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

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.


Christopher Challis was one of the leading cinematographers of British cinema’s heyday, whose films framed tales of dance and derring-do, romance and comic invention. His lens introduced audiences to the cherished celluloid vehicles Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Genevieve, and as the last of “The Archers”, the creative team helmed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, his place in film history is as indelible as his images are unforgettable.

He made 11 films with Powell and Pressburger, initially as camera operator before progressing to cinematographer for The Small Back Room (1949). The following year, for their classic The Red Shoes, he went back to camera duties to work under the tutelage of the legendary director of photography, Jack Cardiff. From thereon Challis would be the pair’s photographer of choice, creating striking visuals to their ethereal tales, including the vibrant colourful theatrics of The Tales of Hoffmann (1951) and the sweeping monochrome landscapes of Ill Met by Moonlight (1957).
Challis had a practical approach to the business of film-making from his first production, a school newsreel shot on a 16mm camera with film stock financed with school funds. Its success on Speech Day convinced Challis that cinematography was “a piece of cake”. Gaumont British News gave him his first slice of the cake, taking him on as assistant cameraman in the mid-1930s. His first solo story came when he jumped out of a taxi and raced into Green Park to capture the comic scene of two London Zoo keepers attempting to net an escaped eagle. His footage lit up theatres the same afternoon.
He got a taste of creative work assisting on Alexander Korda’s The Drum, an ambitious Technicolor epic shot on location in India. A series of travelogues followed which brought him to Cardiff’s attention. However, war loomed and Challis joined the RAF Film Production Unit and refocused his talents to film operations abroad, assignments which took him to Casablanca, Lisbon and the Hague.
In 1946, on Cardiff’s recommendation, he was interviewed by Michael Powell to be camera operator on the transcendental love story A Matter of Life and Death. Powell, a brusque character, stared him down in silence and then offered him the job. One of his compositions on the film’s iconic heaven sequence invited the director’s wrath. “If you don’t like it you do the next one,” Challis retorted. “Print it,” said Powell, beginning a lifelong friendship. “He liked people to stand up to him,” Challis judged later.
His other key partnership was with the director Stanley Donen, with whom he filmed six features, including the Gregory Peck thriller Arabesque, which won Challis a Bafta. He thrived in the face of adversity, as illustrated by the shoot for one of his favourite films, Genevieve. The charming romantic comedy about a London to Brighton vintage car race was made on a shoestring budget within a few miles of Pinewood Studios. Challis filmed until the light meter said otherwise to hit deadline. Hollywood glitz left him cold but he bonded with understated British stars such as Kenneth More, Edward Fox and Dirk Bogarde.
In all he shot over 70 films, ranging from Carl Foreman’s anti-war statement The Victors (1963) to Billy Wilder’s romping The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) via the perennially popular Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). He believed that directors don’t always possess a visual approach. “The ones who do,” he said, “come as a refreshing alternative.”
Filming was often a family affair, with his wife Peggy and children in attendance. If Challis was unimpressed by celebrity, then it was clearly a shared trait. One morning, on location in Scotland for To Catch a Spy (1971), as Peggy ate breakfast in an Oban hotel a tartan-clad Kirk Douglas sat down at her table and asked who she was. “I’m Chris Challis’s wife,” she replied, “and who are you?”
Challis was a keen sailor and, smoking his trademark pipe, frequently shot at sea, most notably on HMS Defiant (1962) and The Deep (1977). Towards the end of his career he worked for a new producer, his son Drummond. The Riddle of the Sands (1979), an adaptation of Erskine Childers novel, was a boy’s own adventure that found him in his element off the German Frisian Islands stringing up a camera in a yacht’s rigging.
His final film was Steaming (1985), a conversation piece set in a bathhouse. It was the swansong for both its director Joseph Losey and its star Diana Dors, both of whom died before its release. Yet with all the talent on show, when the New York Times pinpointed the film’s main attraction it was the camera’s “seamless, fluid narrative” it praised. In retirement Challis wrote his affectionate and eloquent memoirs, Are they really so awful?
"I think the credit should go to other people rather than me," he said with characteristic modesty at a Bafta tribute last year. It was not an opinion shared by his peers. "It is not possible even to begin to take the full measure of the greatness of British film-making without thinking of Chris Challis," stated Martin Scorsese. "Challis brought a vibrancy to the celluloid palette that was entirely his own, and which helped make Britain a leader in that long, glorious period of classic world cinema."
Challis is survived by his daughter, the novelist Sarah Challis, and his son Drummond Challis, a film producer and farmer.
Christian House
Christopher Challis, cinematographer: born London 18 March 1919; married 1941 Sylvia (Peggy) Mauguerite (deceased; one daughter, one son); died Bristol 31 May 2012.
The Independent Obituary, 13 july 2012

Christopher Challis was one of the leading cinematographers of British cinema’s heyday, whose films framed tales of dance and derring-do, romance and comic invention. His lens introduced audiences to the cherished celluloid vehicles Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Genevieve, and as the last of “The Archers”, the creative team helmed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, his place in film history is as indelible as his images are unforgettable.

He made 11 films with Powell and Pressburger, initially as camera operator before progressing to cinematographer for The Small Back Room (1949). The following year, for their classic The Red Shoes, he went back to camera duties to work under the tutelage of the legendary director of photography, Jack Cardiff. From thereon Challis would be the pair’s photographer of choice, creating striking visuals to their ethereal tales, including the vibrant colourful theatrics of The Tales of Hoffmann (1951) and the sweeping monochrome landscapes of Ill Met by Moonlight (1957).

Challis had a practical approach to the business of film-making from his first production, a school newsreel shot on a 16mm camera with film stock financed with school funds. Its success on Speech Day convinced Challis that cinematography was “a piece of cake”. Gaumont British News gave him his first slice of the cake, taking him on as assistant cameraman in the mid-1930s. His first solo story came when he jumped out of a taxi and raced into Green Park to capture the comic scene of two London Zoo keepers attempting to net an escaped eagle. His footage lit up theatres the same afternoon.

He got a taste of creative work assisting on Alexander Korda’s The Drum, an ambitious Technicolor epic shot on location in India. A series of travelogues followed which brought him to Cardiff’s attention. However, war loomed and Challis joined the RAF Film Production Unit and refocused his talents to film operations abroad, assignments which took him to Casablanca, Lisbon and the Hague.

In 1946, on Cardiff’s recommendation, he was interviewed by Michael Powell to be camera operator on the transcendental love story A Matter of Life and Death. Powell, a brusque character, stared him down in silence and then offered him the job. One of his compositions on the film’s iconic heaven sequence invited the director’s wrath. “If you don’t like it you do the next one,” Challis retorted. “Print it,” said Powell, beginning a lifelong friendship. “He liked people to stand up to him,” Challis judged later.

His other key partnership was with the director Stanley Donen, with whom he filmed six features, including the Gregory Peck thriller Arabesque, which won Challis a Bafta. He thrived in the face of adversity, as illustrated by the shoot for one of his favourite films, Genevieve. The charming romantic comedy about a London to Brighton vintage car race was made on a shoestring budget within a few miles of Pinewood Studios. Challis filmed until the light meter said otherwise to hit deadline. Hollywood glitz left him cold but he bonded with understated British stars such as Kenneth More, Edward Fox and Dirk Bogarde.

In all he shot over 70 films, ranging from Carl Foreman’s anti-war statement The Victors (1963) to Billy Wilder’s romping The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) via the perennially popular Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). He believed that directors don’t always possess a visual approach. “The ones who do,” he said, “come as a refreshing alternative.”

Filming was often a family affair, with his wife Peggy and children in attendance. If Challis was unimpressed by celebrity, then it was clearly a shared trait. One morning, on location in Scotland for To Catch a Spy (1971), as Peggy ate breakfast in an Oban hotel a tartan-clad Kirk Douglas sat down at her table and asked who she was. “I’m Chris Challis’s wife,” she replied, “and who are you?”

Challis was a keen sailor and, smoking his trademark pipe, frequently shot at sea, most notably on HMS Defiant (1962) and The Deep (1977). Towards the end of his career he worked for a new producer, his son Drummond. The Riddle of the Sands (1979), an adaptation of Erskine Childers novel, was a boy’s own adventure that found him in his element off the German Frisian Islands stringing up a camera in a yacht’s rigging.

His final film was Steaming (1985), a conversation piece set in a bathhouse. It was the swansong for both its director Joseph Losey and its star Diana Dors, both of whom died before its release. Yet with all the talent on show, when the New York Times pinpointed the film’s main attraction it was the camera’s “seamless, fluid narrative” it praised. In retirement Challis wrote his affectionate and eloquent memoirs, Are they really so awful?

"I think the credit should go to other people rather than me," he said with characteristic modesty at a Bafta tribute last year. It was not an opinion shared by his peers. "It is not possible even to begin to take the full measure of the greatness of British film-making without thinking of Chris Challis," stated Martin Scorsese. "Challis brought a vibrancy to the celluloid palette that was entirely his own, and which helped make Britain a leader in that long, glorious period of classic world cinema."

Challis is survived by his daughter, the novelist Sarah Challis, and his son Drummond Challis, a film producer and farmer.

Christian House

Christopher Challis, cinematographer: born London 18 March 1919; married 1941 Sylvia (Peggy) Mauguerite (deceased; one daughter, one son); died Bristol 31 May 2012.

The Independent Obituary, 13 july 2012

”My idea of perfection is Roger Livesey (my favorite actor) in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (my favorite film) about to fight Anton Walbrook (my other favorite actor).”– David Mamet, 2003

My idea of perfection is Roger Livesey (my favorite actor) in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (my favorite film) about to fight Anton Walbrook (my other favorite actor).”– David Mamet, 2003

In Moonrise Kingdom, Tilda Swinton plays a social worker in Sixties’ America. She said she modelled her character’s imperious look on the Frau von Kalteneck character played by Ursula Jeans in the classic British movie The Life And Death of Colonel Blimp. (Dailymail)

While Anderson has spoken about how Francois Truffaut, Ken Loach and Alan Parker’s films centered around children influenced “Moonrise Kingdom,” he also revealed a broader influence:the filmmaking duo Powell and Pressburger.

“For many years some of the movies that have most inspired me especially in a visual way are the Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger films,” he said. “…so much of that work is about making these visual…quite artificial films and there’s something very exciting about what they’ve made that’s in front of the camera, and you know the ‘Red Shoes' in particular is the subject matter too, but you know one of my favorites is 'The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp'…and also 'Black Narcissus’; [it’s] about a woman in the Himalayas and they did it all on a soundstage.”

Perhaps Anderson was describing how artifice - like what many critics complain about in his films - can be equally emotional and poignant when artfully constructed. “You really are transported to that place but you feel that someone has made these things and they’re very emotional, moving films,”  the filmmaker said, also noted that their approach to music is very influential. “I also would say Powell and Pressberger, are a very good inspiration for music as well. ‘The Red Shoes’ is a movie where there’s a very long sequence where the music was written first and the movie was made to the music, I mean it was a dance so it makes sense. In our movie this Benjamin Britten music that we use — a lot of the movie was choreographed to it and we drew a lot of the scenes and semi-animated them in advance. So we sort of knew where the cuts were going to be based on the music.” (The Playlist)

In Moonrise Kingdom, Tilda Swinton plays a social worker in Sixties’ America. She said she modelled her character’s imperious look on the Frau von Kalteneck character played by Ursula Jeans in the classic British movie The Life And Death of Colonel Blimp. (Dailymail)

While Anderson has spoken about how Francois Truffaut, Ken Loach and Alan Parker’s films centered around children influenced “Moonrise Kingdom,” he also revealed a broader influence:the filmmaking duo Powell and Pressburger.

“For many years some of the movies that have most inspired me especially in a visual way are the Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger films,” he said. “…so much of that work is about making these visual…quite artificial films and there’s something very exciting about what they’ve made that’s in front of the camera, and you know the ‘Red Shoes' in particular is the subject matter too, but you know one of my favorites is 'The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp'…and also 'Black Narcissus’; [it’s] about a woman in the Himalayas and they did it all on a soundstage.”

Perhaps Anderson was describing how artifice - like what many critics complain about in his films - can be equally emotional and poignant when artfully constructed. “You really are transported to that place but you feel that someone has made these things and they’re very emotional, moving films,”  the filmmaker said, also noted that their approach to music is very influential. “I also would say Powell and Pressberger, are a very good inspiration for music as well. ‘The Red Shoes’ is a movie where there’s a very long sequence where the music was written first and the movie was made to the music, I mean it was a dance so it makes sense. In our movie this Benjamin Britten music that we use — a lot of the movie was choreographed to it and we drew a lot of the scenes and semi-animated them in advance. So we sort of knew where the cuts were going to be based on the music.” (The Playlist)

Thelma Schoonmaker talks to Horatia Harold about her marriage to fellow filmmaker Michael Powell, the seminal director of cult thriller Peeping Tom

It was all fate. I’m not a big believer in fate, but, boy, I’ve had a lot of lucky breaks. The fact that I picked up the New York Times on that one day and saw an advertisement -‘Willing to train assistant film editor’, I mean you just don’t see ads like that - and answered it and took the job; and then, because of the job, went to the six-week film course at New York University that summer instead of the next one, it’s just amazing.

If I’d taken the next year, I wouldn’t have met Scorsese, because it was his last year at the university, and I might never have become a filmmaker. I wouldn’t have met my husband, Michael Powell, either, which would’ve been awful.

After Woodstock, Marty and I couldn’t work together for almost 10 years because I wasn’t in the union. He had moved to LA and busted into the business and I had to be in the union in order to work for him. Finally, on Raging Bull, they got me in. At about the same time, Marty was at the Edinburgh Film Festival getting an award for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and they asked him whom he’d like to receive the award from. He said, ‘Michael Powell’, and they said, ‘Who?’ No one knew who he was or where he was.

Michael thought that one of the problems that affected his career was that he and his partner Emeric Pressburger were always unpredictable. When their films came out, the distributors would always say, ‘How are we going to sell this?’ and the critics would say, ‘How are we going to review this?’ and then, when Peeping Tom came out, they must have said, ‘Oh my God, we’ve had enough of this!’ But Michael felt that if you were at the cutting edge of your art you had to understand that it was a dangerous place to be, and that history was filled with people whose careers had been destroyed by the fact that they went too far.

Carl Boehm, who played Mark in the film, was very upset by the reception it got. When we saw him, years later, for dinner, he would still say, ‘What happened? Why was it so badly received?’ Michael was much more able to understand that, I think. But then he fell into those terrible, terrible years of not being able to work, at the same age as Marty is now. Can you imagine? If Marty were suddenly told tomorrow, ‘You can’t make any more movies’? It’s just terrifying.

After the Edinburgh Festival, Marty finally found Michael in London and had a meal with him in Soho, and Michael said that it was as if he were waking from a nightmare, from those years of oblivion. He writes in his book: ‘The blood started to course in my veins again. This young fast-talking director knew everything I’d ever made and had a zillion questions about how I did it.’ It was terribly moving. So Marty raced back to America and said, ‘I’ve found him, I’ve found him! Bring him to the Telluride Film Festival, we’ll enter Peeping Tom in the New York Film Festival’, and it was a huge hit there. It was as if a bomb went off. People like Francis Coppola saw it for the first time, and Marty put up his own money to partially fund the re-release of the movie.

I wasn’t around then, but shortly after that, when Marty and I were working on Raging Bull, he started showing me the films of Michael Powell, which he does with anyone he cares about. Actors who start working with him for the first time are usually bombarded with DVDs of Michael’s films. And, at one point, he said, ‘Well, as you love his films so much, maybe you should meet him. He’s coming for dinner tonight.’

So I met Michael and fell in love with him immediately. He was such an extraordinary person. Even though he was 30 years older than me, he was so vibrant. His love of life was just written all over his face. He had these startling blue eyes, and when he spoke - and he didn’t speak a lot - whatever came out was so interesting and unusual and unclichéd, and always fresh. I was just stunned by him, but he didn’t know that. He came back and talked to me in the editing room for a bit. And then he would sometimes call, late at night, because he knew we worked very late and he liked to talk to Marty, and sometimes Marty wouldn’t be in the room and I would talk to him a bit.

When Marty and I went to LA for the Oscars that year, Michael was there at Zoetrope, which was Francis Coppola’s ill-fated experiment in independent cinema. Francis had asked Michael to be senior director in residence, because he had always loved Michael’s films, particularly The Thief of Bagdad. Michael and I started having lunch, and then we started having dinner and things began to develop between us, and, in 1980, he moved to New York to live with me when we started The King of Comedy, our next movie.

I have heard that Michael could be pretty rough on the set. He felt filmmaking was like a religion, and when you came on his set you had damned well better be ready and do the best possible job for him, and if you didn’t he could be merciless. I never saw that myself; you see, with me it was a different thing. But I’ve been told stories by actors of his bad behaviour towards them. Dirk Bogarde once said to me, at a dinner in Paris, after Michael had died, ‘You knew his cruelty?’ and I said, ‘No, I didn’t’. I never did.

Michael taught me a lot about love. He understood love in a way I think very few people do, and that was a great gift to me. It keeps me going now; it’s like a little furnace burning inside me. Scorsese and I learnt so much from Michael about filmmaking. He taught us always to be ahead of the audience - not to explain too much - and never to talk down to them. We learnt to be bolder in our films and not be afraid if maybe the audience didn’t understand everything.

Michael also taught Marty that you don’t need the beginning, middle and end of every scene - usually you can do without the beginning, just plunge right into the middle, and sometimes you don’t need the end either. Every shot in Michael’s movies taught Marty something - he so admired the acting in the films, the humour, the emotion, the dazzling style, the use of colour and the fearlessness, the absolute fearlessness.


Horatia Harold, 2007

Thelma Schoonmaker and Michael Powell on their wedding day in 1984
Actually, Kingsley resembles the late, great English director Michael Powell (The Red Shoes), who, like Méliès, was another movie genius past his prime and nearly forgotten until Scorsese resurrected his reputation. So it should come as no surprise that Scorsese would find a way of connecting Powell to Méliès in this valentine to French cinema. 
Scorsese even played matchmaker by setting up Powell romantically with his friend Thelma Schoonmaker, A.C.E., who became Powell’s bride and Scorsese’s longtime editor. She has collaborated with Scorsese on more than 20 projects over a career spanning 44 years, editing every feature film of his since Raging Bull (1980), for which she won her first Oscar. In fact, with her subsequent Academy Awards for cutting two other Scorsese films (2004’s The Aviator and 2006’s The Departed), Schoonmaker is in a four-way tie for the most Oscar-laden picture editor with Michael Kahn, A.C.E., Ralph Dawson and Daniel Mandell. 
“Hugo has deep resonance for Marty because it’s about a great filmmaker who has fallen on hard times and is forgotten,” Schoonmaker tells Editors Guild Magazine. “Marty has restored the reputations of so many filmmakers––mainly my late husband’s––and the film is a wonderful distillation of that. But, of course, that is why he was drawn to the story in the first place; the chance to show this genius, who is thrown aside, and then to show his greatness.” 
Everything about Hugo is influenced by Powell, particularly the emotion and the portrayal of silent cinema, which obviously had a powerful influence on the English filmmaker. “All of Michael’s special effects people were trained by Méliès, the inventor of special effects,” she continues. “He always talked to me about them, like Papa Day, who worked on Thief of Bagdad and so many others. It was just wonderful for me to see again what Méliès’ great genius was all about.” 
Schoonmaker cites a scene in Hugo as an example: “An explosion occurs and people disappear, and Méliès shows you exactly how that was done. Well, you look at Red Shoes and Anton Walbrook looking at himself in the mirror and smashing his hand in the mirror. It was [a substitution trick] done exactly the same way. So it’s this wonderful echo that’s going on.”
Thelma Schoonmaker and the Movie Magic of ‘Hugo’

Thelma Schoonmaker and Michael Powell on their wedding day in 1984

Actually, Kingsley resembles the late, great English director Michael Powell (The Red Shoes), who, like Méliès, was another movie genius past his prime and nearly forgotten until Scorsese resurrected his reputation. So it should come as no surprise that Scorsese would find a way of connecting Powell to Méliès in this valentine to French cinema.

Scorsese even played matchmaker by setting up Powell romantically with his friend Thelma Schoonmaker, A.C.E., who became Powell’s bride and Scorsese’s longtime editor. She has collaborated with Scorsese on more than 20 projects over a career spanning 44 years, editing every feature film of his since Raging Bull (1980), for which she won her first Oscar. In fact, with her subsequent Academy Awards for cutting two other Scorsese films (2004’s The Aviator and 2006’s The Departed), Schoonmaker is in a four-way tie for the most Oscar-laden picture editor with Michael Kahn, A.C.E., Ralph Dawson and Daniel Mandell.

“Hugo has deep resonance for Marty because it’s about a great filmmaker who has fallen on hard times and is forgotten,” Schoonmaker tells Editors Guild Magazine. “Marty has restored the reputations of so many filmmakers––mainly my late husband’s––and the film is a wonderful distillation of that. But, of course, that is why he was drawn to the story in the first place; the chance to show this genius, who is thrown aside, and then to show his greatness.”

Everything about Hugo is influenced by Powell, particularly the emotion and the portrayal of silent cinema, which obviously had a powerful influence on the English filmmaker. “All of Michael’s special effects people were trained by Méliès, the inventor of special effects,” she continues. “He always talked to me about them, like Papa Day, who worked on Thief of Bagdad and so many others. It was just wonderful for me to see again what Méliès’ great genius was all about.”

Schoonmaker cites a scene in Hugo as an example: “An explosion occurs and people disappear, and Méliès shows you exactly how that was done. Well, you look at Red Shoes and Anton Walbrook looking at himself in the mirror and smashing his hand in the mirror. It was [a substitution trick] done exactly the same way. So it’s this wonderful echo that’s going on.”

Thelma Schoonmaker and the Movie Magic of ‘Hugo’

Imre József Pressburger, Born: December 5, 1902 in Miskolc, Austria-Hungary

Imre József Pressburger, Born: December 5, 1902 in Miskolc, Austria-Hungary


I was at last night’s screening of Blimp at Film Forum wiht Martin Scorcese introducing, and I got there early to get a good seat. It’s a small cinema and I knew there’d be a line. I asked the few peiple who were standing nearby if they’d come to see Blimp, and all of them knew nothing about the film. They’d come because Marty was introducing it and wanted to see him! But at least they got to see the film as a bonus! Before Marty there was a short film presentation on the restoration given by a woman whose name I forget. They showed several before and after clips and went into quite some detail discussing the state the print was found in and the amount of work required to restore. They showed before and after clips of the German beer hall scene and the difference was truly striking. I want to go back and look at my DVD, because even there it such a visually arresting scene, but the estoration was magnificent. The bright blue coats of new guests walking in, the brilliant red of the skirt of the woman pouring the beers.I forget some of what Marty said. I kept taking mental notes, but when the film started, I was lost and forgot most of it. This is the first time I’ve ever seen him, so if I’m repeating what he’s said a dozen times, apologies. He told a story about how he and Robert DeNiro were talking about ways to tradically transform his physical form for Raging Bull, where he gains large amounts of weight, and so naturally Blimp came up in the discussions. DeNiro said he’d like to talk to Michael Powell about what Roger Livesey went through, and so Marty asked MP to dinner one night, telling him he wanted to introduce him to DeNiro. About halfway through the dinner, MP, who was sitting next to Marty, leaned over and whispered, “I thought you said DeNiro was gioing to be here?” Of course, he was, he was sitting on the other side of MP, but was so self-effacing in public he virtually disappeared. DeNiro did get to ask MP about the Livesey’s transformation, but all Marty claims MP said was,  “It’s called acting.” (Isn’t Gielguld or someone also supposed to have said that to DeNiro about Raging Bull?).Marty also talked about his own first experiences watching Blimp, the buthchered 90-minute version in black and white on TV in the 50s. He said he saw this again, in color, in the late 70s, and talked about the reconstitution of the film back to its original 163-minute form for the 1983 version. It was these negatives, if I remember rightly, that were used as the basis of the restoration. Well, the restoration! I always thought the DVD looked really fine, with sharp, bright colors and excellent sound, and wondered if a restoration was even needed, but this new version is something else. Some of the moments were a pure revelation. For example, when Clive walks into the convent at Bonne Amie (sp?) the quality of light when he first sees the rows of nurses is astonishing. There are some close-ups of Deborah Kerr’s face when she becomes luminous, and the play of emotion is tangible. There was moment after moment which came alive in a new way, and that’s hard to do for a movie that is, well, so alive in the first place. Also, the sound restoration was beautiful. I was there with a friend who had never seen it before, and was awestruck at the end. The man sitting beside me let out a loud “Wow” when the end credits began rolling, and there were similar exclamations from other audience members, and the credits were met by a round of applause. So I think Marty drawing in the unknowing New York crowds did a great service by introducing this movie to many who would never have seen it otherwise.

Ranbir

I was at last night’s screening of Blimp at Film Forum wiht Martin Scorcese introducing, and I got there early to get a good seat. It’s a small cinema and I knew there’d be a line. I asked the few peiple who were standing nearby if they’d come to see Blimp, and all of them knew nothing about the film. They’d come because Marty was introducing it and wanted to see him! But at least they got to see the film as a bonus!
 Before Marty there was a short film presentation on the restoration given by a woman whose name I forget. They showed several before and after clips and went into quite some detail discussing the state the print was found in and the amount of work required to restore. They showed before and after clips of the German beer hall scene and the difference was truly striking. I want to go back and look at my DVD, because even there it such a visually arresting scene, but the estoration was magnificent. The bright blue coats of new guests walking in, the brilliant red of the skirt of the woman pouring the beers.
I forget some of what Marty said. I kept taking mental notes, but when the film started, I was lost and forgot most of it. This is the first time I’ve ever seen him, so if I’m repeating what he’s said a dozen times, apologies. He told a story about how he and Robert DeNiro were talking about ways to tradically transform his physical form for Raging Bull, where he gains large amounts of weight, and so naturally Blimp came up in the discussions. DeNiro said he’d like to talk to Michael Powell about what Roger Livesey went through, and so Marty asked MP to dinner one night, telling him he wanted to introduce him to DeNiro. About halfway through the dinner, MP, who was sitting next to Marty, leaned over and whispered, “I thought you said DeNiro was gioing to be here?” Of course, he was, he was sitting on the other side of MP, but was so self-effacing in public he virtually disappeared. DeNiro did get to ask MP about the Livesey’s transformation, but all Marty claims MP said was,  “It’s called acting.” (Isn’t Gielguld or someone also supposed to have said that to DeNiro about Raging Bull?).
Marty also talked about his own first experiences watching Blimp, the buthchered 90-minute version in black and white on TV in the 50s. He said he saw this again, in color, in the late 70s, and talked about the reconstitution of the film back to its original 163-minute form for the 1983 version. It was these negatives, if I remember rightly, that were used as the basis of the restoration.
 Well, the restoration! I always thought the DVD looked really fine, with sharp, bright colors and excellent sound, and wondered if a restoration was even needed, but this new version is something else. Some of the moments were a pure revelation. For example, when Clive walks into the convent at Bonne Amie (sp?) the quality of light when he first sees the rows of nurses is astonishing. There are some close-ups of Deborah Kerr’s face when she becomes luminous, and the play of emotion is tangible. There was moment after moment which came alive in a new way, and that’s hard to do for a movie that is, well, so alive in the first place. Also, the sound restoration was beautiful. I was there with a friend who had never seen it before, and was awestruck at the end. The man sitting beside me let out a loud “Wow” when the end credits began rolling, and there were similar exclamations from other audience members, and the credits were met by a round of applause. So I think Marty drawing in the unknowing New York crowds did a great service by introducing this movie to many who would never have seen it otherwise.

Ranbir

"Seeing Colonel Blimp strictly in the terms of for-the-war-effort propaganda is a terrible mistake,” warns Jaime N Christley in Slant. “There isn’t a jingoistic, early-to-mid-20th-century ‘I dare say old chap’ moment or sentiment in the film that Powell and Pressburger fail to elevate to a broader, frequently mythic, perspective. All the same, the wars portrayed in the film (the Boer War, the First and Second World Wars), depicted as they are indirectly, often through montage, are often merely a vehicle for the duo’s more pressing concerns, being no less than an inverse of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five; instead of becoming unstuck in time, General Candy (Roger Livesey) remains stuck while the century seems to evaporate and transform around him, ungraspable, in a whirlwind of battlefield commendations and animal heads. Only two things seem to remain, besides the dependability of change and a world always seeming to ignite in violent conflagration: his dear friend Theodor Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook, in one the greatest performances from one of the screen’s most dignified, charismatic figures), and Deborah Kerr, who plays three characters. For the audience, the idea of a triple-Kerr is a Buñuelian fantasy abstraction, but for Theo and Clive, it’s nearly the only continuity they can depend on as the 20th century marches on, eventually without them.”