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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Submitted by Dibyaduti Purkayastha (Tipu)

Black Narcissus (1946)
From "The 100 Best Films To Rent You've Never Heard Of"
By: David N. Meyer

One of the all-time greats; a film that every film-buff must see at least twice; a psychological drama with a romantic subplot; a study in the symbolic power of color, shadow, light & form. BN communicates a different but equally powerful message to children, to adults, to men, & to women. If this book induces you to rent only one film you never heard of, let it be BN.

Director Michael Powell & screenwriter Emeric Pressburger worked under the production name 'The Archers'. Their distinctive combination of literate, European perversity & lyrically flowing narrative places them in no tradition but their own. Structuralists par excellence, the Archers' pictures feature a traditional, elegant construction. In a career of wilfully intelligent, deliberately subtle, psychologically complex, & finely crafted pictures, this is their most profound, most multilevelled work. Its also one of the most beautiful movies ever made, & won Oscars for Best Cinematography & Production design. For cinematic poetry, emotions, sets, use of colour, classic acting, & dramatic impact, it can't be beat.

Deborah Kerr leads a group of nuns to an abandoned palace high in the Indian Himalayas, intending to create a hospital & a school for the local villagers. Once there, they find the atmosphere strangely dislocating. The local people reject civilisation with a shrug of their shoulders; their joy in a sensual pagan life further disarms the nuns. Kerr finds herself recalling, with intrusive passion, life & love in the Scottish village of her birth. [It was an Irish village] Other nuns shirk their duties, or find themselves cast into reverie at the sight of an Indian prince's silk tunic. They experience difficulty tending to their responsibilities after a lifetime of little else. Kerr in particular is frightened to find herself so easily distracted.

Appearing like a genie, as the very incarnation of their forbidden erotic (though not always sexual) longing is David Farrar, who plays the local English colonial authority. Farrar, a leading man of the relaxed, deep-voiced school, finds himself falling for Kerr & she, though she cannot admit it, for him. Farrar plays a man accustomed to following his instincts, & Kerr frustrates him terribly. Another nun, Sister Ruth, more sensitive to her own longings & oppressed by the repressions surrounding her, goes mad. As Sister Ruth - played by the ravishing Kathleen Byron - loses her connection with the world of religion she becomes increasingly menacing, beautiful, & sexual.

The Archers create a tragic consideration of the erotic power of memory, of the perverse nature of love, and, depending on your perspective, of either the horror of a life wasted in worship or the noble sacrrifices required therefore. They present an implicit debate on the relative merits of civilisation vs primitivism, of acting-out versus repression, & of reason versus emotion.

The Archers consider these issues with the gravity they warrant, & yet produce a coherent, commercial drama driven by a compelling love story. They raise no question, however serious, without a light touch & dashing wit.

The story operates powerfully on both the conscious level - a tale of nuns dealing with the loss of faith & direction - & on the unconscious - the battle against memory, the lure of self- destruction, & the oppressive safety of duty. The Archers use color & shadow to represent emotion; their ability to place their characters in a frame to illustrate one character's relationship to another is unmatched; they shift from past to present as if in a dream & call upon a veritable storehouse of Jungian, Freudian, symbolist, & poetic imagery.

A complex work of art & an enduring piece of entertainment.

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