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.

A lot of the documents have been sent to me or have come from other web sites. The name of the web site is given where known. If I have unintentionally included an image or document that is copyrighted or that I shouldn't have done then please email me and I'll remove it.

I make no money from this site, it's purely for the love of the films.

[Any comments are by me (Steve Crook) and other members of the email list]

  Steve's Logo

Submitted by Roger Mellor

Interview with Michael Powell
by R. Collins & I. Christie - Monogram No 3 (1972)

The expense of naturalism

One needs no particular 'politique' to justify attention to Michael Powell; his work constitutes the only coherent body of film in the British cinema to date. Making fifty films in an industry notorious for its uncertainty, contradictions and contraction is remarkable enough. More important though, is the impressive variety: an operatic cinema that in The Red Shoes, Tales of Hoffmann, Bluebeard's Castle invites comparison with the musicals of Minnelli and Cukor, a series of political and ideological films located chiefly in the 'forties, an almost Godardian meta-cinema in Peeping Tom - each form of film-making Powell has chosen is unique in Britain and an original contribution to the cinema as a whole.

It is a reproach both to the British film industry and to British film criticism that Powell has had to do good by stealth for so long. His work demonstrates what the British cinema could be. and one notes with regret that there are not more films like The Small Back Room, Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death, The Red Shoes or Peeping Tom , and that Powell's diagnosis of naturalism as the enemy has not been more widely translated into an effective strategy.

There's one theme across your which strikes me very forcibly, watching them, which is the theme of artistic creation, of the strains and the agony of artistic creation.

Does that come out in several films?

I think it does. It comes out in The Red Shoes, Tales of Hoffmann -

Oh well, that's the theme of The Red Shoes.

In Peeping Tom, too. And most interestingly in Age of Consent , where somehow the artist figure has a quite different status to that he has in the other films.

Yes. The only failure of Age of Consent was that the artist himself was not original enough.

Well, we were very curious about that, there's a sense in which the things that he actually does are rather uninteresting and unsatisfactory.

I thought that let the film down.

Would you like them to be different from what they were? There's one shot I recall, where Mason is actually standing with his canvas on the beach and Helen Mirren is standing in the water and it's a deliberately composed shot, it seems to hover almost between slight absurdity and a kind of universality. It looks like being almost a confrontation between the painter and the subject but there's also something very literal about it. I wonder if that was intended to suggest a hint of parody?

I don't think it was, it was just that I wasn't getting what I wanted, I think that's how you'd sum it up.

Is this something that you're not particularly conscious of yourself, that you pursue this sort of theme across a number of films?

No, I certainly wouldn't pursue it, in I wouldn't shove it in - it's part of life, I suppose.

For instance, it you take The Small Back Room which is a film I like very much, it seems very like one of the films about art because in a way the central character there is a kind of artist - he has a very intense, subjective approach -

He's dedicated.

- And he lives on an emotional knife edge. And in some ways it's a better about art, I think, than a lot of films abut art, because it conveys the sort of single-minded obsession, and he runs risk of disintegrating, literally.

I would accept that.

What about Your project of The Tempest? I would have thought that this is again about the status of the artist, the status of the creator.

Yes, I think it will be done eventually up till now ail the budgets have cost too much, and I can't really get the budget down until I find the right man to collaborate with me on what I want to do. Gerald Scarfe who was going to do a lot of the monsters and masks and things in it, he's never been a film designer and he hasn't got the technical knowledge, although a very good technical creator, to take the huge jump that I want to take away from naturalism. You see what is at the moment or what has been steadily ruining films for the last twenty years is the expense of naturalism. The average producer only understands naturalism, if he understand that; - I'm talking about producers n directors. I think the reason why there are such poor directors on the whole today is because there has been such saturation of films on their eyes an minds that it comes to the point where they can look at anything and think "Oh well, I can do that and do it better". Well, it's not so easy as that. It's exactly the same in painting, or in any art really, if you get to the point, you know, where you've seen so much that you think there's nothing to it. And you can only be relaxed if you gather round you such a stupendous team of technicians and craftsmen that they're all contributing just as you are and you're only controlling it all as Lermontov was in The Red Shoes.

Do you feel the loss of a team of very talented collaborators such as you had in The Red Shoes and Tales of Hoffmann, do you feel that it's harder now for you because you can't assemble the same kind of team around you.

Yes. Very definitely. If you all understand each other then you can produce a Matter of Life and Death. But if you don't, if you don't all have confidence and understand each other, you can't.

I wonder if that's got anything to with the fact that the last two of your films have been in Australia.

Certainly with, well not the first one, They're a Weird Mob, because that was merely a romp in Australia in the early American manner, in other words it was a take-off of the early American film the - Ruggles of Red Gap, for instance exactly like it, except I'm not such a good director of the human comedy as Leo McCarey, I think it's just heaven there are very few McCareys. But it had the same quality generally and I was quite pleased with it.

It seems to me that one of your great contributions to the British cinema has been a kind of attack on naturalism and a refusal to rest content with naturalism and a constant attempt to try to go beyond it.

Yes, that was at first purely visual and artistic but now it is absolutely economic. Unless we are able to tell a film completely without naturalism I don't see any future for any budget for any film.

When you say naturalism you mean the naturalism that requires a lot of location shooting.

Yes, not only that but a lot of necessarily real things which are just there because they're real. In the early days of the cinema you see it was true that a tree was a tree, shoot it in Central Park. But now if you go to shoot a tree in Central Park you take a crew of eighty with you, you see what I mean?

It seems to me that one of your great kind of leaning in your work towards German stories, subjects -

Not particularly German, I've always t been in the Common Market culturally, and I know much more about France and French literature than I do about German. Only, it has just so happened that it's been, I suppose through association with the Hungarians, you know Korda and his brothers, Emeric and his friends - that slants you towards Central Europe and Germany if something comes up. This film which I think we're going to do, is a German/Yugoslav co-production, but that just happens to be, not because I wanted to do it, but because it's a very good Yugoslav story which the Germans also want to do. And I think everybody's had this experience that although they would like to work in France. the language difficulty of writing particularly, the creative part of the language difficulty is far more difficult in France than it is between us and German. I read mostly French literature and of course there's no comparison either in the style or the attitude of French literature with English.

In your films the foreigners characteristically do seem to be Germans rather than French or Italians.

Possibly they might have been because I go back to the early days of cinema when the Germans were a big influence, the Germans and Russians were the greatest influence in the cinema - of Europe - and I'm really a European, I'm not particularly English and I'm certainly not American.

I think that's one of the things that we admire most about your wartime films, the generosity and the clarity with which you do present Germans.

Well, a lot of that was due to Pressburger. He was clever enough, he knew the Germans very well, and he was quite clever enough to know that the only way to get the Germans by the soft underbelly, is to portray them as they are and then suddenly turn a somersault.

So you're saying that the good Germans one sees in the wartime films, the Walbrook figure in Colonel. Blimp and the baker and the Hutterite community in 49th Parallel, they're there for explicitly propagandist reasons?

No, it's because a German, taken out of Germany becomes less hysterical and more creative. You see this in the Expressionist painters and the Mannerist painters - as long as they go on talking to each other and banging their heads on their canvasses -

There is one film which is not I suppose strictly yours, you produced it, The Silver Fleet, I don't know how closely you were involved in it -

Very closely. I haven't seen it since we made it but it was quite a good little film.

I watched The Silver Fleet not knowing that you hadn't directed it and I was really surprised at the end to see that it was directed by Vernon Sewell, but I thought I could see your hand and more than your hand in it.

Well, I certainly didn't stand over him, it's just that I suppose the attitude and the conception - attitudes are everything, aren't they? and style.

I think a lot of your films are about values, even about ultimately, political values.

About values, yes. It always puzzles me that people don't realize how many of our films were entirely original. In the history of films this is extraordinary. That people should make a run together of sixteen films of which ten or eleven were entirely original. Except for Chaplin which is different, almost a different medium. I don't think it can have happened. If it had happened more often I think the cinema would be a happier and better place. But that refers back to during the war - every single film we made was made on a general premise of what would be entertainment in a year's time. And so when we made I Know Where I'm Going, it was a film that we decided to make about moral and material values. A Canterbury Tale was specifically about the difference between a materialist and the ordinary person you know. The Denis Price character was the materialist. It was specifically about that. He was the one we regarded as the materialist, the downright man who has a reason for everything.

Yes. But when he reaches the Cathedral the suggestion is that he's aware of other values.

Well, it didn't quite happen like that; remember there was a scene on the train where Colpeper has quite a long talk with the soldier for the first time really, in which their conflicting views are very carefully expressed. And at the end of which he gives up and says "Well, what do you think that I am?" And Colpeper says "Perhaps you're an instrument." It's a very important line. And he says "I'll believe that when I see a halo around my head". And the train runs out of the tunnel and his halo appears. So he doesn't know what's happening to him, but it starts to happen when, as a pilgrim, he reaches Canterbury Cathedral. So it doesn't in other words - he doesn't go to do it, it happens to him because he's a pilgrim.

Is this interest in the exploration of moral and material values the reason why so many of your films seem to be set more on the peripheries of British life - in the Northern Isles, in the Hebrides, Tibet and far-flung areas of the Empire. Is it that you think that it's in those kind of areas, at the fringes, where the conflict, the struggle is most apparent? Or do you think it's misleading to say that that is a characteristic?

Yes. It's a very good question. It isn't true of course, because the same struggle goes on in the centre of London.

Yes. But it's very rarely that your films are, it you like, about the centre of London.

Very rarely.

Literally one of the only one of your films that seems to be really in the centre of London is Peeping Tom, isn't it? The only one I can think of.

Can't call Melbury Road the centre of London.

He does appear in what might be Soho.

I was just thinking it is a most interesting question, and I'm damned if I can answer it at the moment. Whether it was that the theme was easier to develop in a very simple setting, whether it was the early training which was always to go out and photograph something new.

The thing which in fact put me on to this question was something you say in the Foula book. I think the quotation is: "The conquest of Nature by Civilization is a fine thing, it is always printed in big capitals. But what good is Civilization if it drives the strong, hardy, independent people back from the outposts to live in towns." But is it as simple as that? There seems a real disgust and despair with towns, as it nothing healthy can come out of or develop there.

No, That was really referring to this specific case.

You said in passing that you'd always wanted to make a film of Kipling's story 'They' - was that a serious project or an aberration?

Yes, yes, I think it was a serious project. I'm a mad Kipling fan and somebody, now who was it?, well, somebody seeing the retrospective of my films and afterwards, not before, she read afterwards quite a lot of Kipling's long short stories, and she said "0h I see where an awful lot of your images and people come from." She said that she recognized very many things that are taken for granted in Kipling were taken for granted in my pictures. This had never occurred to me. because it was so much in my early days, this reading of Kipling: and it never occurred to me to ever make - and probably this is the reason - to make a film of a Kipling story, simply because I regard them so much as stories. But 'They' particularly is one of the few Kipling stories which could make a marvellous film.

Do you know his novel "The light that failed"?

Oh yes.

You must, of course. It seems to me that's not too far removed from the atmosphere of some of your films like The Red Shoes.

Yes, so it must be a very strong influence, of Kipling. It's a very dangerous thing to say in an interview because the average person associates Kipling with Jingoistic sentiments and probably hard cruel military cantonments and all that sort of thing. But of course he was a much more complex person that that. He was also a very good poet, on his good days. I mean Yeats and Eliot, well Eliot had more good days than Yeats. -

I think Eliot probably selected his good days very carefully for record.

Which you're not able to do always in films. I've always gone on consciously growing up and living in films, never using films as a medium. When I was - I was sixteen - in 1921 I read in this magazine the description. of people making films I said "This is for me", that was all, and ever since then I've just grown up with films. But of course I hadn't grown up only knowing films. I was very quickly involved in film-making which in those days was not necessarily show business, but I was always mad about the theatre, and these things combine. I see an enormous amount of theatre all over the world and opera and everything, but I see very few films. And I only go to see films when I want to be humble, and stagger out thinking I could never have done that. Then immediately I think how I could have done it better.

I was intrigued by the preface to your book 'Graf Spee' where I think you say that the book needs to be written because it's a more enduring form than the cinema. Now does that come out of a sense of despair, that you're never going to get anything else started, that you're never going to be able to do the kind of films that you want?

Well, every artist feels that after he's just done something.

It seems a curious thing for you to say though, that literature, the printed word is more enduring and more important than the cinema - for someone who says "I live the cinema, I live in the cinema".

I think every now and then a wave of despair sweeps over me about distributors.

What kind of future do you see for the British cinema - any at all?

Oh yes, and for the cinema generally, yes. I would expect to see the cinema in the next fifty years move away from big business entirely into it's proper form which is an art form. And I would expect to see people regard making a film exactly like writing a book or painting a picture and I would expect to see a very simple and easy way to make a film with mini cameras and mini lights and everything so easy for an enthusiastic team of three or four people to tell a story. I expect to see much more of this. And I expect to see this as the main pattern of story by film. The book which I'm making notes for and assembling all my archives and things for is called 'The Story-tellers'.

I was reading the book of Stravinsky's 'Conversations' and in it he mentioned a project that I gather you had put to him in I think it was 1952, to do some scenes from the 'Odyssey' in the form of a kind of Masque I think he said.

Nausicaa episode with Odysseus. Dylan Thomas was writing the words.

How did you conceive this - what form would it have taken, had it come off?

Well, I became enthusiastic in the idea of - which of course is coming up now - which is that out of all the creative artists in the world whom you could really call the top creative artists, perhaps five per cent have worked in the cinema, ninety-five percent have never worked in the cinema - and I thought after the success of The Red Shoes and Tales of Hoffmann which interested painters and poets all over the world - that I could get together a group of staggering people well I had the obvious people like Picasso and Graham Sutherland as painters and other people too, poets like Dylan Thomas. And I said "We will give you twenty hours of entertainment in colour, but some of the stories will be two hours long and some may be two minutes, I can't tell you exactly because you see you can't get a really first-rate artist to work in the cinema because there's no place for him. If you're going to- work on a feature film your salary is so-and-so, if you're going to work on a short your salary is nothing, it's more or less that, you know, if you're going to work on an experimental film it's minus. This is the general attitude towards the most creative story-tellers in paint or verse or writing or anything. And I knew I could get anybody I wanted on these terms, if only somebody would back it. And one of the projects was this short episode from the episode in the Odyssey when Ulysses is washed ashore and Nausicaa and her maidens come down to sea-shore, you remember, to wash the linen and they were going to dance on the linen in order to beat it out, and we had a hymn and I wanted Stravinsky to do the music and Dylan the words. Graham Sutherland, for instance, wanted to make a detective story in the reeds at the mouth of the Var in Nice. In those days there used to be reeds at the mouth.

You seem to have had a great deal of freedom and a great deal of control over your films.

Yes, and when I didn't it was a disaster.

Is that characteristic of film production in Britain as opposed to what it was in the States. And was that what essentially kept you in Britain, rather than going to the States, like Hitchcock?

Yes. Because I'm not a real folk genius like Hitchcock, you see. I work with the materials that are there and I try to get the best. If they're not the best I fall on my face, you see. Hitchcock is really a folk genius. He's a Cockney at loose in the world, and every now and again it works marvellously. When it doesn't, out comes a Marnie or something like that, because Hitch is bored - I'm very fond of Hitch. He was the first director I worked with when I came from France. We became friends then and have been friends ever since.

You said that two films of yours that have been interfered with most were A Canterbury Tale and The Small Back Room.

I didn't say they'd been interfered with, because people were still afraid of us then. But they did ask us to cut sequences. But they wouldn't have dared to have come onto the set because if they had I'd have stopped work.

You did say in connection with Phantom Light, I think you were talking to Kevin Gough-Yates, that it gave you an opportunity to use 'visual shocks', visual notes and shocks. I don't know it the phrase means anything to you. But it does seem to identity something in a lot of your films for me which is a use of a often very anti-naturalistic device, to shock the audience, to really startle them at some point.

Yes. As far as I remember I was left alone entirely to make it - that's probably why I said I had more opportunity on it. As long as I made it and delivered it on the budget, nobody cared very much what I did with it.

There's a tremendous sequence of almost Russian cutting, as I would think of it.

Yes, it was the only way to do it.

You've got the pistons of the ship, the bows of the ship, the light itself, all cut in a big montage - very Russian style really. It looked like you were having some fun on that.

Well, it was the only way I could do it - wasn't enough money.

But, much later than that, when you had much more control over your films, this seems to hold true. If there is one characteristic of your films, right across the decades, it is a wish to disturb the audience at times, often by a very striking visual single shot or something that really disconcerts them. Something like the eyelid closing in A Matter of Life and Death - the most extreme example.


But there similar sorts of examples in lots of the films. Was this ever something you consciously worked out an idea of jolting the audience?

No, I should think it's probably from early influences in Europe. German and Russian, and French. Yes, German probably more than Russian.

Even in Black Narcissus I think the magnificent final sequences are almost like something out of a German picture, a UFA film.

Are they?

Yes, well it's when the nun returns to the convent. The composition is very very striking, because one knows it's all done in the studio, which I still find hard to believe - it is really rather reminiscent of, say, one of Lang's big spectaculars in the twenties.

Well, that's partly owing to Alfred Junge.

Had Junge worked in Germany as a designer, as a film designer specifically?

Oh yes. He's one of the-great technicians of the cinema.

He hadn't been a painter like Heckroth.

No, he was a film art director who developed - his great passion in art, being a German, was Dürer. It's a shame he's dead now, he would have gone to the Dürer Nuremberg exhibition this year. But he was a dedicated film designer. He came - I think his wife was Jewish but he was not - but I think he came with E A Dupont to this country, that's the only reason he came. Because he was E A Dupont's film designer - Variete.

You were using German-trained and German-based art directors. This seems to set them aside from so much that was being done in Britain. I wonder it this was regarded as being something rather foreign and exotic - were you regarded as being unique in your preference for using Alfred Junge and people like him?

No, because Alfred Junge, for the three or four years before the war, had been chief designer for MGM British here, and after the war indeed went back to them as chief designer. He was the designer of Goodbye Mr. Chips , The Citadel, A Yank at Oxford.

Is it fair to say that you encouraged him perhaps to be more individual, more so than in his other films?

We were both trained in the great European tradition of design and cinema, where everything is possible and has to be done in the most perfect way possible. For instance, he always found, as I did, English studios disgusting because they let all the dust accumulate on the overhead girders and if you have any big bang or explosion or somebody drops a set or two, then a deluge of dust descends upon you. This is typical of a British studio. A German studio would be vacuum cleaned probably every month and the floor would be oiled, everything would be spotless. It would be run like a German theatre was run - how I would expect a theatre to be run, and how I've never seen a theatre in this country run. We were both perfectionists, in other words and trained properly in a very great tradition.

I am reminded of something Fritz Lang said once in an interview, he said that when he went to the States, to Hollywood, he found not that Hollywood was interior to the facilities he had at UFA but rather that he could do more in Hollywood. He gave one example; he said that nobody had ever heard of a boom at Ufa, and this was commonplace in Hollywood, and you could move the camera much better. Do you think that's true? Does that suggest that maybe UFA wasn't as great as it's always said to be.

No, I think it was a great film-producing centre, but you are talking about the introduction of sound, where probably the Germans may have been working on directional microphones or press microphones and didn't want booms. Anybody who wants a boom anyway needs his head examined. In the early days of sound films, of course it was wonderful to have these flexible booms which at least gave you an arc of ten feet. Then of course they invented telescopic booms which shot the microphone out to thirty feet. They're still a perfect anachronism, like trotting a dinosaur around with you. If sound men were worth their salt in the first eighteen months they would have invented tiny mikes which picked up everything that was necessary without being visible. But they went happily on with bigger and bigger booms.

Am I right in thinking that you were having a bit of fun at the expense of English or very rigid styles of shooting in Peeping Tom in the studio sequences?

Yes, a bit.

Where you show, you really send up the whole process a bit.

A bit. Well, there didn't seem any other way to do it, you know. Film people anyway, filming film people - there's something doubly artificial about it.

That appealed to you in Peeping Tom?

Well, I decided to send the whole thing up anyway. In other words you saw a lot of idiots in command and a lot of dedicated technicians very quietly moving around. That was the point.

Yes, that's one of the things that comes through from the film. Your hero is, after all, a technician.

I'm a technician, not a visible idiot. There are always directors like that. I remember reading a lovely story of a safari in Africa; they would come to a different village, you know, and there would be a big Ngoma put on for you, a big native show. And he very soon noticed the different kinds of producers of the show who were the Chiefs. Sometimes the Chief would be out front 'Ho Wa Ho Wa Ho Wa' and oiled all over - . in front of everything, you know. Sometimes he would see a very worried little character whizzing around the back and saying 'No, no, no, come in that way, Oh you bloody fool, you've ruined the whole thing' you know. This is me.

You talked about your successful films being the product of a happy collaboration. Do you think that the achievement of the east German cinema and of the American cinema during the thirties and forties and perhaps the early fifties, is due to there being this established studio system - a lot of very skilled and intelligent and dedicated people available for collaboration?

No, it was close collaboration with the other arts, the theatre and painting.

You titled your lecture at the NFT 'The Beauty of Image' and it's clear that the way you speak of the art directors and the evidence in the films that you are very interested in the visuals of the film. What kind of ratio do you prefer working in? Three of your films have been in some kind of wide screen process. You've done some work in television - do you make any distinction between the kind of thing you like working in. Do you like Cinemascope?

Well, no, not very much. The American Cinemascope of course is better because it has very little distortion, if you're careful. But most of these other 'scopes like the Russian one, have such colossal distortion, it's just ridiculous. I went to see this potted version of The Big Battle the other night, and they were using the 'scope system, and as soon as people stepped off the centre of the picture they became like in a distorting mirror. No, on the whole I think the academy screen is the best. What I've always been against, all my life, is projecting it in the cinema with a black surround.

Really? What would you prefer instead of that?

I'd like a photo-electric cell sympathetic surround for colour films, so that the overall tone that was on the screen wouldn't suffer.

Like the way Seurat framed his pictures.

I nearly got Rank to adopt it at a time when they were really spending money on technical developments and I was in charge of that, technical developments on the camera side. Korda always said and I don't know how much he knew, because Korda was such a tremendous showman, he said I was the greatest technician that he'd ever known. I can do almost anything, given the right collaborators. I never am in the least worried about anything you know.

In Oh Rosalinda you actually exploit the qualities of the poor Cinemascope.

Yes. The lenses were not very sharp, were they? We certainly tried. I thought using very defective lenses at that time we were a bit too daring..

You were having a bit of fun with the Cinemascope in the drunken sequence in Oh Rosalinda where you actually tilt the lens, don't you?

Yes. That's right. In those days the lenses besides being somewhat defective in sharpness, also had a focal depth that was fantastically small. Five feet, six feet, something like that.

The Queen's Guards looks again very odd, it I may say so, because at times, especially in the parade ground sequences you use Cinemascope in a very rectilinear fashion, very four-square of course it's the subject matter - but I found that interesting because you're not trying to distract attention from the fact that it is such an odd shape, you're almost using it, drawing attention to it.

Yes - it was quite a problem with the parade ground.

Lang says the things he likes about Hollywood, was that there wore a lot of very skilled and intelligent and competent people with whom to work. And this is the. way he accounts for the success and pig sense of satisfaction with many of his American films.

Well, I don't know what Lang may have meant. He had an enormous sense of humour and he was an absolutely darling man. I think he mainly meant that when he wanted something done it was done absolutely superlatively. He's not t a shouting, bawling Preminger you know, or an egomaniac genius like Stroheim. Lang Is a marvellous man, and he found that everything he asked for was immediately produced, and done very well. This of course was staggering to him because a European director is accustomed, practically, to do everything himself.

And that's the way it is in Britain, is it, you have to do everything yourself, struggle pretty hard to get what you want?

Mostly, I think, yes. When I say do everything yourself it means that you have to. For instance, the Rank organization of course, started this way with groups of dedicated people like our own people in the Archers and the people in Cine Guild, you know, the John Bryan, Ronnie Neame, David Lean, Anthony Havelock Allen group, Sidney Gilliatt, Frank Launder and their friends - another group. It was only when the Rank Organization became big business and bought all the Odeons and all that sort of thing that they started to follow the Hollywood pattern of saying "The director just. directs that, and the trick department does that; the editor reports to somebody else" - this is the Hollywood method. And in the case of a great director like Lang I'm sure he was able to buck the method. What entranced him and fascinated him was I think the technical skill and the money behind it, in the service of artist.

And he certainly had a lot of very bad experiences with the front office.

Well, you see, after this first thing of course he would find this coming up. They always welcome you to Hollywood and give you everything you want on your first picture, and afterwards the shadows of the prison-house close around the dangerous boy.

Could we ask you to talk a bit generally. Do you have any feelings about the state of the British cinema? Good tendencies you see in it, or bad tendencies Or any kind of immediate future. I think it's gone back a great deal to a rather defiant amateurism.

Which is a good thing, you think? Bad thing. I'm not sympathetic to amateurs of any kind.

Are there any particular films or people who have started working in Britain recently who seem to you to be promising?

Yes, Christopher Miles in The Virgin and the Gypsy. Outstanding talent, as I understand it - should develop enormously. Because the good thing are very very good and the bad things are very, very bad.

Any others that you feel the same way about?

Well ??[unreadable]?? he's dead. Of course, I admire Joe Losey as a film-maker, but I find he's never quite in an English skin, that's all, otherwise he's just marvellous.

Another man who's got this series of regular collaborators, with Pinter and Bogarde and Richard MacDonald.

Yes, it certainly helps. Schlesinger I think has a great talent. I thought the one he did in the North, A Kind of Loving, a beautiful film. I didn't like Darling but I like A Kind of Loving. He's a very honest, marvellous fellow.

What about Reisz, do you like Reisz's work?

Well, he's only brought off Morgan, really. Lovely talent, but he doesn't seem to be able to come to terms with, well, who could, in the last five or six years it's been very, very difficult for really creative people. There's been too much money in the country in the wrong hands, too much power in the wrong places. A man as clever as Reisz who makes a big success like that is going to get talked into things that he shouldn't do.

It's interesting that British musicals or British films with music and dance having a central part, seem to be coming back into the cinema these days, like lsadora, and some of Ken Russell's work.

He's a lovely monster, isn't he, Ken Russell? I was told by somebody in Australia that he had agreed to direct 'Voss' in Australia, you know Patrick White's book. Whether it's just one of those things or not, I don't know. But I imagine he knows what he wants.

What's your German / Yugoslav coproduction going to be about?

Oh, it might come off. I've got, well actually, mentioning The Virgin and the Gypsy, the composer of the music there which I thought was very good. I saw him afterwards, and I thought he was very talented, and he's doing the music for it. It's a rather gentle, funny story, a Yugoslav story, a sort of Hans Andersen story, of a small boy, not so small, fourteen or so, who is a shoemaker's apprentice, and he gets in trouble because a pair of boots is too small and he has them thrown at him and he gets very injured. He decides to put the boots on because they fit him alright and go out into the world and break them in. He meets another child, a girl, who's been left behind by a Circus and is trekking on to catch up with the Circus again. It sounds rather like a sort of early Duvivier, doesn't it? And they do, eventually catch up with the Circus and the Fair and it all works out a bit differently - there's a big chase at the end. And in the end they all come back again - there and back again - a sort of Yugoslav Hobbit. He goes through some quite amusing adventures but I think it will be - in other words it won't be a funny peasants or that sort of thing, it will be a rather gentle picture, I think. The music's developing very well.

It sounds as it you've almost started from the idea of what the music should be like.

Well, such a story is bound to really, because, you see, lyrics have to be ??[unreadable]?? story. Also you've got a problem that the story takes place somewhere in the time of the Austrian Empire, about 1905. The boy is a very well known, he's a Dutch boy actually, he's a terrific German singing star called Heintie. I went to see him he's a very nice boy, mad about horses Very good boy. He's just about that age between a child and a man, you know which is rather good. But everything depends on the musical pattern really, be cause I saw all the locations they'( picked. They're quite good, very much down-to-earth sort of stuff.

Is it fair then to ask you how this is going to avoid the trap of naturalism that you're going to shoot on location?

Partly by costumes and partly by the treatment, I think. No, it certainly won't avoid the taint of naturalism. It has be worked mainly from the music, the music has to be the master. They produced a script full of descriptions an dialogue and things like that which timed roughly, it was about three and half to four hours. So when it seemed as if they really were going to do it and had the money, I did them a shooting script which cut it down to size, which really reduced all the scenes to a few lines, put all the onus on the music and occasional singing. William Sansom is a marvellous lyric writer, very good novelist, short story writer, he's writing the lyrics.

I hope it does come off. I hope The Tempest does come off I'm very much looking forward to seeing what you do with that.

Yes. I think it will, you know, a lot of people are going for it. I think with luck we shall probably get it going next March or so, March or April. But up to now we've wasted a year on various attempts to set up a financial patter which would work. And meanwhile I've been waiting for Leo Marks to finish writing The Nailers, which we're going to do together. You know he wrote Peeping Tom, yes, this is again original. It's a beautiful idea, and just as terrifying and highly unwelcome, except they can't resist it, the boys who put up the money, as Peeping Tom was in its day I wanted to call it 'The Worst Years of our Live', which I think is a wonderful title, but he was a bit scared of that so we called it The Nailers.


Articles on Powell
'Le Voyeurisme A I'Infinie' R Lefevre, in Midi Minuit Fantastique no 20
'Michael Powell' O O Green (Raymond Durgnat), in movie no 14
'Introduction A I'Oeuvre de Michael Powell'
P. Lecourbe, in Image et Son no 251

Midi Minuit Fantastique no 20
Kevin Gough-Yates, British Film Institute, 197
Roger Manvell, Penguin Film Review no 1, 194

The Red Shoes Ballet, by Monk Gibbon, Saturn Press, London 1948
The Tales of Hoffmann, by Monk Gibbon, Saturn Press, London 1951
200.000 ft on Foula, by Michael Powell, Faber and Faber, London 1938
One of our Aircraft is Missing, by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, HMSO, London 1942
Graf Spee, by Michael Powell, Hodder and Stoughton, London 1956
Killing a Mouse on Sunday, by Emeric Pressburger

Back to index