Fuck Yeah The Archers
Deborah Kerr and Michael Powell on the set of Black Narcissus
“September 30, Deborah and my birthday, arrived while I was still living my hermit life in the Fordwych pub. Deborah and I were both just as much in love as ever. We have always been in love, although our jobs have kept us thousand of miles apart. There are some loves like a precious jewel, that you carry about with you all your life, but are shy to wear in public. Mingled with this was the respect of one first-class craftsman for another. I had been film business for seventeen years before we worked together on Blimp, she was only three years; but she was so quick at learning, and so inventive, that I dreamed that she knew as much as I did. We could have done anything together. We showed a little of what we could do in Black Narcissus, where Deborah pleased me with her authority and imagination. Yes. We could have done anything. We were fools, but ambitious and headstrong fools, and we both were “hard as the nether stone.”
Michael Powell, A Life in Movies
“She was living in London at the English Speaking Union in Charles Street Mayfair. It was a fine morning and she walked over to see me in Chester Square. She was bare-headed and I remember her hair shining in the sun like burnished copper. No. 65A Chester Square has a little bay window with a window seat, which looks out into the street We sat there and talked. We looked at the bulky script together and I watched the subtle transformations that passed over her face as I made suggestions about the script. Again I felt the mysterious affinity, as between an artist and his model, which is one of the most inexplicable and sensual sensations. I made up my mind. I said that frankly we had no time to lose. So long as her agent agreed to our terms, she had the part. She stopped breathing and looked at me. She has told me since that I was already thinking of something else. I said absently: “All right then, see you at the studio,” and she took her leave … Ten days later we started making the film.”
Michael Powell reminiscing about meeting Deborah Kerr for The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.
September 30, 1905 — February 19, 1990
“I’ve always been a very serious-minded person, but people don’t know it, really, they’re always puzzled by my films, that there’s usually something going on in the film besides what you’re looking at, which is of course, the contact with the director, an audience has a contact with the story on the screen and also with the director who is telling the story. This is why a director in making a film is such a strange thing—there are some directors who are just card indexes, machines, just put the thing very well on the screen and that’s it. But there are others, who are holding an unspoken communication with the audience all the time, and I’m one of those, and the audience is saying ‘Well, there’s something going on’—I’ve had this said to me—‘There’s things going on in your films, particularly in this sequence, which I didn’t understand but it fascinated me’ and I didn’t say anything—what it is, is the direct contact with the audience with the director.”
birthday buddies Deborah Kerr & director Michael Powell (September 30, 1905 – February 19, 1990), on the set of 1947’s Black Narcissus
Michael Powell (30 Sep 1905 - 19 Feb 1990) directs Deborah Kerr (30 Sep 1921 - 16 Oct 2007) in Black Narcissus (1947)
Yesterday a very interesting, beautifully photografed english picture about a nun convent in India, “Black Narcissus,” with Deborah Kerr who is quite lovely. They are away ahead of Hollywood, better ideas, better scripts, better color, and much better acting.
— ― Kurt Weill, Speak Low (When You Speak Love): The Letters of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya
I couldn’t think of a better mentor than Ken Russell; I prefer him to any other English filmmaker. With the exception of Michael Powell, who’s my favourite.
— Derek Jarman interview with Timothy Hyman, 1980
Tony Williams: You’ve often mentioned that Tales of Hoffmann (1951) has been a major influence on you.
George Romero: It was the first film I got completely involved with. An aunt and uncle took me to see it in downtown Manhattan when it first played. And that was an event for me since I was about eleven at the time. The imagery just blew me away completely. I wanted to go and see a Tarzan movie but my aunt and uncle said, “No! Come and see a bit of culture here.” So I thought I was missing out. But I really fell in love with the film. There used to be a television show in New York called Million Dollar Movie. They would show the same film twice a day on weekdays, three times on Saturday, and three-to-four times on Sunday. Tales of Hoffmann appeared on it one week. I missed the first couple of days because I wasn’t aware that it was on. But the moment I found it was on, I watched virtually every telecast. This was before the days of video so, naturally, I couldn’t tape it. Those were the days you had to rent 16mm prints of any film. Most cities of any size had rental services and you could rent a surprising number of films. So once I started to look at Tales of Hoffmann I realized how much stuff Michael Powell did in the camera. Powell was so innovative in his technique. But it was also transparent so I could see how he achieved certain effects such as his use of an overprint in the scene of the ballet dancer on the lily ponds. I was beginning to understand how adept a director can be. But, aside from that, the imagery was superb. Robert Helpmann is the greatest Dracula that ever was. Those eyes were compelling. I was impressed by the way Powell shot Helpmann sweeping around in his cape and craning down over the balcony in the tavern. I felt the film was so unique compared to most of the things we were seeing in American cinema such as the westerns and other dreadful stuff I used to watch. Tales of Hoffmann just took me into another world in terms of its innovative cinematic technique. So it really got me going.
Tony Williams: A really beautiful print exists on laserdisc with commentary by Martin Scorsese and others.
George Romero: I was invited to collaborate on the commentary by Marty. Pat Buba (Tony’s brother) knew Thelma Schoonmaker and I got to meet Powell in later years. We had a wonderful dinner with him one evening. What an amazing guy! Eventually I got to see more of his movies that I’d never seen before such as I Know Where I’m Going and A Canterbury Tale. Anyway, I couldn’t do the commentary on Tales of Hoffmann with Marty. But, back in the old days in New York, Marty and I were the only two people who would rent a 16mm copy of the film. Every time I found it was out I knew that he had it and each time he wanted it he knew who had it! So that made us buddies.
Medium shot: Leaning against the bar, Hitchcock smiles paternally at Powell.
Hitchcock: “You are a handsome young devil, Michael. I envy you the actresses you will direct. Make them beautiful. Mold them into your ideal.”
Powell: “I’d rather cast women with character, a visible intelligence. Flaws capture my attention more than beauty—a limp or a harelip demand my complete attention. I can’t turn away.”
Hitchcock: “What you call a leading lady, I call a victim. The audience wants beauty threatened but not destroyed. The ones with interesting looks must perish in the funhouse.”
Powell: “My interesting women will stand up to the villain, turn the mirror upon him.”
Hitchcock: “Cast your homely women then, Michael, and have them battle the monster. But no audience will come. And then watch me as I take that homely woman of yours and have the murderer escort her up to his lair. The next time you see her she’ll be inside a sack.”
Powell: “I say, that’s not very sporting of you.”
Hitchcock: “Don’t look to an audience for compassion, Michael. They have no loyalty. If I were to toss my beautiful leading woman from a great height, the audience would turn away, saying, ‘No, thank you, Mr. Hitchcock. You have not made a proper Hitchcock film. Please restore her to life and try again.’ ”
© 2012 Lee Price