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.

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]

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From: Alan Head

Steve Crook wrote:

> In fact at one of them someone asked the killer question "Why do
> the people here like Powell (& Pressburger) films?" so I thought
> I'd ask you lot. We went around the room all giving a varied but
> interesting set of answers.

A simple question with a complex answer.

I was a fan of cinema a long time before I was a fan of PnP. Why?

Because I liked the fantasy of cinema - like most adolescent boys the first films I liked were blockbuster adventure stories (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars), then I moved onto all manner of sci-fi movies (from trashy B-movies to modern classics like Blade Runner, Alien(s), and Terminator).

As I matured I became interested in world cinema (primarily, it has to be said, for the huge expanse of naked female flesh on show!) Later on I began to like the films for their artistic value and I started watching a lot of French movies (Blier and Malle being particular favourites). All of this was sparked by the consistenly excellent and varied selection that Channel 4 was showing in the '80s.

I gradually began exploring the "cult" genre (once again due to TV and BBC2's Moviedrome seasons) which threw me in the direction of American directors such as Coppola, The Coens, Wilder, Lynch, Kubrick, and Scorsese.

I'm not sure when I became "aware" of Powell and Pressburger, but I have a feeling it was the BBC tribute (possibly shortly after Powell's death?) I'm not even sure which film it was that I consciously first watched, its either AMOLAD or Blimp or Black Narcisuss. I know I was sufficiently "into" PnP by the time I went to Uni in October 94, as the first book I took out of the library was "Life and Death of a Screenwriter" (entirely unconnected with my Economics degree!) I went through Uni "collecting" TV appearances of the films and got "Arrows of Desire" for my birthday in July 95.

Initially I liked the films by placing them in their historical context (something that was natural for me as a frustrated archeologist/historian) and noticing how downright revolutionary and strange they were compared to most '40s movies.

By the way, I've just remembered how I came across Powell - it was Peeping Tom being shown as part of either Moviedrome or on Channel 4 in the early 90s, so its their fault!

Going back to my point, I began to look at the films out of context and began to notice that they really stood up well against modern films - the special effects, camerawork, mise en scene and desgin of Blimp, BN, TRS, and AMOLAD being consistently mind-blowing, particularly to someone who loves flashy special effects and stunning photography/direction. In short, they were ahead of their time, something that I've always found attractive in art (there's that historian streak I have again coming to the fore)

Of course, a large part of the reason why they stand up out of context is Emeric's writing. As we've discussed before, Theo's speech in Blimp just brought me to an absolute standstill - stunning in the true sense of the word. If I hadn't been English I would probably have stood up and applauded. I think seeing Blimp brought the quality of the writing home to me, with its extreme focus on character (and therefore characterisation, and therefore writing) and unusual structure (a 2 and half hour film that is almost a two-hander? - that's downright revolutionary and blows Citizen Kane out of the water as far as I'm concerned)

To summarise, I was drawn by controversy, hooked by incongruity, dazzled by beauty, enraptured by photography, and finally stunned by poetry - that's why I like Powell and Pressburger (I didn't realise that until I wrote this reply, so thanks for asking the question.)

As Vinny Jones would say; "It's been emotional..."

Alan Head

On 4th October 2002, Alan added:
Sentiments haven't changed, although I'll add the following now that I've seen a few more films (hadn't seen ACT, IKWIG, OR, or TOH when I wrote the original piece)

"As a movie fan and keen photographer what normally excites me about the movies is the visuals. I saw a documentary recently that mentioned that the reason film stars have to be "good looking" is because its purely a visual medium, in contrast to theatre, which is all about dialogue. Like many documentaries of course this is a sweeping generalisation, but what I like about PnP is that they break down the boundaries to combine the best of both art forms. In fact of course they don't only do this for film and theatre - they also bring in ballet and opera. Are PnP the first multimedia artists? We have Powell's visual fireworks and directing style, enhanced by brilliant cinematographers like Cardiff and Hiller, and this is complemented by Heckroth's set design, Helpmann and Shearer's dance skills, and of course Emeric's writing. All these disciplines are brought together in a synergistic orgy which climaxed with TOH, although the foreplay was pretty good too :-)"

Bloody hell! PnP really brings the creative writer out in me!

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