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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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From Films and Filming: Nov 1981

Michael Powell
Interview by Tony Williams

MICHAEL POWELL graduated from "quota quickies" of the Thirties to a distinguished career in partnership with Emeric Pressburger, directing such classics as 49th Parallel, A Matter of Life and Death and The Red Shoes. The Powell and Pressburger team came to be relied on for superbly crafted, highly individual, emotionally and visually intense works that show the British cinema at its most creative and accomplished. TONY WILLIAMS interviewed Powell earlier this year at the Zoetrope Studios in Hollywood where he is based, working as a consultant to Francis Coppola. In future issues DOUGLAS McVAY will reappraise Powell's career with particular attention to three neglected works and WILLIAM K. EVERSON will write about some of Powell's most obscure films and the way they relate to his masterpieces.

[Steve's note: There are some minor errors in the film names such as "Tales of Hoffmann" and "The Thief of Bagdad" - they are reproduced here as in the article.]

What are you currently doing at Zoetrope Studios?

    I came down last year in March to look things over. At that time they were shooting Hammett, a film about the early days of Dashiell Hammett in San Francisco. He was writing detective stories for a magazine called "The Black Mask". This is really a story within a story. You see Hammett creating the characters with whom he has to deal. They're not just fictional characters but people who walk off the street and start behaving immediately like Dashiell Hammett characters. It's a nice idea.

    Frederic Forrest plays Hammett, a nervous, imaginative, almost white-haired, moustached man. He also plays the lead in Coppola's One from the Heart, which we're just finishing, as a very sturdy young American who owns half a junkyard at Las Vegas, a man in his thirties, tough, sentimental, brutal and kind - like most Americans. It's an American comedy, sort of It Happened One Night in Las Vegas in 1981. He and Teri Garr are two young Americans, both attractive, always fighting, surrounded by every possible modern gadget which they don't even notice, ordinary supermarket Americans but filled with immortal longings, passions, hatred and love. I think the film will be a bigger success in Europe than here. It all takes place in Las Vegas on July 4th so it's got plenty of production.

    The usual impression about your role, in England now, is "How unusual it is for a British director to be working in an American studio!", but throughout your career you've always had a Hollywood connection. I believe you began as an assistant to Rex Ingram in France in 1925?

    Yes, that's quite right. I spent the weekend with Walter Strohm who used to be studio manager at Culver City and MGM. He and I both joined Rex Ingram together in 1925. He was filling me in over what had gone on in those fifty fabulous years in between. We hadn't met since those early days but had hundreds of acquaintances in common. When I went to England first, I was determined to get into British pictures and make big British films but after I made The Edge of the World I got such a bad reception. Nobody wanted to know about the film. The only people who praised it really (apart from one English critic called George Atkinson - I'll always remember him with gratitude) were the Americans. The American film critics chose it as the best foreign film of the year. So, I thought I'd go to Hollywood. I had a lot of friends there from the old Rex Ingram - Ben Hur days. In fact I had a job waiting for me in MGM. Then my agent, Christopher Mann, asked Alexander Korda to see Edge of the World. Although he hadn't got much money at the time he gave me a year's contract without quite knowing what I could do for him but just to keep me in the country. I'll always remember that.

    Didn't you direct The Thief of Bagdad in America?

    No. People got that wrong. We all knew the war was coming but not when, of course. Alex had already promised Churchill that as soon as war was declared all the top technicians he had working on The Thief of Bagdad would immediately pitch in under the leadership of Ian Dalrymple, who was a very good editor as well as producer, and make the first propaganda film of the war which was The Lion Has Wings.

    When war was declared I was working on the flying carpet sequences with Sabu. That was on Sunday. On Monday I was already shooting in the RAF. We wre flying over the balloon barrage and going down to Mildenhall which was a bomber station so I was able to get them leaving on the first air raid of the war to Kiel. Others took over various parts of The Lion Has Wings, so filming on The Thief of Bagdad came to a complete stop. Then Korda tucked the whole thing under his arm, including Conrad Veidt and Sabu, his brothers, the whole production, really all that was left - the big scene in the Temple with the all-seeing Eye and the Spider and the Grand Canyon scenes. That was all filmed here in this studio (i.e. present site of Zoetrope). They were constructed here and were shot either by Alex or Zolly Korda.

    What led to your collaboration with Emeric Pressburger and who did what?

    Emeric's the writer and I'm the director. We only called ourselves producers to stop others calling themselves producers. Korda introduced us. Emeric was a contract writer for Korda and I as a contract director. When Korda and Irving Asher, the producer, decided to make The Spy in Black with Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson, Emeric was brought in to re-write the script because Veidt's part was not good enough. I was taken over from the contract I had with Korda to direct it and we made a big success of it. It opened during the first week of the war and was a huge success - about a heroic German! By that time I was working on The Lion Has Wings and so I said to Emeric. "Sit down, old cock, and write an original - Contraband with Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson - because it looks like the film business is folding up so, before that, let's make another picture". It turned out to be the first of hundreds during the war.

    One scene in Contraband intrigued me. Toward the end of the film there is a fight in an attic room with all these busts of Chamberlain. When one character knocks another out cold with a bust, he speaks the line, "The old boy still has some fight left in him yet". Wasn't this the period when Chamberlain had left the office of Prime Minister?

    No, he was still in office. When France fell, Chamberlain was out and Churchill in. But, at the time, Churchill was Lord of the Admiralty and Chamberlain still Prime Minister. but, of course, he was already the laughing stock of the Nazis and of his own people.

    I notice the influence of America even in your British films. In The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp you have the World War One American Negro soldier, there's John Sweet in A Canterbury Tale, and, of course, the final romantic alliance between Briton and American in A Matter of Life and Death.

    We were following a rough propaganda line dictated by the Ministry of Information but, as you rightly say, I've always had this link with Hollywood because there were always people here I'd either met when we were quite young or knew about. We had mutual friends like when William Wyler first came over to England to do one or two propaganda films for the war effort. I've always been a great believer in London and Hollywood being closely in touch. Hollywood very badly needs a flourishing industry with London because of all the actors, talent, the writers. We need an exchange of talent all the time and it's very bad for the business if everything is concentrated in Hollywood like it is now with only one or two pictures being made in London. It's out of balance.

    So what exactly is your present role as a creative consultant?

    I come in on nearly everything. My advice is asked. It doesn't have to be taken. Quite often Francis will ask my opinion about sequences and rushes even when we're shooting. We also discuss other films that are going to be made here. Scripts are written. I read them and give my opinion. There's a good deal to do. I'm pretty busy. I find it's busier advising than making a film!

    Your special project is Ursula Le Guin's "The Earthsea Trilogy". What attracted you to this project in particular?

    Ten years ago, the first book in this trilogy - "A Wizard of Earthsea" - was published by Puffin in England. It got the most fabulous review in "The Times Literary Supplement". I liked the sound of it and went right out and bought it. I read it and could not believe that such a distinguished piece of writing was published by Puffin. That's not saying anything about Puffin but Puffin's for kids and this is by no means only for kiddies. It's for everybody. So I wrote a letter saying, "It's great!" "Who are you?" "Who did the map?" and "Why are you being published by Puffin?" This started a correspondence that went on for the next ten years. She published two more books in the trilogy. Each one was just as good as the other, so gradually when I gave up the idea of doing The Tempest in England - because people said, "Oh Christ! Now he wants to do The Tempest! It's a good script but you know Micky Powell and you never know where it will end!" - I began to rough out a script on the Ursula Le Guin trilogy. Having done a few sequences, I summoned up courage and sent them to her. She was delighted with them. I said, "In that case, let's do the script together." "We have done it so by correspondence. We have only met twice, once in San Francisco and Portland, Oregon where she lives. It's been a most happy collaboration and it's still going on.

    Throughout your career you've had several fruitful collaborations with actors - Conrad Veidt, Anton Walbrook, Pamela Brown, Esmond Knight and, of course, the best screen performance from Wendy Hiller in I Know Where I'm Going.

    I love working with good actors. It's really a creative process what goes on between you if you trust each other. It's the way that Scorsese is cultivating a wonderful relationship with Robert De Niro. They now understand each other's slightest thoughts. It makes for wonderful support on the screen, not just in life. Esmond Knight was an old friend and I knew what a versatile actor he was. Everyone else just knew him as a handsome leading man.

    I find within your English films an interesting critique of British institutions and insularity, particularly in Colonel Blimp. What gave you the idea for this film?

    It was the previous film - One of Our Aircraft Is Missing. It had Godfrey Tearle playing an old rear-gunner based on the character of Arnold Wilson who was lost but said, "I'm going to fight this war and not hide behind the bodies of young men!" He had a scene with the pilot (Hugh Burden) in which they talked about he girls (one of whom was Pamela) and he said, "You know, you're very like I was when I was young and you'll be just like I am when you're old." The young man said to him, "Do you feel all right, George?" This scene was cut out of the picture. It came at an awkward time and was a bit too long. But Emeric said to me afterwards, "Let's make a film about that idea" - the young man who can't understand what the old man was talking about and the older man who remembers how he was when he was young.

    We've now seen the full version In England, particularly the opening confrontation scene (properly restored) between James McKechnie's young officer and Roger Livesey's Blimp.

    He says all sorts of insulting things and the old Blimp says, "How on earth can you know what I was like forty years ago?" We then go back and see that he was just as hot-headed, only the War Office cracked down on him or he decided to settle down to being a jolly good soldier.

    The full version is an entirely different picture because it was central really to hear the incomprehension of the young man and then go back to relive he life of the old man. Emeric Pressburger and I owe that to the BBC and BFI because they got together and decided to reconstitute it.

    There's a remarkable scene cut out originally between Blimp and a South African soldier in World War One. The latter believes in torturing information out of captured Germans while Blimp still holds to the anachronistic British sense of fair play.

    That was a good sequence later completely cut out. The actor was Reginald Tate, who had played Rochester in the stage version of "Jane Eyre" just before that.

    It was quite forward for a movie made at that time to show that Britain has to adopt some orthodox methods to survive.

    Oh sure. We meant it to be hard hitting. It wasn't cut at the time, just criticised. The War Office were shocked about it.

    Didn't Churchill try to suppress the whole Film?

    That was because old Grigg at the War Office was making such a fuss about it. "It's bringing the Army into disgrace!" I don't think that Churchill ever read the script.

    Though I haven't seen it for over ten years, 49th Parallel seemed to have a certain degree of complexity.

    Not really. It's a very simple idea like Ten Little Niggers.

    As a propaganda movie it seems to have a simple idea but in the film I end up admiring Eric Portman's German officer. He does make it to the U.S.A. but he's brought back to British territory by very unfair means. There are characters supposed, at the time, to represent the best of Allied ideals but I find them very difficult to believe in - Livier's obnoxious French-Canadian, Walbrook's weak Huttie and Leslie Howard's silly Englishman. At one point of the film he's criticised by a German character as escaping to Canada to avoid conscription. At no point of the film is this ever refuted.

   Well, what about it? People are complex. They're not just black and white.

    It seems very remarkable for a film of its time when Germans were generally painted very black elsewhere.

    It's certainly remarkable in that we were both very civilised people. We thought - and still think - that the best propaganda is insidious propaganda. Nobody believes black and white propaganda.

    I believe you once described A Canterbury Tale as a crusade against materialism?

    One of the themes of the story was that. Emeric said, "Why don't we make a film about the sort of ideals we are fighting for?" Obviously, one of the most interesting characters in a discussion of that kind is the complete materialist played by Dennis Price.

    At the climax he does get to play in Canterbury Cathedral.

    Yes, but he's only one of the pilgrims. They all gt their desire. The girl finds her young man whom she thought was dead. John Sweet learns that his fiancée has gone to Australia with the WACs, Dennis Price plays the organ before going overseas and probably getting killed. All get their desire except Mr. Culpepper.

    I find that the three pilgrims who get their desire are all learning. They have their traditions behind them, like Dennis Price who wants to play the organ properly. The American is interested in the English heritage. Eric Portman also reveres England but his other side is "The Glue Man", pouring glue on English girls to stop them fraternising with GI's.

    The trouble with a man like that is that he's a loner. If he had a wife she'd have told him not to be so silly and taken his glue away from him. But he's a typical Englishman in that way. I tried to indicate that by the type of things he was interested in. You see in his room mountain climbing and walking scenes - things you do alone. So a chap on his own gets a bit cracked sometimes - monomaniac.

    The opening scenes of a falcon transferred into an aircraft and the falconer into a soldier to abruptly show the passage of time in a second seemed very reminiscent of what happens to the bone in Kubrick's 2001 "Dawn of Man" sequence.

    Others have pointed that out to me. We always borrow from one another. Martin Scorsese always says he borrowed this or that from Peeping Tom or The Red Shoes.

    What was your basic intention in making A Matter of Life and Death?

    We were asked by the Ministry of Information to make a film about Anglo-American relations. They said that, as long as we were losing the War, relationships were very good but, when we started winning together, relationships were deteriorating a bit. People started to criticise each other. You remember some of the things that General Patton said. So they suggested we make something amusing and witty about American relationships wit the British. The whole film was based on that. All the different characters are towards that end. The man who does not die falls in love with an American girl when he should have reported in Heaven. From then on, it's a fight on Earth and Heaven for the love and happiness of these two people - quite a simple idea but a big idea. I liked it very much. It's the personal favourite of all my films. But I don't think I could have made a fantasy of it. That's why all the miracle stuff came in. I got all that from all the doctors who'd been in the war and had al the brain injuries happening around them.

    What made you decide to do the Heaven scenes in monochrome and the English scenes in colour?

    We thought they should be opposed to each other. It seemed pretty obvious. It was Emeric's idea that one should be in monochrome and the other in colour. Then it seemed quite natural that the world everybody knew should be in colour and the world they didn't in monochrome. As the angels were going to have white wings anyway, it would be all right. It all fitted in.

    Was there a critique of British insularity and imperialism along with the sexual repression themes in Black Narcissus?

   Not really. There was one of that in the book and we admired the book very much. It was one of the few films we made taken from a book, Rumer Godden's book. It was very well balanced about the Indians and the British like The River filmed by Renoir.

    Were not the nuns destroyed not only by their personal flaws but the nature of the environment?

    It was because of the special environment. They were obviously successful down in Calcutta where the mother monastery was. But when they were put in this extraordinary windy palace it was too much for them - the atmosphere and the loneliness and, as they say, the wind. And, of course, Deborah in her big scene when she describes to David Farrar and Kathleen Byron how she had a lover in Ireland and he went away. Because she was so ashamed at being deserted, she became a nun.

    I notice that, in contrast to Hitchcock, as a director you seem fascinated by red-haired women in your films - Kathleen Byron, Pamela Brown, Maxine Audley and Moira Shearer, to name a few.

    I do like red hair very much. It usually goes with a quick temperament and lovely skin.

    Gone to Earth was a co-production with David Selznick?

    It was. Funnily enough, I'm gong to have dinner with Jennifer Jones this week.

    One reference work mentions narration by Joseph Cotton.

    There was some narration in the American version - that is the Selznick version - but not in ours. It was slightly different form Selznick's. He shot some extra sences and they were directed by Rouben Mamoulian. He told me about them and said they were not very important changes.

    Was Jennifer Jones' role similar to her Duel in the Sun image?

    No, it was a very much more moving role. She was a very simple child-like sort of girl. Esmond Knight played her father, a coffin maker. She was a real Shropshire country girl, very simple and attractive. She marries the parson and runs off with the squire.

    Was this a project you wanted to do yourself?

    No. But many English film-makers were interested in Mary Webb. At one point they were going to make a film of Precious Bane, which was a very big best seller. Robert Donat was going to star in it but because of the war they did not make it. Korda had bought the rights to the Mary Webb book and so he asked us if we would like to make one of them. All my family on my mother's side come from Worcestershire and Shropshire (my father's side is form the Welsh Marches), so I was quite keen to do it as I knew the people, the country, the voices. It was a very good story but rather melodramatic. Down to Earth [sic] was our most popular film in France up to that time where it was called Le Renarde - The Vixen - and still is.

    Were you satisfied with the final version?

    Yes I thought it was a beautiful film. If you want to criticise it, it was a little long-winded. It's a simple theme. There wasn't much complication in it except "Will she run away with the squire?" and "Will she run away from the squire to the parson?" That was about it. So I made a gorgeous picture with marvellous hunting scenes. I recreated the country of my childhood withall the horses, dogs, dog-carts, traps and the kind of people I knew when I was a child.

    I find in British criticism, particularly journalism, a suspicion of the operatic use of cinema. Anything highly visual and colourful that cannot be confined within the canons of good taste, straightforward narrative and low-key control, is regarded as "bad taste". It's a smear that has been used unjustly against your films, particularly The Red Shoes, Tales of Hoffmann and Oh Rosalinda! which are based on the operatic effect.

    Yes, that's right. Of course, they can always criticise my taste. I don't mind that.

    The Red Shoes was considerably successful at the time?

    The film went considerably over budget because we did not realise that when we had a ballet company we also would have to see them quite often in the course of the story because it's all about a ballet. So we found that we used them about every day for scenes and rehearsals. This took us over our original budget for the dance part of the film but it was still the most commercially successful film we ever made.

    Was Tales of Hoffmann a difficult project to get off the ground?

    Not terribly, because we weren't too happy with the films we made with Korda up to that time. This was the second time we were with him after the war and they hadn't quite come off. We couldn't agree on a subject between us. Thomas Beecham, who enjoyed working with us on The Red Shoes, asked us to come and see him and suggested we do an opera - The Tales of Hoffmann. We liked the idea and, when we suggested it to Korda, he asked one or two people and they were all enthusiastic. Korda had never seen the opera. So it was quite a happy picture because everybody agreed to do it. We got all the old gang from The Red Shoes together again - Helpmann, Massine and Moira - and got happily to work. It was a very happy picture and got quickly done. We worked for some time with Sir Thomas on the cutting and arranging of the score. It was not new music but the themes had to be developed a little bit differently to the opening - the "Dragonfly" ballet and things like that. When we were quite satisfied with all that on the piano, Sir Thomas did the orchestration and we recorded the picture with selected voices. They were selected to look like the actors, actresses and dancers who played the parts in the film. Then the whole film was made to playback. It only took about forty-five days and was what I call a "composed film". What had been done before - and I always thought it was a good idea - was a film called The Robber Symphony - in which Friedrich Feher wrote the music, recorded it and then did a film to the music. I said, "This must be the only way to do an opera, so let's record it with singers and mostly record it with dancers, then we'll have a wonderful picture." In effect, that's the way it worked out. We had the first night in America at the Metropolitan Opera.

    This is very reminiscent of silent film directors who had an orchestra on set to play to their actors for inspiration.

    Yes. I go back a long way. I worked with big directors who had their four-piece orchestra on the set, like Rex Ingram. The first film I worked on - Mare Nostrum - had a theme tune continually being played, "The Serenata to Shelley".

    Was your idea with Oh Rosalinda! to make a popular version of an opera with general appeal using star names of the time?

    It was Emeric's idea. The girls were very good. Mel Ferrer was a good comedian. I liked the idea but I think we tried too hard on that. It became a little complicated and wasn't simple enough.

    I found problems of synchronisation with the music.

    Yes. An operetta's a very tricky thing to produce, much more than an opera. It's difficult to make into a film because the plot is stupid, intentionally stupid, and you don't go out of your way to make a stupid plot in a film. Sometimes they arrive on your lap but you shouldn't try to do it. An operetta has to have excuses for misunderstandings like a farce, nice frothy numbers, everybody having a good time. It's not quite the same level as a fine film.

    Obsessiveness and creativity link many of your characters - Anton Walbrook in The Red Shoes and Hoffmann, and Mark Lewis of Peeping Tom.

    All artists are more or less obsessed. They're more interesting when they are - and obsessive.

    What led you to make Peeping Tom?

    I got in touch with Leo Marks because I'd heard that he'd done a very clever scene involving a cryptogram for Carve Her Name with Pride. It was just after I'd parted from Emeric Pressburger. He first suggested a story of a double agent who betrays both sides but I said I didn't want to do a spy story. We talked for two or three weeks. Finally, he came to me with this idea, "Would you like to make a film about a young man who murders people with his camera?" I said [clicking his fingers], "Yes! You're on! Just tell me the idea." He gave me some ideas and I commissioned him. After that he came round twice a week with more sequences and I would criticise them and he would re-write them. Gradually the script was done that way but he wrote the whole script. It was his idea. Leo Marks.

    Was the idea of audience identification with the killer there from the start?

    Yes. It's the way you shoot it. You can look on at a thing or you can preach about it or you can absolutely identify yourself with the young cameraman. Since any good director turns himself into a camera - I Am a Camera is the story of every director - I decided to do it that way. I did the horrifying sequence with the young boy with my son Columba, who was about seven at the time, because I knew he wouldn't be frightened if he did it with me. The, as he played my son, I played his father in the film within the film. It gradually grew like that so it became a family affair and the family practically turned into a lens.

    Did you anticipate the storm which arose when the film was released?

    No. I was very surprised because they weren't just bad reviews but vicious attacks. They more or less said that I was morbid and diseased in my mind and was trying to influence other people to be the same. I don't think any director had a worse attack. I was completely taken aback, very surprised, and it did me a lot of harm professionally. It meant that any subject I wanted to do which was unusual - and I have a whole shelf of them - I wasn't allowed to. I could not raise the money. What I should have done when I realised this was I should have come straight here. They have not got the prejudices here. I knew my films were known there. I didn't know they were so admired although I've kept friendships here for the forty or fifty years since I started with an American company. But I clung to England because I'm English and naturally wanted to make English films. But I should have seen the writing on the wall and cut and run.

    Was Peeping Tom's voyeurism influenced by Hitchcock?

    No, not at all. In Psycho, which I think is his best picture, there's so much humour inside which saves it. I think he got criticised but they didn't take it so seriously as they took me.

    Don't you think England has a particularly negative attitude towards creativity, and people doing things in new directions, which is harmful in the end?

    I don't know whether it is a general thing. If they do attack an artist, they're worse than anybody because a certain amount of hypocrisy comes into it as well. Look at Francis Bacon. He really got severely mauled. But I don't think the English public and cognoscenti are worse than any others. Perhaps there is a source of hypocrisy which I added to it. Also, being islanders, they really are insular. They're a bit isolated from continental thought and I never have been. I've always been very closely identified with everything that's happening there. I know a lot about it, a lot about art, and they may be a little bit jealous.

    I've read that you originally wanted Pamela Brown to play Anna Massey's other instead of Maxine Audley.

    Yes, because she and Anna Massey could easily be mother and daughter. They look a bit like each other and have almost the same colour hair. Pamela's was a deep red. Anna's was more chestnut. They would have made a wonderful mother and daughter.

    Mark's stepmother is blonde. So are the prostitutes he kills. Was he taking something against his stepmother out of them?

    Well, I didn't go that deeply into it except instinctively.

    You've done cameo appearances before in One of Our Aircraft is Missing and in The Edge of the World.

    In both cases it wasn't just as a show off, because the kind of actor we'd have had to take to the island of Foula in The Edge of the World would have been unbearable so I played the part and my wife played the girl. Then the part in One of Our Aircraft - it jut happened that the actor didn't arrive at the airfield where we were shooting or else he didn't have his pass. So I just stepped in and did the part for him.

    For the BBC TV showing of The Edge of the World you shot a new prologue and epilogue returning there forty years later. There North Sea oil was proposed as changing the situation of the islanders. I've hard from some people living on the Scottish coast that the oil has not preserved the communities but scattered them even more. Accommodation, particularly in Aberdeen, is now very expensive.

    On the mainland, yes. But you'll find that it's had a tremendous effect in Shetland. What it's done for Lerwick is know. They are frightfully good negotiators. The Shetlanders did the deal themselves with the oil companies. They only leased them the port. The big oil port up there is only leased for twenty years. After that, they own it. It's revolutionised the economy of Shetland. They're a very hard-headed and good humoured people. Very difficult to get round them.

    I have read somewhere that you have stated your admiration for Walt Disney.

    He was one of the great innovators in film. One of the things I like was - when talkies came in, a lot of the timing of silent films went out of the window and nobody made those marvellous slapstick comedies any more because there were only verbal jokes. But Disney kept on making those wonderful cartoons for at least another ten years so he kept the whole idea of film comedy and narrative through image alive. People don't realise that they owe an enormous lot to him. His films still move. For five years they just bogged down in a welter of talk. He was a great inventor and innovator. I was very fond of him. Whenever I was in Hollywood after the war, I always spent a day with him.

    There are surrealistic and fantasy elements in all of your films, particularly The Small Back Room. Which branch of surrealism interests you?

    I don't altogether agree about surrealism because, trained as I have been from the very early days, films are surrealistic. Any film. Because anybody who can start to tell a story in a street or a field just using a camera and an actor - that's pure surrealism. Anything may happen. It's more expressionism that you are referring to. This was a sequence where David Farrar was waiting for the girl to come back to the room. There's a wonderful shot of him underneath, the bottle falling over on him. We made several bottles of different sizes and shot them from different angles and had great fun doing it. But the critics jumped on me immediately, "Oh, Michael Powell with his German tendencies and German art director must have these German expressionist ideas!"

    There are somethings which have worked very well like those giant pencils in Mark's pocket in Peeping Tom.

    They were about three-and-a-half feet long. That's the only way you could have done that. Leo wrote the sequence just like that - the pencils fall out of his pocket. I said, "You realise, Leo, they're only that big. The gantry of a studio is forty feet up. I can do it all right." When he saw it, he said that it was one of the best shots in the picture but he never knew at the time. I asked the prop man to give me some dummy pencils and pens to drop in this sequence, three feet long! And it worked.

    After making The Earthsea Trilogy, do you see yourself based in America permanently?

    No, I hope not. One of the things I hope to get together is a group of producers and then a studio like Pinewood. That's why Coppola and I were thinking of buying Pinewood. Also, I hear that a consortium in England would like to do the same thing. Good luck to them because it's no good having the dead hand of Rank over the whole thing. If Rank are not going to make pictures, then let them get cut. What isn't fair is to sit on the whole thing and say, "We're not going to make any more pictures" It has a dampening effect on the whole British film industry. I would like to get together a group of five or six clever producers - some of whom are over here making pictures - to guarantee Pinewood a certain number of picture per year. That's how we did the old independent Producers set-up when we went from Denham to Pinewood with David Lean, Ronnie Neame, Carol Reed and that bunch. It's not too late to do it again.

Now read Cinema of Enchantment The Films of Michael Powell (Films and Filming, December 1981)

Then you should read Three Neglected Films [ACT, BN & GTE] (Films and Filming, January 1982)

Other P&P reviews