Archive for Powell and Pressburger

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Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2017 by dcairns

Huge gratitude to Talking Pictures TV for screening ENCHANTMENT (1948), which I don’t think I’d ever heard of, directed by Irving Reis, who was merely a name to me. It’s been a while since I discovered a 40s Hollywood film that was a revelation to me.

It’s based on a Rumer Godden novel — one might think her an extraordinarily fortunate author in her adaptations, except I don’t think she liked any of them, certainly not BLACK NARCISSUS, which maybe affirms some part of the auteur theory by transmogrifying wholly into a Powell & Pressburger joint. Though it’s certainly possible to like both book and film. But Rumer didn’t, is my point.

It’s also a Goldwyn production, and stuffed full of his favourite talent — not Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo, you understand, but David Niven (DODSWORTH, WUTHERING HEIGHTS), Teresa Wright (THE LITTLE FOXES, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES) and Leo g. Carroll (WUTHERING HEIGHTS again), the whole being shot by Gregg Toland (most of the above). It’s basically a William Wyler movie without Wyler, which might be useful in assessing his contribution to the films he made for Goldwyn, except I’d rather just rave about this one.

Oh, and the cast also includes Evelyn Keyes, who is delightful, and Farley Granger, almost equally so only in a moustache. I’m not always anti-whiskers — David Niven doesn’t seem complete without his lip-caterpillar, for instance, but the more hair you put on Farley’s face, the less of Farley’s face you see, and that has to be counted as a loss.

For some reason the Blitz seems a time of romance, which is crazy — bombs falling from the sky onto human habitations are not romantic — but there it is. I’ve been reading Connie Willis, who suffers from the same inappropriate yearning for tumbling ordinance. This movie is framed by the war, but glides from thence into flashbacks going back to Victorian times.

Niven is barely recognizable (save for that lightbulb cranium) in the contemporary sections, wrapped in a rather convincing make-up and giving a thoroughly convincing performance of old age. His voice is completely unrecognizable, save for a few moments when his distinctive way with a line creeps through.


The leaping about in time is accomplished with a lot of adventuresome skill, some of which may be accredited to Toland, who after all had CITIZEN KANE to his credit. And so we get temporal shifts delivered with lighting changes (before Death of a Salesman) , and one extraordinary bit where the camera pans out of flashback into present tense in a single unbroken shot, the kind of thing very rarely seen in the forties — THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP is the best-known example. And a lovely moment where we a scene fades out except for a character’s hand, which lingers momentarily like the Cheshire Cat’s grin or the blind hermit’s cross in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, then dissolves to another image of a hand, and irises out in a new scene. That trick turns up in HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, but practically nowhere else in screen history.

Evocative effects-work for the Blitz scenes.

Also, for fans of eccentric forties storytelling (David Bordwell), it’s narrated by a house. That would have been enough to make me love it, but there’s so much more.

What other Reis ought I to see? I’ll be all over THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBYSOXER, of course, but are there other gems?

The Late Show 2

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2011 by dcairns

It continues — here’s where I’ll post links to blog posts in The Late Show: The Late Films Blogathon. This post will stay at the top, if I can figure out how to do that, with my own entries appearing — slowly — down beneath it.

Late Losey — M KLEIN, today.

Diarmid Mogg, author of my favourite movie speciality blog, The Unsung Joe, weighs in on one of Hollywood’s forgotten men, John Ince (brother of the more famous Thomas and Ralph), here. It’s an eye-opener!

For Shadowplay, David Melville continues his alphabetical survey of Mexican melodrama with LA GENERALA, the last film of Maria Felix.

Ben Alpers on MOONRISE, my favourite late Borzage — maybe my favourite Borzage.

Gareth comes up trumps with another Melville piece — UN FLIC stars Delon and is cool as ice.

Late Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle? Are you sure? Wanna make something of it?

HUGO receives tender loving care from Farran Smith Nehme, the Self-Styled Siren, who suggested the idea of this blogathon over dinner in Brooklyn. And HUGO is not only the latest film from a senior film artist, but a film about the Autumn years of a great filmmaker. Go here, at once.

At the ever-excellent Gareth’s Movie Diary, LE CERCLE ROUGE is the topic of the day — late Melville, late Bourvil, and a terrific piece.

I try to tackle one of the trickiest entries in Richard Lester’s career, his last fiction feature, whose modest virtues are forever overshadowed by an on-set tragedy — THE RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS.

Over at the excellent Robert Donat site, Gill Fraser Lee assesses THE INN OF THE SIXTH HAPPINESS, mid-period Mark Robson, but Donat’s last film, made when he was extremely ill. This is a thoughtful and deeply moving piece and I’m proud I nudged Gill towards writing it (but also a little guilty). Boy! This kind of piece makes this whole blogathon thing worthwhile.

It suddenly occurred to me, after watching and loving HUGO, to wonder about Georges Melies last film — the story of his career’s end was well known to me, but I hadn’t looked at anything from the very end of his career. So I did.

My own first entry approaches LOVE AMONG THE RUINS, a late-ish George Cukor I really enjoyed, with fine late-ish performances by Katherine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier. Here.

Guest Shadowplayer Judy Dean looks at The Great Mastroianni’s last bow, in Manoel de Oliveira’s VOYAGE TO THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD (below).

David Ehrenstein proves that great minds think alike with THE BOY WHO TURNED YELLOW (above and here).

The ball got rolling with two late Ken Russells from the late Ken Russell, over at Brandon’s Movie Memory here and here.


Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2008 by dcairns

 boom bang a bang

Things that filmmakers think will speed up their films, but in fact often slow them down:

1) Lots of narrative strands. Yes, you can move back and forth between them, ensuring a rapid turnover of scenes and a variety of settings and characters. But the effect may be that each story tends to develop VERY SLOWLY, since it only has a short episode of screen time in which to progress. This will become obvious over time. See: HEROES. Unless it becomes obvious AT ONCE. See: ST TRINIANS.

2) Snazzy wipes and other fancy transitions. I used to say that wipes are a sure sign of a film in trouble. Come to think of it, I still do. They are. Admittedly, THE SEVEN SAMURAI and RASHOMON are masterpieces, and Kurosawa in those days used wipes quite a lot. And they don’t hurt those films by any means. But I bet everybody heaved a sigh of relief when he grew out of them.

Instead of wipes, I recommend the use of Intertitles, reading “The makers regret that they were unable to achieve a lively and interesting effect when they shot the film, so here is a diversionary tactic we hope will satisfy.”

Even when the film is “nae bad”, as we say here, wipes generally betray a loss of confidence in the cutting room. Tony Richardson was convinced TOM JONES was a stinker, so he panicked and speckled the film with slightly annoying optical wipes, freeze-frames and flip-flops. To the dessicated shade of Mr. Richardson I wag a finger and say what I say to students when they dangle a script and ask, ‘How do I make it interesting?’ ‘Let’s assume,’ I respond, ‘that it’s ALREADY interesting (because if not, you are stuffed), and instead ask, “How do I bring out its interesting qualities?”‘ Again, Richardson doesn’t ruin TOM JONES, but the techniques he brought to the otiginal filming were much more effective than the optical house malarkey inflicted after the fact.

Fast and Furious

3) Snappy montages. The Hollywood hack’s chance to show off what songs he can afford. But montages slacken dramatic tension, so though you can whiz through plot developments or show our happy and affluent couple getting to know each other without having to bother with any tiresome WRITING, you allow the audience to drift off into their own little reveries (or to the concession stand) and it will Take Time to get them back.

(A Very Honourable Exception: the turning pages of the scrapbook in THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP, which achieve devastating emotional impact with sublime economy of means.)

Brokeback Mountain

This isn’t intended as a list of Thou Shalt Nots. All of the above devices are legitimate. It’s just that they have often been often used to produce an effect of speed and zip which is by no means intrinsic to their nature.