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: Tracey Brown

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 very good question! Although, most of us have expressed WHY in bits & pieces, it's good to express it all at once. Here goes!

As I've said before, my Mom took me to see TRS when I was quite young. At that age, I was completely taken aback by the visual values of P&P. (The dancing/ the costumes/ special effects/ etc.) At this age, I did not have the ability to understand the complex characters and situations, despite the fact that I had a videotape of TRS that I would occasionally watch. (I had also seen a cut version of TOH.)

But the turning point came when I was in my early teens. My mom said there was going to be a movie on our local cable channel by "those guys who made TRS." This was BN.

Although TRS is a brilliant film, I was not prepared for the emotional impact of BN.

I had never seen anything like it. (I should mention that I grew up an old movie fan, so even at the ripe age of 12 I had seen quite a variety of films.)

What was I so impressed (and still) with?

Firstly, the unusual, ethereal, and yet somehow realistic visual style. (Evident in TRS but even more so in BN.) Secondly, the complexity of the characterizations.

For example, the fact that everything that goes wrong is Sister Clodagh's fault...and yet it isn't! I agree with Ms. Byron that Sister Ruth was not really crazy, but it is Sister Clodagh's stubborn determination not to "indulge" her that causes her to go over the edge.

It is these complex issues that continue to fascinate one after many viewings.

Which leads to my third reason, that complex issues in P&P films are never easily resolved (if at all). Most old & new films have to "explain" and rationalize every plot twist to the audience, which gets so boring. One can watch their films over and over and still never completely "understand" them.

And this leads directly into my fourth reason.

The sheer audacity of P&P and what they accomplished has always amazed me. One reason most filmmakers over-explain character motivations is because they don't know how to make a complete characters that an audience can intrinsictly understand.

The thing that has always amazed me about P&P films was how often they went out on a limb (with subject matter & characterization) and were successful! We have complained about some of their "failures" (which only TEP really qualifies), but if we think about it, it's amazing with what they were doing that they had so FEW failures!

I think it was that unique combination of personalities between P&P that balanced any failings on the other's part. I think this is why they were able to create such complex characters & situations that directors working on their own, (with only their own perspectives to fall back on), could not possibly do.

Look at their earliest films, for example.

How different the Germans in SIB & 49p are from Hitchock films of the same period! (Think of the Nazis in "The Lady Vanishes" & "39 Steps"!)

The fifth reason I love their films is the way they were not afraid to "go over the top" in their films. They seem to have been completely fearless in this manner. I always think of the scene in AMOLAD where June cries & they decide to take her tear as "evidence"! I remember the first time I saw this, I thought, "This is completely mad and insane! Who would have thought to do that? And yet how perfect! How cool!"

I also appreciate the way they would "push" the emotions in their characters farther than any filmmaker I can think of. They always carried the emotions of their characters to their logical conclusions, no matter how bizzare or audacious that might be. And the miracle is, they made it work! We have all seen filmmakers who have tried to do this, where one can only admire the attempt on their part to do something different.

This is why I am so fond of AMOLAD, IKWIG, BN, TRS & GTE. All of these films push characters beyond the obvious stereotypes and push the emotions of the characters beyond what would have been done by other filmmakers.

This makes the characters seem more "real" than in most films. Yet, paradoxically P&P films remain firmly cinematic, unrealistic, and surreal looks at humanity in general. (I like Powell's refute to Truffaut that films are all lies at 30 frames a second!)

It is still a mystery to me how they did it.

Probably "the great ones" themselves could not explain how they did it! (Which is probably why my favorite bit in "Shakespeare in Love" was Geofrey Rush constantly saying "It's a mystery" on how theatre somehow works out!)


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