The Masters  
The Powell & Pressburger Pages

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.

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Original at Glasgow University

John Seaborne

The little there is written about John Seaborne is all found in memoirs of Michael Powell. He first charted the course of their friendship in 1938, in the book Four Hundred Thousand Feet On Foula, [It was only "200,000 Feet on Foula"] an account of the quest to make the film The Edge of the World (1938) in the Hebrides. His work with Powell before that and with the Archers after is covered in the first volume of Powell's autobiography.

'Seaborne' was an assumed name he had taken after deserting one regiment in the Second World War and joining another, to get nearer the action. Being listed as a deserter under his real name he continued with John Seaborne for the rest of his life. He entered the film business as a stagehand but soon moved up the ranks to become a director-editor of the weekly Gaumont Film Magazine, which went world-wide and accompanied feature films as a short. He met Powell at a small film studio, Nettleford, by the Thames were Seaborne was already an editor and Where Powell arrived to shoot his first feature film, Two Crowded Hours in 1931. From then on Seaborne cut all of Powell's films up to and including I Know Where I'm Going, with a two film break for illnness at the time of 49th Parallel (1940) and One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1941), when he was replaced by David Lean.

Not only did Seaborne cut the films but he was frequently on set, being a construction expert and on a number of occasions second-unit director. Having cut Powell and Pressburger's first collaboration The Spy in Black (1939) and their follow-up Contraband (1940), missed the next two, Seaborne found himself in the bosom of the Archers for their first Technicolor film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1942). Powell explained the method of working the company had formulated, "We always encouraged the editor to keep up with the shooting, and it was rare that John Seaborne was more than three or four days behind us with his first assembly of the film. I needed to know what he thought of the scenes and whether he needed retakes or extra shots to complete sequences, while the sets were still standing in the studio."

"The editing and cutting of a film, the selection of the best performances by the actors from what the director and cameramen often think are the worst takes, the relationship with the director, the intercutting of close-ups and long shots, the use of dialogue and the use of sound - these are all in the hands of the editor as he sits in his cutting room looking at the images on the miniature screen before him, and trying to reconcile them with the words of the script, which lies open on his desk, and the scenes which the director has brought to the screen more in the breach than in the observence". Powell testifies that Seaborne was "all this and much more . . . His contribution to our films was immense but varied."

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