Author Topic: Powell & Pressburger  (Read 2499 times)

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SoNowThen

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Powell & Pressburger
« on: April 08, 2004, 02:51:19 PM »
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The Red Shoes

I finally watched this last night, after waiting and planning to see it, given Scorsese's huge endorsement.

I liked a lot about it. Obviously the life vs art conflict and all that. And there's something really fun about the fake sets and over-the-top colors.

Buuuuut, the ending just didn't work for me.

*spoilers*


Just the suicide bit of it, and the fact that it got so surreal. The only other part that set up this mood was the middle sequence where they actually performed The Red Shoes ballet, but that was the other part that I wasn't into. It seemed like you had this fairly realistic story of behind the scenes, and then these two huge out-of-the-blue surreal flourishes.

So anybody else see this or have an opinion on it? I kinda wish I liked it more, but I don't think I'd watch it again...
Those who say that the totalitarian state of the Soviet Union was not "real" Marxism also cannot admit that one simple feature of Marxism makes totalitarianism necessary:  the rejection of civil society. Since civil society is the sphere of private activity, its abolition and replacement by political society means that nothing private remains. That is already the essence of totalitarianism; and the moralistic practice of the trendy Left, which regards everything as political and sometimes reveals its hostility to free speech, does nothing to contradict this implication.

When those who hated capital and consumption (and Jews) in the 20th century murdered some hundred million people, and the poster children for the struggle against international capitalism and America are now fanatical Islamic terrorists, this puts recent enthusiasts in an awkward position. Most of them are too dense and shameless to appreciate it, and far too many are taken in by the moralistic and paternalistic rhetoric of the Left.

Gold Trumpet

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Powell & Pressburger
« Reply #1 on: April 08, 2004, 04:32:23 PM »
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I blind bought the Criterion dvd because of Scorsese entirely and admit I was underwhelmed a bit considering how much he praised it. However, I really liked it. The problem for me was that the film felt so conventional in conjucture to the typical storyline you expected, but there is a majesty to the ballet sequences and color designs that makes me understand the great appeal of the film. When Brian De Palma said it made him want to go into movies or it greatly affected Spike Lee, I think I forgot at first it was a major inspiration for them as children basically and they resign it to that feeling when commenting on now. Its just on first viewing, I didn't go into it thinking that at all.

Ghostboy

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Powell & Pressburger
« Reply #2 on: April 08, 2004, 04:35:55 PM »
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I haven't seen it in many years, but I remember loving it especially because of those touches of surreality.

Stefen

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Powell & Pressburger
« Reply #3 on: April 08, 2004, 06:09:18 PM »
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Yes Yes yes. This movie is so beautiful. I like it alot. I hated this movie the first time I saw it, but when I got older and watched it again I liked it alot more, now I rank it up there with some of my favorite movies. The ballet was great. I think thats my favorite part. I wanted to start a powell and pressburger thread but didn't want to get redirected. I highly reccomend this movie.
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SoNowThen

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Powell & Pressburger
« Reply #4 on: April 08, 2004, 07:11:12 PM »
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Quote from: The Gold Trumpet
I blind bought the Criterion dvd because of Scorsese entirely and admit I was underwhelmed a bit considering how much he praised it. However, I really liked it. The problem for me was that the film felt so conventional in conjucture to the typical storyline you expected, but there is a majesty to the ballet sequences and color designs that makes me understand the great appeal of the film. When Brian De Palma said it made him want to go into movies or it greatly affected Spike Lee, I think I forgot at first it was a major inspiration for them as children basically and they resign it to that feeling when commenting on now. Its just on first viewing, I didn't go into it thinking that at all.


Yeah, that's what I gathered from Scorsese's observations, and my own responses to the film. It seems like a movie that would deeply affect you as a younger kid (in that time). Kinda like how I'm sure if I ever saw Duel In The Sun I would not like it, yet Marty goes ga ga over it based on childhood memories.


In response to GB: did you feel that the movie flowed in and out of those surreal parts smoothly? It's not that they bothered me as they happened per se, but just that in a movie where everything built so nicely and took proper time, it seems like she went from being in total control to all of the sudden being insane crazy and jumping off a platform. Even the fairy tale that suggested the shoes killed her, it's like in the reality of the movie it was more Lementov (sp?) who pushed her over the edge, even though as Scorsese points out it seems the shoes shuffle her off that ledge.

I dunno, I guess I was surprised in that scene where the composer woke up in the middle of the night and went to play piano, you'd usually see the girl get all upset because he's still furthering his art, while she's not. But she seems so content and resigned. Yet, two scenes later, she's going nuts...
Those who say that the totalitarian state of the Soviet Union was not "real" Marxism also cannot admit that one simple feature of Marxism makes totalitarianism necessary:  the rejection of civil society. Since civil society is the sphere of private activity, its abolition and replacement by political society means that nothing private remains. That is already the essence of totalitarianism; and the moralistic practice of the trendy Left, which regards everything as political and sometimes reveals its hostility to free speech, does nothing to contradict this implication.

When those who hated capital and consumption (and Jews) in the 20th century murdered some hundred million people, and the poster children for the struggle against international capitalism and America are now fanatical Islamic terrorists, this puts recent enthusiasts in an awkward position. Most of them are too dense and shameless to appreciate it, and far too many are taken in by the moralistic and paternalistic rhetoric of the Left.

Weak2ndAct

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Powell & Pressburger
« Reply #5 on: April 08, 2004, 09:46:20 PM »
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Is there even a Powell/Pressburger thread?  I liked the Red Shoes, but I liked 'Black Narcissus' even more.  Another great criterion dvd and spectacular cinematography by Jack Cardiff.

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Powell & Pressburger
« Reply #6 on: April 11, 2004, 07:30:21 AM »
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I've not yet seen The Red Shoes. To be completely honest, I've been avoiding it because of Scorsese's praise – the prospect of being let down scares me a little.

But I have seen Black Narcissus and I think it's an unmitigated masterpiece. Beautiful before its time and extremely [and perhaps even a little surprisingly] engaging. The film's climatic final sequence is just...wow. It's breathtaking.
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Split Infinitive

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Re: Powell & Pressburger
« Reply #7 on: February 14, 2006, 10:01:02 AM »
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These were my first thoughts upon seeing The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp:

I’ve read that The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp was often favorably compared to Citizen Kane, albeit a very British version. In that both films come as close to encapsulating the entire life of a man as a film can probably come in two hours, the comparison is somewhat fair. In that both films structure the story through the device of flashback and demonstrate a flair for sophisticated narrative and composition, it is somewhat fair. In that both films are cinematic masterpieces, I also concede that the comparison is somewhat fair. But they are very, very, very different films.

Taking its name from a comic strip of the period by David Low (which I’ve never read), Powell and Pressburger present a tableaux of British society concentrated in the profession of the Army. In what can only be described as a virtuoso performance, Roger Livesey plays Clive Candy, an gentleman officer, at three different periods in his life, retaining the same personality traits, portraying the change that comes with experience and age (and a never-quite-mended broken heart), as well as the stiff-necked resistance to change that, for the filmmakers, seems to codify a generation ill-equipped to deal rationally with a changing world.

We witness the death of the “gentleman’s war” through Candy’s eyes, as he comes from the Boer war a naïve young man, survives The Great War convinced that “right is might” earned the Allies a victory, then is finally cast aside as an antiquated duffer when he admits that he would rather lose to the Nazis than fight tooth and claw to beat them on their level. Forty years pass in the blink of an eye, and despite his growth, Clive remains essentially a little boy in heart and mind, traits which do him justice and earn him the lifelong friendship of a German officer, Theo Kretschmar-Schludorff, played magnificently by Anton Walbrook.

Candy’s capacity for loyalty, goodness, and friendship become useless in a world grappling with the threat of an enemy that would stamp out that kind of weakness. In one of the film’s most heartbreaking scenes, Theo, recently liberated from a prisoner of war camp in England after Armistice Day, is invited home by his old friend Clive for dinner. There, he is introduced to about a dozen army men who patronizingly assure him that Britain will have Germany back on its feet in no time, which we the viewers know was as far from the case as could be. These two old friends, Clive and Theo, met in an era where saber duels were fought over an insipid insult (indeed, that is how they met—as duelists), and the combatants would bear each other no ill will afterwards. Carried to the world stage, the unfeasibility of this is transparent to everyone but the conquerors, and twenty years later, Theo returns to England, his wife dead, his sons converted to Nazis, his post in the army long resigned. And still, he cannot make his friend see that their kind of friendship is the last of its kind.

Deborah Kerr plays three women in Candy’s life—the woman he falls for (and who marries his best friend, Theo), his wife (whom he meets at the end of WWI), and his driver during the terrifying days of WWII. Candy meets Edith Hunter at the turn of the century in Germany, where she is an English governess commanding a premium for her services. Though he is happy to see her contentedly married to his friend, she remains the love of his life. His wife and his driver are an attempt to retain the happiest days of his life—which are entrenched firmly in the past. Powell and Pressburger craft a sweepingly romantic love story into metaphor for the rose-colored glasses that prove to be Candy’s downfall.

With empathetic portrayals for both a British and German officer, as well as an evenhanded critique of the politics of war (and the arbitrary separation between the fighting and the politics forced upon the soldiers), Colonel Blimp is a complex, stunning drama that not only encapsulates a man’s life and ideals, it is an elegy without despair. By the end of a film, we have seen the changing of the guard, but the very presence of a film like The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a testament to the fact that certain ideals are not forgotten and will not simply fade away. It is a salute to the brave old fools who usher the young into the real world with a pat on the back and a reassuring smile; it recognizes us all for what we are and triumphs with a stiff upper lip and a mustached head held high.
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wilder

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Re: Powell & Pressburger
« Reply #8 on: May 28, 2013, 03:34:32 PM »
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Detailed interview with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger looking back at their long career as influential British filmmakers and their unusual partnership. The documentary includes clips from many of their major films and interviews with both Powell and Pressburger, separately and together, as well as rare clips with Michael Powell and director Francis Ford Coppola at Zoetrope Studios while he was making One From the Heart and Martin Scorsese, Jerry Lewis and Robert De Niro on the set of King of Comedy.

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wilder

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Re: Powell & Pressburger
« Reply #9 on: August 15, 2016, 07:13:44 PM »
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Dark Passages: Is The Red Shoes a Film Noir?
by Imogen Sara Smith
via Criterion



If you want to start an argument among noir fans, there’s no easier way than proposing to add or subtract a film from the canon. All these debates turn on the eternally tricky question: what is film noir? Fittingly for a body of films so full of narrative confusion and moral ambiguity, noir is a notoriously slippery customer. Is it a genre, a cycle, a style? Too often, it’s in danger of becoming a brand, defined by a checklist of instantly recognizable motifs. There must be granite-jawed men in trench coats with the brims of their fedoras pulled down to shadow their eyes. There must be a femme fatale whose lacquered lips gleam like the wet asphalt on which her heels clatter. Guns must be pulled at regular intervals, cigarette smoke must curl up in the shafts of light from Venetian blinds, beatings must occur in blind alleys behind neon-smeared cocktail bars. There must be crime, hard-boiled banter, and a sucker-hero tripped up by fate.

Don’t get me wrong: I love these iconic elements as much as the next noir addict, but I also see the essence of noir in films that look and sound very different. This essence lies below the surface of crime and violence, in an interior world of alienation, anxiety, obsession, disillusionment. Or as crime writer David Goodis sums it up in his novel Nightfall: “a certain amount of confusion, some despair mixed in, and some loneliness, and some bitterness, and topped with a dash of desperation.”

These ingredients can be found in many films that don’t fall neatly within the boundaries of the classic noir cycle. Some fans like to patrol these boundaries and deny entry to films that lack the proper credentials. I believe the boundaries are porous, that noir has a way of spreading like an infection or a miasma. Exceptions to the rules—noir in radiant color (Leave Her to Heaven or Desert Fury), rural noir (They Live By Night, The Hitchhiker, or Bitter Rice), period noir (The Suspect or So Evil My Love)—do not prove the rule but rather demonstrate, like so many noir stories, that rules are made to be bent until they snap from the strain.

For the record, I don’t think noir is a genre. Genres are defined by their subject matter or settings—westerns, war movies, gangster or heist pictures, romantic comedies—whereas film noir is a more flexible set of plot elements, themes, and visual and narrative conventions that coalesced during a particular period in Hollywood, roughly 1940 to 1960. With its melting-pot lineage, which includes American pulp fiction, German expressionism, and poetic realism, noir can encompass everything from semidocumentary police procedurals to lush psychological dramas, witty drawing-room murder mysteries to brutal prison flicks. This is not to say that efforts to define noir or trace the origins and trajectory of the classic cycle aren’t worthwhile. But that discussion is only enhanced by considering noir’s ancestors, relatives, or fellow travelers—the noir cycles of other countries, silent noir, pre-Code noir, noir westerns, noir melodrama . . .

Melodrama is where some people balk. A much-maligned form, it is often treated like noir’s embarrassing, scene-making stepsister, and the popularity of the hard-boiled style, with its dry, masculine stoicism, has tended to obscure the closeness of their relationship. (In the days before the term “film noir” was widely adopted, movies we would now call noir were often dubbed “crime melodramas”—for instance, by James Agee in a 1946 review of The Killers, Black Angel, and The Dark Corner.) Noir stories are always fueled by intense, violent feelings—obsessive love or hate, greed or fear or lust for revenge. Both noir and melodrama are about people trapped or possessed by forces beyond their control. The tough guy’s frozen-faced impassivity is just as stylized a response as the operatic excesses of melodrama. Are conflicts that climax in emotional outbursts really more implausible, more “over the top” than ones that climax in shoot-outs?

Written on the Wind (1956) does open with a gunshot, amid a storm of dead leaves and smashed whiskey bottles, and it unfurls in flashback to trace the path to the fatal night. Yet Sirk’s dark melodrama is rarely spoken of in the context of noir; his style, at once feverish and ceremonial, garishly overheated and obliquely cool, is sui generis. But his work, like so much of noir, is about the lies and loss embedded in the American dream of self-transformation, the gnawing hunger and perverse self-destructiveness bred by plenty and complacency. In Written on the Wind, the emotionally crippled offspring of an oil millionaire are caught in a tangle of frustrated desires and long-nursed resentments: the son a weak playboy who treats his lacerating insecurity with cheap corn liquor, his sister a hedonistic tramp who treats her unrequited love with cheap sex. In the end, she provides a melancholy epitaph for her brother: “He was sad. The saddest of us all. He needed so much, and had so little.”

There is something of the warning fable or the dark fairy tale embedded in many noir stories: the perfect heist ends with everyone dead and money blowing away in the wind, the angelic beauty reveals a heart of black ice, the dream of freedom is cut down in the dirt a few feet from the border. Desire is deadly, ambition is a mirage in a desert of waste and failure. Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales dwell cruelly on the punishments incurred for wanting what you don’t have; they stem from a bone-deep understanding of what it is to need so much and have so little. The little mermaid is so desperately in love with a man that she trades her underwater existence for legs that make her feel as though she is walking on knives, only to die of a broken heart when he marries someone else. The little match girl, sinking into warm, beautiful visions fueled by the matches she burns as she freezes to death, might be an addict swooning in the embrace of the substance that’s killing him.

At the heart of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes (1948) is a seventeen-minute-long ballet based on Andersen’s eponymous tale of a girl who longs for a pair of red shoes, which, once donned, force her to dance until she dies. In this cinematic tour de force, the doomed girl whirls through an increasingly noirish world: a sinister carnival, desolate city squares with floating newspapers, a lurid nightscape with prostitutes clustered under streetlamps, a nightmarish orgy of masked, savage figures, and finally a funeral at which the girl, now in filthy rags, collapses and dies. The ballet was choreographed by Robert Helpmann, who also partners the radiant Moira Shearer, and Léonide Massine, who created the role of the sinister shoemaker:



In Andersen’s story, the girl ends up asking a woodsman to chop off her feet. Nothing so gruesome happens in the film (though the image of the impresario Lermontov caressing a sculpture of a severed foot in a pointe shoe may be a sly allusion), but the psychological violence is no less brutal. This cruelty lurks in a radiant, enchanting world of crimson-plush theaters and rococo drawing rooms, the vibrant bustle of Covent Garden, the deep, plangent blue of the Mediterranean, and the crumbling, sun-soaked stones of a villa above Monte Carlo. But beauty comes at a high price, the “great agony of body and spirit” that Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) tells the ballerina Vicky Page (Moira Shearer) she will have to suffer to be an artist. The film’s real conflict, Powell wrote, is not between art and love, but “between romance and realism, between theater and life.” Lermontov, like Mephistopheles, offers to make Vicky immortal but demands that she choose between dancing and living.

So is The Red Shoes a film noir? It doesn’t look much like one, and it lacks most of the tropes we expect. But Vicky’s burning drive erupts in images—like the shocking close-up of her face snapping out of a turn, black and white and red and demonically fierce—that spring straight from noir’s expressionist roots, while the conflict that almost literally tears her apart is observed with flaying psychological insight that characterizes the best of noir. There were those who objected when Powell and Pressburger’s masterpiece graced the lineup for the Noir City Film Festival in San Francisco in January; even Eddie Muller, founder of the Film Noir Foundation, which presents the festival annually, admitted he had gone “off the reservation” in his programming for the 2016 edition. His selections, which ranged from tortured-artist dramas (Young Man with a Horn, The Big Knife) to explorations of the blurred border between art and madness (Specter of the Rose, Peeping Tom), drove home the message that art, no less than money or sex, can be a fatal obsession. We all know crime doesn’t pay, but that the purest ideals might also undo us is a bitterer pill to swallow. Why do we swallow the bitter pills of noir with such insatiable delight? That is the endlessly interesting question.

Imogen Sara Smith is the author of In Lonely Places: Film Noir Beyond the City and Buster Keaton: The Persistence of Comedy. Her writing has appeared in Sight & Sound, Cineaste, Film Quarterly, Reverse Shot, and other publications.

 

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