind them here, but the novelty of seeing an entire Tube train turn yellow is heaps of fun, and at a mere 53 minutes long, I’m secretly grateful to finally be able to tend to my bedsores. What’s more, I have run out of tea. JOHN NUGENT