Archive for Michael Powell

Throwing Darts in Lovers’ Eyes

Posted in FILM with tags , , on November 4, 2015 by dcairns



An odd thing.

Michael Powell’s PEEPING TOM begins with the Archers’ target logo, and then a giant closeup of an  eye (a painful juxtaposition). The eye pops open wide via jump-cut. Then we see a street, then the lenses of a cine-camera, concealed within the folds of a duffel coat, peering glassily out at the world.


Next, a POV of the street, with superimposed markings implying clearly that this is what the camera sees.

We approach a lady of the night — and she looks directly into the lens, which is eye-level with her, and says “It’ll be two quid.”


The thing nobody ever seems to point out is that, if Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) has really hidden the camera in his coat at chest level, he must be about seven feet tall if the lady is looking straight into it. And why doesn’t she remark upon the fact that he’s filming her? And if his camera were really hidden effectively, surely she would NOT be speaking straight into it?

It would seem like a peculiar mistake, but I kind of like it. There’s something implied about Lewis’s psychotic identification with his movie camera: a suggestion that he sees the world as if through a camera lens. So this shot isn’t the actual POV of his camera, it’s an expressionistic take on his own POV. Possibly. At any rate, I thought it was worth pointing out that it doesn’t make any rational sense but is cool.

As my friend Lawrie said, “I laughed like a drain when I saw he’d made PEEPING TOM, because, of course, Mickey was the sadist of all time!”


A Book

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on June 16, 2015 by dcairns


I’m in a book!

Two entries in this whopping scholarly overview are written by me — one on Return to the Edge of the World, Michael Powell’s look back at the film which made his name, and one on  Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance, Chris Rodley and Kevin MacDonald’s scintillating documentary on that fascinating, Edinburgh-born rogue talent.

Huge thanks to Jonny Murray, film scholar and particular expert on the works of Bill Forsyth and Scottish cinema in general, who made the introductions necessary to get me the gig.

I wrote my entries AGES ago but various delays kept the thing from seeing the light until now. It takes a pleasingly broad view of what constitutes Scottish cinema — films made by Scottish directors abroad are not counted, but Hollywood movies set here, like BRIGADOON, do get a mention. There’s some special consideration of genre cinema (seven versions of the Burke and Hare story!) and detailed accounts of some relatively unreported movies, such as DONKEYS and GREGORY’S TWO GIRLS.

I’m just thrilled to be in a book!

Directory of World Cinema: Scotland (Ib – Directory of World Cinema)


Posted in FILM, Painting, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2014 by dcairns


I realized just now that I’m so close to being the ultimate web resource for all things Edana Romney (the talent behind CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS, a film I first addressed here)  that I might as well go the whole hog and make sure of it.

Top Shadowplayer La Faustin informed me via Facebook of this curiosity, in which “actress, journalist and advisor on personal problems” Edana Romney oversees the conversion of her Kentish cottage. I don’t know how to interpret that third job description — a sort of agony aunt, a paid confidante to the stars, a therapist? La Faustin has fun imagining an “Ask Myfanwy Conway” column. We also learn that ER is pals with Zachary Scott. La Faustin observes, ” In the movies, at least, ‘pals with Zachary Scott’ means tears before bedtime.” At any rate, the former Mrs Woolf here appears to be single, with a poodle called Kewpie (?) for company.


See here.

Then I discover that the Romney Archive is held by the University of Southern California (Romney died in that fair state.) We learn that the archive contains extensive research and screenplay drafts for a film on the life of Sir Richard Burton, explorer. (Later, part of the Great Man’s life did make it to the screen in THE MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON, directed by Bob Rafelson.)

The next oddity is a cutting from the Singaporean Free Press, in which we learn that Robert Newton sued Romney in 1950 over a movie offer that never materialised. Newton had been offered the role of Dr Veron, but the article doesn’t say what the film was, what Romney’s involvement in it might be (I’m assuming writer but also producer) or what the whole story is really about. Romney’s sparse screen credits make it clear that the film never materialised.


Then, luckily, we find this, a portfolio of costume designs for some kind of project about Rachel Eliza Felix, 19th century French tragedienne. The holder of the portfolio, John George Campbell, has worked out that much, and researched the drawings sufficiently to determine that the artist responsible is Owen Hyde Clarke, who also designed dresses for CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS. And among the drawings we find a sketch of Dr. Veron, looking like a camper version of Robert Newton, and so we are able to connect the Singaporean news story with the costume sketch portfolio.


Thus, Romney’s sparse CV gains two more films, unmade alas.

John Campbell informs me that the RACHEL project was actually planned *before* CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS. The 1951 news story still makes sense considering the grindingly slow nature of the legal system.

Meanwhile, her married name got me thinking, and sure enough a deeper probe into the IMDb revealed that her husband was producer John Woolf, who in 1948 resigned as joint managing director of Rank to set up Romulus Films with his brother James. This allows us to see why Romney, a bit-part actress, was suddenly given a leading role in her own delirious vanity project. It also suggests why there was no successor to CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS — possibly Woolf no longer had the clout to get such peculiar projects off the ground. By 1955 the couple were divorced.

(When Woolf left Rank his place was taken by John Davis, “the man who destroyed the British film industry.” He’s parodied as “Don Jarvis” in PEEPING TOM, made by Michael Powell, one of his many enemies. Interestingly, Woolf’s brother James was equally prone to amour fou, boosting actor Laurence Harvey’s career because he was desperately in love with him.)

One more acting credit, for a 1957 episode of Masterpiece Theatre entitled The Last Flight, intrigues me. Further down the cast lurks Stratford Johns who, like Romney, was born in South Africa. In the early nineties I produced a student film starring Mr Johns, or Alan to his friends. So all this time I was one handshake away from her, but back then I didn’t know who she was and was thus unable to ask her co-star for info. As a fellow countryman, I’m sure he would have made her acquaintance and would have had an opinion of her, probably strong and acidic.


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