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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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Suggested by Nicky Smith
Extracted from

The Nation
Stuart Klawans

More exotica: Michael Powell's craggy, taciturn The Edge of the World , the 1937 feature the late British director considered a defining event in his career, is among the most stylized of expeditionary films. Newly restored-a sold-out attraction at the last New York Film Festival, now showing for a week at Film Forum-this heroically montage-driven quasi ethno-doc suggests a synthesis of Robert Flaherty (whom Powell knew) and Sergei Eisenstein.

Powell was inspired by the 1930 evacuation of the Hebrides island St. Kilda. Denied permission to shoot a movie there, however, the 32-year-old director made his movie even farther north, in the remote and impressively bleak Shetlands-a realm less Gaelic than Norse in its culture-where he and his crew spent five months filming. Their tight-knit group mirrored that of the island's inhabitants, a strict religious community divided by the desire of certain members to leave for the "mainland."

Scarcely less stark than the foreboding landscape, The Edge of the World's narrative pivots on a ritual cliff-climbing contest between two estranged friends, restless Robbie and complacent Andrew, the latter engaged to the island's lone nubile girl (and Robbie's twin sister), Ruth. One plunges to his death-in a long, dizzying blitz of close-ups, reaction shots, and panoramic vistas-and the other, cast out by an implacable father, leaves for Scotland with the image of pregnant Ruth superimposed on the sea.

Its ballad structure reinforced by keening choruses and interludes of fiddle-dancing, The Edge of the World was chosen the year's Best Foreign Film by the New York Film Critics Circle in 1937 (and might well have been again today). This discreetly adventurous movie looks back at the great Flaherty-Murnau South Seas debacle Tabu and forward to the cracked grandiosity of Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves.

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