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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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Submitted by Neal Lofthouse

200,000 Ft On Foula
By: John Taylor
World Film News
February 1938

Neal comments: This rather odd article is a contemporary review of Michael's book from 'World Film News' February 1938. I've typed it "as is". If the english seems a bit strange that's the way it's written. I've never heard of the expression "I am on horns" before, I'm not really sure what it means. I also confess I don't really understand some of the points he's trying to make.

I assume the man servant is Bill Paton. The author gives the impression Michael kidnapped him and forced him to go to London.

Michael Powell's account of the filming of "The Edge of the World" reviewed by John Taylor

     Is there in the film business a man who speaks the truth? Is there a man who can tell a story without glossing over the direct, without enlarging the glories. There have been many stories of film trips to far parts, told by cameramen and prop men, directors and sound men, told while hanging over bars, while sitting in hotels, while waiting for the sun. But I doubt if they ever told the true story even to their wives in the secrecy of the bed chamber where even in the film business nothing but the truth is supposed to be told. Is it possible that from these men will come one who does not only speak the truth but writes it - no of course not - but all the same I feel uneasy - is the film business losing its grip? Are there weaklings amongst us - men who will say : "They gave me £500" and did get £500. Men who will say : "Don't be silly, that was only a publicity stunt."

     A week ago I could have said, "We are safe boys!" - no one will say there is an honest man in the business - that is if they are honest themselves - but now, as I said, I fell uneasy and suspicious, for out of our jungle has come a document which rings. Even the title '200,000 Feet on Foula' sounds like the truth, for who ever heard anyone tell the true footage? But I hold in reserve that Powell either did shoot 200,000 feet, is an honest man and a traitor to all true expedition men, or that he shot 500,000 feet, is the biggest and best liar amongst us, and a credit to us all. I hold this reserve because long experience has taught me to be curious about these things.

     At the moment I am on horns and so will you be when you read the book. Take for example what Powell says about his girlfriend Frankie who worked on the film. "I have always failed to understand a film director or stage producer, who uses his position to give a friend a job." Followed by "Not a soul should know that we were engaged or anything more to each other than director and actress" and then "Only I myself, could weigh all the reasons why Frankie had to play a part." And they called him honest John. Ease the weight on to the other horn for he continues : "During the production of the film I would treat her exactly as I treated any other member of the company." You may say "God help the company." But Powell tends to ram it down your throat by, "The experienced onlooker will smile at this ruthless decision and indeed at the whole situation, for he knows very well what will happen" - but Powell is not thinking what you are, for his concern is the difficulty of directing his girlfriend. When you get a man who says things about himself and his one and only, what can you do but be uneasy and hope that he doesn't feel the same about the more serious things in life? But as you go through the book you realise that he does feel that he does feel the same about the more serious things. The first cameraman on the film had never shot an exterior picture before and shot wide open using shutter to control exposure - entirely the director's responsibility, but Powell, and I do not like it, gives lurid details, even the cameraman's name. Is there no honour amongst honest men? Apart from this, the book is the best description of film making I have read, the details of contact making, the amount of preparation, the waiting for the sun, the rush to finish the film, the producers demand that the unit should come back with an unfinished picture, the picture almost finished, and then a head office man forcing the unit back to London. One thing comes out of the book and that is that the making of a film like 'The Edge of the World' is a specialised job. That a studio director requires an assistant director and a cameraman who have done the work before.

     Anyone thinking of going into the film business would do well to read the book. Anyone in the business thinking of making a film on similar lines should read it, for out of it come a dozen points. Is it good to take your wife or girl with you? Is it good to run a unit on democratic lines, and when it is finished is it good to write a book about it? Maybe. On the whole this book has a good feeling about it. The unit seemed to work well together and with the people of the island, but I hold to my reserve for occasionally a false note is hit ; when Powell brings back a Shetland Islander to be his man servant. Maybe it is just as right to bring back an islander to be your man servant as it is to bring someone from Southwark. What kind of man is a man servant anyway? So I hold my reserve and say Powell is possibly the biggset and best liar of us all.

( "200,000 feet on Foula", by Michael Powell. Faber and Faber, 12s 6d.)

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