Original at http://www.bbc.co.uk/movies/archive/powell/interview1.html

An interview with Michael Powell

Following I Know Where I'm Going, you directed what you have always said is your greatest film achievement. Oh yes, A Matter Of Life And Death, the film that they called in America Stairway To Heaven. It is a film full of wonderful cinematic tricks. I love this idea of two worlds, another world and this one. Emeric once said to me, "Michael, what do you like about the idea of having two worlds? What do you think they're like?" And I said, "well I suppose Heaven's in colour." And he said, "Michael, I shall never make you understand. We know that this world is in colour, so the other world must be in black and white." And so the Hungarian won again. People often complement me on the visual look of Its A Matter Of Life And Death, but, as with many of our collaborations, much of the mise en scene inspiration came from Emeric. That's why I loved to work with him. His mind was tapped into something much greater than mere narrative storyline. He had a marvelous eye for the screen and It's A Matter Of Life And Death, I think, was our best cinematic translation of that eye. Why is A Matter Of Life And Death such an important Powell & Pressburger film? Well, I suppose because it brings together all of our strongest themes. It has the war story setting and the premise of defending the freedoms of our beloved country. It has the imaginative fantasy that melts through the dimensions, something that was always central to our work together, and one of the main reasons why our films succeed. They move beyond realism and into this wonderful fantasy world. And, of course, A Matter Of Life And Death is also an example of the inner eye seeing beyond the vale of appearance, which is something that I referred to earlier with A Canterbury Tale. The film is full of the most striking images. Why do you delight in creating fantastic visual displays such as this? It's part of being a magician. You see this lovely trick and you want to find out how to do it. How are we going to create a moving Stairway To Heaven, you know? It's just a fascinating challenge to me. The Stairway to Heaven had to be all worked out in perspective and myself and Alfred Junge, the wonderful German art director, worked out all of the perspective shots; shooting up the stairs moving and shooting down the stairs moving and we shot them all in one day. And of course, you created magnificent results with Alfred Junge, again in Black Narcissus where you recreated the Himalayas in a small British studio. Oh yes, wasn't that wonderful? Alfred transformed that muddy little studio rock garden into a fantastical wind blown mountain top terrace. I always say that if you want an example of the British film industry at a high point in technique and artistry, you could not do better than to look at Black Narcissus. Jack Cardiff's rich and colour drenched cinematography and Alfred Junge's seamless set transformations.

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