Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.
A lot of the documents have been sent to me or have come from other web sites. The name of the web site is given where known. If I have unintentionally included an image or document that is copyrighted or that I shouldn't have done then please email me and I'll remove it.
I make no money from this site, it's purely for the love of the films.
[Any comments are by me (Steve Crook) and other members of the email list]
Original was at http://home.istar.ca/~films/archers.html
Then was at http://www.cinematheque.bc.ca/previous/archers.html but without images.
Now, nowhere except here.
Pacific Cinémathéque, in conjunction with the British Film Institute and the Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Classic Film Collection, presents
THE AMAZING ARCHERS:All New, Fully Restored, Full Length 35mm Prints from the British Film Institute*
The Films of Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
In the history of motion pictures, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger occupy a very special place. They explored uncharted territories, established new boundaries and redefined the art of film-making. . . [F]or me, the Powell/Pressburger films perform like symphonies. I can frequently play them and yet discover new things, enjoy their rich texture, their subtle nuances, their hysteria and grace. As a viewer, they make me feel I'm continuously rediscovering the cinema." -- Martin Scorsese
"One of the most remarkable, if relatively unheralded, partnerships in contemporary cinema." -- Stephen Hanson
"Powell . . . is the most audaciously extrovert of British directors, scornful of the constrictions of good taste and happy to eschew realism in the name of colour and spectacle. Extraordinary fates await his often larger-than-life characters and all his major films contain passages which shift from reality to myth, from the rhythms of ordinary life to a pure symphony of colour and sound which bears out his often stated admiration for Walt Disney." --Roy Armes
"There is not a British director, working in Britain, with as many worthwhile films to his credit as Michael Powell . . . Against persistent British attempts to dignify realism, Powell must have seemed gaudy, distasteful and effete. All three ingredients contribute to his vision, but so do an imaginative evocation of the erotic and the supernatural, a pioneering enthusiasm for visual autonomy always likely to break out in passages of stunning delight, . . . a wicked sense of humour and private jokes, and, most distinctive . . . an unsettling mixture of emotional reticence and splurging fantasy." -- David Thomson
"May rival Hitchcock as Britain's most prominent film-maker." -- Associated Press
"Michael Powell is the most extreme and the most elusive director in the English cinema. He may also be the best, if you are prepared for the best to be so unsettling." -- David Thomson
"Has Britain ever produced a more personal, and versatile, virtuoso of a cineaste than Michael Powell?" -- Gerald Peary
At a time when sober, black-and-white, semi-documentary kitchen sink realism was establishing itself as the dominant aesthetic of the British cinema, the collaborative team of director Michael Powell and Hungarian-born screenwriter Emeric Pressburger -- working collectively under the name "The Archers" -- fashioned an amazing body of work completely at odds with prevailing British fashion: highly stylized, colourful, expressionist, fantastical, flamboyant, florid, gothic, romantic, mystical, ironic, eccentric, exotic, extravagant, excessive. Many serious critics of the day, and of subsequent decades, disdained their work -- The Archers' films were always more popular with British audiences than with British critics -- and as recently as fifteen years ago one admirer of proto-postmodernists Powell and Pressburger could profess to be mystified by their lack of even cult status: "On practically all counts, Michael Powell ought to be a cult figure, the object of passionate devotion. . . but he has never quite made it. . . [It] may be that he is too eccentric to be accepted wholeheartedly as a British director by the British, and too significantly British to be accepted by the rest of the world as anything else" (John Russell Taylor).
Since those words were written, the tide has turned significantly: "Today, no one has any doubts that Powell and Pressburger are among the greatest moviemaking partnerships, or that Powell was any less than a rare uncompromising genius" (David Thomson). Indeed, today Powell is often cited as the British cinema's greatest director -- arguably greater even than Hitchcock, who, of course made most of his masterworks in Hollywood -- and The Archers are cited as important influences on the stylish likes of Ken Russell, Nicolas Roeg, Derek Jarman, and other aesthetic mavericks who similarly eschewed the social realism of the mainstream British cinema. (The late Jarman once declared Powell as "the only British feature director whose work is in the first rank.") Perhaps Powell's most illustrious and most important contemporary proponent has been Martin Scorsese, who has consistently and vocally championed Powell as one of the cinema's all-time greatest artists. (Scorsese's Oscar-winning editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, is Powell's widow, and has also been instrumental in the critical rehabilitation of The Archers' works.)
This retrospective showcases The Archers' amazing oeuvre, from the expressionist-influenced war and espionage films with which Powell and Pressburger began their collaboration, to the florid colour fantasies of the late 40s and 50s which constitute their greatest achievements, and which are amongst the most visually extravagant films ever made -- and which just beg to be seen as they will be presented here: in sparkling, new, restored, unexpurgated 35mm prints. (Many of The Archers' films were available for years only in severely cut, abbreviated versions). Made possible through the efforts of the Champagne Piper- Heidsieck Classic Film Collection, a joint venture of the British Film Institute and the renowned champagne house aimed at restoring and disseminating new 35mm prints of essential works of world cinema, this is truly a rare, not-to-be-missed opportunity to see The Archers' ravishing, one-of-a-kind cinema in all its vintage big-screen glory. It is also, we believe, far and away the event of the season on the international cinematheque circuit. Pacific Cin math que is pleased and proud to be able to present it to Vancouver audiences.
Acknowledgements: British Film Institute / Champagne Piper- Heidsieck Classic Film Collection
* Please note: Ill Met By Moonlight and Peeping Tom, which we have included in this series, do not form part of the BFI/Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Powell and Pressburger restoration project, and will screen here in the best 16mm prints available. All other Powell and Pressburger works will screen, as advertised, in new 35mm prints.
Double Bill FRIDAY & SATURDAY NOVEMBER 24 & 25
* 7:30 pm
Great Britain 1947. Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger Cast: Deborah Kerr, Sabu, David Farrar, Kathleen Byron
A sumptuous stunner of studio-set style and seething, repressed sexuality, the erotic, exotic Black Narcissus is one of the great triumphs of the British cinema, and one of the great masterpieces in the Powell and Pressburger canon. Five Anglican nuns attempt to establish a mission in a one-time bordello in the remote Himalayas, but find their faith sorely tested by climate, culture clash, and carnal passion. The superb cast is headed by Deborah Kerr as Sister Clodagh, the virtuous Mother Superior; David Farrar as Mr. Dean, a cynical, sensual British agent; Sabu as Dilip Rai, the local Indian potentate, who wears British-bought "Black Narcissus" perfume; and Kathleen Byron as half-mad Sister Ruth, unhinged by her desire for Mr. Dean. The film's flesh- versus-spirit battle unfolds in a deliriously designed, studio- set India that recalls the lavish stylizations of Josef von Sternberg's 1930s films with Marlene Dietrich; Black Narcissus won much-deserved 1947 Oscars for its amazing colour cinematography (by Jack Cardiff) and breathtaking set decoration (by Alfred Junge), and was recently hailed as "one of the last masterpieces of studio-based art direction" (Elliot Stein, Village Voice). "One of the most visually beautiful films ever made. . . from one of the great collaborative teams in the history of cinema" (James Monaco). "Picturesque, fevered and half-crazy. . . as if the film had been made by a hysterically abstinent nun" (David Thomson). "One of Britain's greatest cinematic masterpieces, a marvellous evocation of hysteria and repression, and. . . one of the few genuinely erotic films ever to emerge from these sexually staid isles" (Geoff Andrew, Time Out). Colour, 35mm. 100 mins.
* 9:30 pm
I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING
Great Britain 1945. Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger Cast: Wendy Hiller, Roger Livesey, Pamela Brown, George Carney
"A charmer of a movie" (Pauline Kael), Powell and Pressburger's often-overlooked I Know Where I'm Going is a stormy, magical, Art Deco romance set in the Western Isles of Scotland. Wendy Hiller stars as a headstrong young woman travelling to the Hebrides to marry a wealthy older man. Waylaid by weather along the way, she finds herself falling under the sway of Scottish culture -- and falling for a dashing young Scottish laird (played by P&P regular Roger Livesey). Chock-full of Celtic symbolism, mysticism, and folklore, and of wonderfully windblown Highlands landscapes, "this lyrical love story scales heights of emotional sophistication rare in British cinema" (Ian Christie). "Alongside A Canterbury Tale, Powell's most eloquent tribute to the mysteries of the British landscape. . . Lyrically shot in monochrome by Erwin Hillier, it's all quite beautiful, combining romance, comedy, suspense and a sense of the supernatural to winning effect" (Geoff Andrew). "Witty and moving, one of the finest of all screen romances" (Elliot Stein, Village Voice). "I reached the point of thinking there were no more masterpieces to discover, until I saw I Know Where I'm Going" (Martin Scorsese). B&W, 35mm. 92 mins.
Double Bill FRIDAY & SATURDAY DECEMBER 1 & 2
* 7:15 pm
THE RED SHOES
Great Britain 1948. Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger Cast: Anton Walbrook, Moira Shearer, Marius Goring, Robert Helpmann
"One of the most beloved films of all time" (Ian Christie), and the ballet film par excellence, Powell and Pressburger's ravishing, rapturous The Red Shoes -- presented here in a gorgeous new 35mm print -- was recently selected by Martin Scorsese as one of the five greatest films ever made (with 8 1/2, Citizen Kane, The Leopard, and The Searchers). Moira Shearer, in a remarkable screen debut, is Victoria Page, an up- and-coming dancer newly taken on by a successful ballet company. Anton Walbrook is Lermontov, the company's demanding, manipulative impresario (modelled on Serge Diaghilev), whose ruthless your-art-is-your-life approach to dance imperils Victoria's physical and emotional health. Marius Goring is Julian, the young composer with whom Victoria falls in love. The film is loosely based on the fairy tale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen; a magical 14-minute ballet sequence directly based on the Andersen tale forms its much-celebrated centre piece. Jack Cardiff (Black Narcissus) provided the dazzling Technicolor cinematography. The Red Shoes won 1948 Oscars for Best Art Direction and Best Score, was a nominee in the Best Picture and Best Story categories, and is said to have "launched a thousand hopeful dance careers" (Christie). "It affects some people passionately, and it's undeniably some kind of classic" (Pauline Kael). "In texture, it's like nothing the British cinema had ever seen: a rhapsody of colour expressionism, reaching delirious heights in the ballet scenes" (Tony Rayns). Colour, 35mm. 133 mins.
* 9:45 pm
THE SPY IN BLACK
Great Britain 1939. Director: Michael Powell Cast: Conrad Veidt, Valerie Hobson, Sebastian Shaw, Marius Goring
The Spy in Black marked the first collaboration between director Powell and screenwriter Pressburger, who were brought together by mogul Alexander Korda to develop a suitable vehicle for well- known German actor Conrad Veidt. The result was this wonderfully atmospheric Hitchcockian spy thriller, "conceived as a virtual homage to German expressionist cinema" (Roy Armes), with Veidt as a shadowy German U-Boat captain who slinks off his submarine and enters Scotland on an anti-British espionage mission during World War I. Valerie Hobson co-stars as the beautiful schoolmistress who is his on-shore contact. The film was released a mere three weeks before the outbreak of World War II, and proved a huge hit in Britain, despite its sympathetic treatment of the German protagonist. "It seemed unlikely that, as war drew near, Powell and Pressburger would choose to explore the German personality, but this was absolutely characteristic of the perverse originality they cultivated" (David Thomson). "Extraordinarily atmospheric... Daringly, the audience is asked to sympathise with the 'enemy'... Intrigue, uncertainty and confused loyalties build to a bitter, ironic climax, and along the way Powell effortlessly produces more memorable shots and scenes than can be found in a dozen contemporary films" (Chris Petit, Time Out). B&W, 35mm. 82 mins.
SUNDAY & MONDAY DECEMBER 3 & 4
* 7:30 pm only
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP
Great Britain 1943. Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger Cast: Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Anton Walbrook, Roland Culver
"Very possibly the finest film ever made in Britain" (David Kehr, Chicago Reader), Powell and Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp -- the first P&P work produced under "The Archers" banner -- is a masterful, mock-epic tale, told in flashback and bold Technicolor, charting the friendship between a British officer (Roger Livesey) and a Prussian officer (Anton Walbrook) over the course of four war-torn decades. Deborah Kerr co-stars in three different roles, including that of the woman who comes between them. The title comes from David Low's popular cartoon character of the 1930s and 40s, which lampooned the pomposity and conservatism of the upper-crust British military establishment; the film's satirical take incurred the wartime wrath of no less than Churchill, who sought to have the work suppressed. Available for years in severely truncated, inadequate versions only, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp was finally restored to its full 163-minute-long glory in the mid-1980s, and re-released to great acclaim. "A warm and wise work which displays extraordinary generosity of spirit. . . Roger Livesey gives one of the great performances of the British cinema" (James Monaco). "Outrageously original. . . Despite Churchill's opposition, it was seen and loved by a people who always respond well to a gracious celebration of their foibles" (David Thomson). "Blimp probes the British character like no other movie -- which may be why Churchill tried to have it banned, and why the British film critics voted it a special award when it was triumphantly re- released in 1985" (Ian Christie). "In the history of British cinema there is nothing to touch it" (Chris Peachment, Time Out). Colour, 35mm. 163 mins.
Double Bill FRIDAY & SATURDAY DECEMBER 8 & 9
* 7:30 pm
A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH
(aka STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN)
Great Britain 1946. Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger Cast: David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesey, Raymond Massey
"A stunning, subversive masterpiece" (Ian Christie), this legendary (and more than a little bizarre) Powell and Pressburger tour-de-force stars David Niven as destined-to-die British aviator who, by angelic mistake, escapes certain death, and lives to falls in love with a young American woman (played by Kim Hunter). When the mistake is discovered Upstairs, a celestial tribunal is convened to decide the hero's fate: will he be allowed to remain on earth, or must he make haste to heaven? The film was commissioned by the British Ministry of Information, to enhance British-American relations, and was screened at the first-ever Royal Film Performance. The jaw-dropping production design, by Alfred Junge, includes a mammoth stairway-to-the- stars, peopled by history's dead. In what was perhaps a playful jab at prevailing cinematic norms of realism, and at socialist ideas of utopia, the film reverses Wizard of Oz colour-coding by presenting life-on-earth reality in sumptuous Technicolor, while the afterlife in heaven is rendered in blander black-and-white. "The film is without rival in British cinema for its evocation of the eerie calm of Surrealism" (David Thomson). "A fantastic accomplishment which shines with surrealistic cinematic bravura. . . Powell and Pressburger achieve what few have -- walking the tightrope between fantasy and reality with deftness and impeccable taste" (James Monaco). "An outrageous fantasy full of wit, beautiful sets and Technicolor, and perfectly judged performances. . . [T]he whole thing works like a dream, with many hilarious swipes at national stereotypes, and a love story that is as moving as it is absurd. Masterly" (Geoff Andrew). Colour and B&W, 35mm. 104 mins.
* 9:30 pm
A CANTERBURY TALE
Great Britain 1944. Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger Cast: Eric Portman, Sheila Sim, Dennis Price
"From any point of view, the kinkiest film of the war" (Basil Wright), the wonderfully curious, half-cocked A Canterbury Tale has recently been "rediscovered" and reevaluated as one of Powell and Pressburger's finest achievements. The film is set in a sleepy Kent village, where three characters (a young woman, a British sergeant, and an American G.I.) set out to expose the mysterious, must-be-mad "glueman" who is terrorizing local women -- by pouring glue into their hair! This quirky premise sets the stage for a mystical meditation on British tradition, lyrically shot in beautiful black-and-white by Erwin Hillier, with definite hints of the sadism and perversity which form the darker side of the Powell and Pressburger genius. "Long considered a failure of the Archers, this was the first to be restored to its original structure and length; and it has since become one of their best- loved excursions into a very English form of mysticism" (Ian Christie). "Extraordinary. . . Though infuriatingly difficult to categorize, the film is bold, inventive, stimulating and extremely entertaining" (Time Out). "One of the weirdest, but almost most atmospheric and beautiful of the Archers' works" (Film Forum, New York). B&W, 35mm. 124 mins.
Double Bill SUNDAY & MONDAY DECEMBER 10 & 11
Angela Pressburger, daughter of Emeric Pressburger, will be in attendance to introduce Gone to Earth & 49th Parallel
* 7:30 pm
GONE TO EARTH
Great Britain 1950. Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger Cast: Jennifer Jones, David Farrar, Cyril Cusack, Sybil Thorndyke
Roundly dismissed by critics in its day, more recently reclaimed and rehabilitated by Powell and Pressburger enthusiasts and cultists, this tour-de-force of Technicolor design was adapted from a 1917 bodice-ripper by Mary Webb, and features Hollywood star Jennifer Jones as a young country girl torn between the sacred love of a mild preacher (Cyril Cusack) and the profane love of a lusty squire (David Farrar). Producer David O. Selznick, who instigated the project as a vehicle for wife Jones, disliked the results, and issued a severely cut, inferior American version, with additional footage by Rouben Mamoulian, under the title The Wild Heart. This restored version "allows Gone to Earth to claim its rightful place as the last of Powell and Pressburger's great Technicolor epics of the Forties" (Ian Christie). "A visually spellbinding romance. Christopher Challis' photography evokes Shropshire and the Welsh borders so that you can smell the earth. . . [T]he haunting, dreamlike consistency recalls that other fairy story of innocence and menace, Night of the Hunter" (Time Out). Recently selected by Sight and Sound critic Pam Cook as one of the ten best films of all time. Colour, 35mm. 110 mins.
* 9:35 pm
Great Britain 1941. Director: Michael Powell Cast: Eric Portman, Laurence Olivier, Leslie Howard, Richard
George Powell and Pressburger go to Canada in this stirring, shot-on-location wartime drama, commissioned by the British Ministry of Information as part of the effort to bring the U.S. into the war. Six members of a German U-boat crew, stranded in the Great White North after their submarine is sunk off the Canadian coast, attempt to escape cross-country to the still- neutral U.S. Their encounters with a variety of Canadian "types" along the way -- including a French-Canadian fur trapper (a hammy Laurence Olivier), a Manitoba Hutterite leader (Anton Walbrook), an AWOL Canadian soldier (Raymond Massey), and various Indian and Inuit tribes -- provide the film with a running (and surprisingly sophisticated) debate on the merits of democracy versus dictatorship. Pressburger's first-rate script won an Academy Award for Best Original Story; the film (released in the U.S. as The Invaders) was also nominated in the Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay categories. 49th Parallel drew some flak at home, however, for its somewhat equivocal propaganda content (the semi-heroic portrayal of its German protagonists; Leslie Howard's effete English character). "The anti-Fascist message here is extremely eloquent, the Oscar- winning script witty and intelligent, and the photography handsome and atypical for a war film. Powell beautifully ties it all together in a directorial style that is part war adventure, part Robert Flaherty-influenced documentary" (James Monaco). "A bold and simple cautionary tale. . . One of the most intelligent (and eccentric) of all wartime propaganda features" (Ian Christie). B&W, 35mm. 123 mins.
* 9:15 pm
ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT
Great Britain 1957. Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Marius Goring, David Oxley, Cyril Cusack
The last regular Powell and Pressburger collaboration (the two did reunite briefly in 1972 to work on a children's film), the underrated Ill Met by Moonlight is set in German-occupied Crete in 1943, and based on the improbable but true story of two British officers who, with the help of Cretan partisans, disguised themselves as Nazis, kidnapped a German general, and attempted to spirit him across country by night to a waiting British ship. The fine cast is headed by Dirk Bogarde as flamboyant Major Patrick Leigh-Fermor; David Oxley as chivalrous Captain Billy Stanley Moss, his cohort; and frequent P & P player Marius Goring as their German victim. The film was based on a memoir of the same name by the real Captain Moss; the real Major Leigh-Fermor ended up as Hollywood screenwriter of John Huston's lame 1958 Africa epic The Roots of Heaven. Ill Met by Moonlight features suspenseful pacing, a wonderful sense of landscape, loads of gloomy atmosphere, and a striking score -- one of his first for the cinema -- by well-known Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis (Zorba the Greek, Z, Serpico). "It would be foolish to suggest that the film. . . is anywhere near the level of the team's masterworks. Even so, it's more interesting than legend suggests. . . Taking its title from a play concerned with dreams and disguises, magic and power, Ill Met by Moonlight is all about questions of identity" (Peter Richards, Film Comment). B&W, 16mm
Double Bill FRIDAY & SATURDAY DECEMBER 15 & 16
* 7:30 pm
Great Britain 1955. Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger Cast: Michael Redgrave, Anthony Quayle, Anton Walbrook, Ludmilla Tcherina
Not for nothing are there two exclamation marks in the title of this giddy, gag-filled, over-the-top musical fantasy, which updates Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus to post-World War II Vienna, and has its principal characters representing the four occupying powers. Michael Redgrave, Ludmilla Tcherina and the rest of the superlative cast sing and dance up a storm (their singing voices dubbed by actual opera stars), while the exuberant action unfolds across a candy-coloured Cinemascope fantasyland of wild imagination and high artifice. "There probably has never been a wilder opera film" (Cinematheque Ontario). "A little like Harry Lime [The Third Man] on pink ice. . . this is so tongue-in- cheek, such a wry parody of the conventions of operetta, the whole thing seems to be taking place on top of a wedding cake" (David Thomson). "The blatant artifice, sugar-candy sets, and preposterous plot, once deplored by the critical establishment, are now cherished by connoisseurs" (Time Out). "Oh Rosalinda!! may be ripe for discovery as a pre-post-modernist musical. Ebulliently designed by Hein Heckroth and photographed in the still new Cinemascope process by Christopher Challis, Vienna is a chocolate box confection superimposed on the drab Europe of rationing and reconstruction. . . This gorgeous new print was struck from the original negative" (Ian Christie). Colour, 35mm. 101 mins.
* 9:30 pm
Great Britain 1960. Director: Michael Powell Cast: Karl Boehm, Anna Massey, Moira Shearer
Now regarded by many as Michael Powell's masterpiece -- and without doubt one of the cinema's great subversive works -- Peeping Tom (made sans Pressburger) was vilified by outraged British critics at the time of its release, and virtually ended the director's career. "The only really satisfactory way to dispose of Peeping Tom," wrote one reviewer, "would be to shovel it up and flush it swiftly down the nearest sewer." Karl Boehm stars as creepy Mark Lewis, a young movie studio focus puller who spends his spare time making snuff films (!) -- murdering his victims with the sharpened end of a tripod and filming their death throes. Powell employs an elaborate structure of films- within-films, and countless cross-references to the nature and practice of cinema, to underscore the film's self-conscious intentions, and has a cameo, in one film-within-the-film, as Mark's deranged father, a scientist who recorded on film the sadistic experiments he conducted on his young son. This is profoundly unsettling stuff, to be sure, but it is also now widely esteemed as a brilliant exploration of the voyeurism that fuels our pleasure in cinema, and the troubling way that voyeurism implicates us as spectators; in this sense, Peeping Tom is a soul -- or blood -- brother of Hitchcock's Psycho, a film that similarly offended the British critical establishment in 1960. "One of the most disturbing films ever made" (James Monaco). "Peeping Tom and 8 1/2 are the two great films that deal with the philosophy and danger of filmmaking" (Martin Scorsese). Colour, 16mm. 109 mins.
Double Bill SUNDAY & MONDAY DECEMBER 17 & 18
* 7:30 pm
THE SMALL BACK ROOM
Great Britain 1948. Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger Cast: David Farrar, Kathleen Byron, Jack Hawkins, Leslie Banks
"A thriller that would look like a masterpiece in the filmographies of most British directors" (Tony Rayns), this dark, brooding drama was designed as a deliberately small-scale follow- up to the lavish The Red Shoes, and was the last Powell and Pressburger film in black-and-white (until 1957's Ill Met by Moonlight). David Farrar stars as a maimed, embittered bomb disposal expert struggling with alcoholism and a faltering relationship. His chance for redemption comes when he is called upon to defuse a new type of booby-trapped German bomb. The film is justly famous for its startling, boozy hallucination sequences, which erupt into an otherwise naturalistic drama; its taut pacing; and for the intense performances of Farrar and Kathleen Byron. "A remarkable film noir love story. Sexual longing hides in every shadow, as if hoping to refute the loneliness implicit in the title" (David Thomson). "One of the small and select group of films noir whose flagship is Citizen Kane" (Raymond Durgnat). "The Small Back Room is a film that I love. . . I think that it is my best film" (Michael Powell). B&W, 35mm. 108 mins.
* 9:35 pm
ONE OF OUR AIRCRAFT IS MISSING
Great Britain 1942. Director: Michael Powell Cast: Godfrey Tearle, Eric Portman, Hugh Williams, Bernard Miles
A compelling wartime drama shot in documentary-like style, One of Our Aircraft is Missing was Powell and Pressburger's follow-up to the superb 49th Parallel, and was another suspenseful tale of servicemen attempting to make their way to safety through enemy territory. The film follows six British airman -- an assortment of English types, including a baronet, a businessman, an actor, and a football player -- who are forced to bail out of their plane over Nazi-occupied Holland. They are rescued by the Dutch resistance, with whose help they attempt to elude the Germans and find their way back to England. The title and premise were suggested by an oft-repeated phrase in BBC's wartime news reports; the film's propaganda mission was to suggest to the British public what life might be like in a Nazi-occupied United Kingdom. The much-celebrated opening sequence has the crew's empty bomber returning over the Channel before crashing spectacularly into a pylon. A young Peter Ustinov appears as a priest, while director Powell has a cameo as a radio dispatch officer. Future directing great David Lean provided the taut editing, while the film's script, credited to both Powell and Pressburger, was nominated for an Oscar. "An ambitious low-key wartime thriller that totally transcends any propaganda considerations, thanks to sharp characterisation and imaginative scripting. . . an impressively directed and beautifully performed piece of work" (Geoff Andrew). "An uncommonly sophisticated genre film -- one of the best war pictures made during World War II (Peter Hogue, Film Comment). B&W, 35mm. 102 mins.
Double Bill WEDNESDAY & THURSDAY DECEMBER 20 & 21
* 7:30 pm
Great Britain 1940. Director: Michael Powell Cast: Conrad Veidt, Valerie Hobson, Hay Petrie, Raymond Lovell
A semi-sequel to the hugely successful Spy in Black, Powell and Pressburger's Contraband reunites Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson, the two principals of that earlier work, for another atmospheric wartime spy romp in the Hitchcockian mode. The energetic, often comic plot has Veidt as a Danish merchant captain attempting to infiltrate a German spy ring in London; the action plays out in an ominously noirish, labyrinthine city under the shroud of wartime blackout conditions. The amazing sets, by the great German-born art director Alfred Junge (Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death), here joining the Powell and Pressburger team for the first time, include a bevy of bizarre nightclubs and -- in a cheeky act of hilarious sarcasm and startling surrealism -- a warehouse full of unwanted plaster busts of Neville Chamberlain! "An entertainment both playful and provocative. . . the film is a virtual anthology of motifs from German thrillers, notable Lang's Mabuse and Spies, which are used to create unease and a sense of constant hidden menace" (Ian Christie). B&W, 35mm. 92 mins.
THE BATTLE OF THE RIVER PLATE
Great Britain 1956. Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger Cast: John Gregson, Anthony Quayle, Peter Finch, Christopher Lee
One of last works produced under The Archers' banner, Powell and Pressburger's The Battle of the River Plate (released in the U.S. as Pursuit of the Graf Spee) is an expensive 1950s war epic which recounts in quasi-documentary fashion a well-known, war-of-nerves encounter between three British cruisers and the German battleship Graf Spee off Montevideo, Uruguay in 1939. Peter Finch is the sympathetic, leather-jacketed German captain, "a fittingly dark romantic subject for Powell and Pressburger" (Richard Combs, Film Comment); Anthony Quayle and John Gregson are his British opponents; while Christopher Lee has a memorable cameo as a Latin nightclub owner. "Is there anything left to be discovered [in the P&P canon]? Well, consider The Battle of the River Plate. . . This is naked Powell and Pressburger: an awkward, unsatisfying, intriguing thing that reveals very clearly what they could and couldn't do, and yet even in its weaknesses opens up odd avenues to the cinematic future. . . [It may] fuel the next stage of the Powell and Pressburger rediscovery program" (Combs). "[The Battle of the River Plate] remains a stirring and moving finale to the war films which originally forged their relationship" (Ian Christie). Colour, 35mm. 119 mins.
Double Bill FRIDAY & SATURDAY DECEMBER 22 & 23
* 7:15 pm
THE TALES OF HOFFMANN
Great Britain 1951. Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger Cast: Moira Shearer, Robert Helpmann, Robert Rounseville, Leonid Massine
A deliriously stylish, fantastical fusion of opera, ballet, and cinema, Powell and Pressburger's impossibly sumptuous Tales of Hoffmann is based on the Offenbach operetta, and has been cited by Martin Scorsese as a major influence on both New York, New York and Raging Bull. Three Gothic tales of unrequited love by Romantic poet E.T.A. Hoffmann, plus prologue and epilogue, unfold in a lavish, no-holds-barred extravaganza of excess, expressionism, choreography, costume, music, glorious Technicolor, and to-die-for art direction. The result is a "world of enchantment where marionettes become dancers, a pimp is a magician with the power to turn wax candles into jewels, and a prostitute has the power to erase a man's reflection. . . The screen is turned into a magical, irrational visual feast that moves according to its own laws" (Amy Greenfield, Film Comment). This newly-restored version adds the final segment excised from British release prints, and returns the film to the original, full-length form which won a Special Jury Prize (for superior technique) at Cannes in 1951. "Not only one of the greatest of all opera films, but also a summing-up of the themes that run through much of [Powell and Pressburger's] work, here done in a rich kaleidoscope of styles. Some of their grimmest black humour coexists with poignant images of romantic yearning" (Ian Christie). "Eccentric, astonishing. . . [it] stands as Powell's most magnificent attempt to fuse the arts into film form. Perhaps its only rival in this context is Disney's Fantasia" (Joseph Gomez). Colour, 35mm. 127 mins.
* 9:40 pm
THE ELUSIVE PIMPERNEL
Great Britain 1950. Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger Cast: David Niven, Margaret Leighton, Jack Hawkins, Cyril Cusack
Powell and Pressburger's romping version of Baroness Orczy's oft- adapted adventure novel is an elaborate, lively, lavish costume spectacle that was originally designed as a musical. David Niven stars in the lead as the dashing British dandy who secretly doubles as the Scarlet Pimpernel, daring rescuer of French aristocrats condemned to the guillotine during the dark days of the Reign of Terror. While The Elusive Pimpernel may be no one's favourite Powell and Pressburger film, it is nonetheless a dazzling, dynamic work, full of stunning set pieces and richly- detailed period design, which "shows Powell at the height of his powers as a visual stylist, synthesizing many traditions of cinema as an electric spectacle" (Ian Christie). "Characteristically vivid and colourful, and sparked by bright flashes of sardonic humour" (Tom Milne). "A gem among British swashbucklers. . . [with] a style and energy which can only lead to regret that The Archers made so few excursions into the hinterland of British costume drama" (Christie). Colour, 35mm. 109 mins.