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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Michael Powell

From the book: Profiles and Personalities
by Peter Noble, 1946

With the making of A Canterbury Tale in 1944, Michael Powell realised one of his ambitions - to make a film about his native Canterbury. The film was not only an excellent example of the new, and more hopeful kind of home production, the type of film which puts Britain on the screen, but it marked an important step in the progress of Powell and his collaborator Emeric Pressburger. Their partnership dates back six years ago to Contraband, and has continued from the famous 49th Parallel up to that more recent and excellent piece of screencraft, A Matter of Life and Death.

Of the two, Powell is the stronger personality - or so it seems to the observer; the directorial limelight falls strongly upon his slight, wiry figure, piercing eyes and animated, expressive face. Powell is indeed a dominant personality and, for his job as a film director, this has been an asset. Unlike Carol Reed, who also hails from Canterbury, Powell is forceful, temperamental, sometimes difficult to get on with. However, it is agreed that he is a superb director, and one who knows what he wants from the word 'go'; thus, in spite of some stormy scenes, he manages to make up for his dubious capacity for riding rough-shod, by bringing out the best work in the actors who face his cameras. Rarely has one ever seen a bad performance in a Powell-Pressburger film, and for this most of the credit must certainly go to 'Micky' himself.

He was born in 1905, educated at King's School, Canterbury, and commenced work in a bank. But this did not appeal to him, and by the time he was twenty, he had succeeded in landing a job with Rex Ingram, who was directing films in the South of France. In five years Powell had succeeded in passing with honours through every department in the film business. Successfully photographer, cutter, continuity, film editor, stills cameraman, actor, screen-writer and assistant director, he finally directed his first film, an unpretentious picture for Fox called Two Crowded Hours. He followed this with half-a-dozen minor movies, which brought him no particular acclaim, but which taught him a great deal. In 1936, however, he succeeded in bringing to the screen a story which he had nurtured for seven years. It was concerned with the everyday drama of fisher-folk in the Hebrides, and for a year Powell worked with his unit on the remote Island of Foula, to make the film. Titled The Edge of the World, it still remains one of the best British pictures ever made. Powell himself tells the story behind its making in his book 200,000 Feet on Foula, published in 1938, a book which is as lively and interesting as are all Powell's writings.

The Edge of the World established Powell as one of the finest young directors in Europe and, following a period with Sir Alexander Korda, in which he co-directed The Thief of Bagdad and The Lion Has Wings, he made his first film with Emeric Pressburger. This was Contraband, the film which marked the beginning of the most successful writer-director-producer partnership in films today. Together they have been responsible for, among others, One of Our Aircraft is Missing, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, I Know Where I'm Going and A Matter of Life and Death. Both are young, both have been responsible for a great deal of brilliant work, and together they constitute two of the greatest assets to our industry. Pressburger is something of a 'back-room boy', but Powell is widely known, both as director and personality. he is a mass of nervous vitality. He never walks - he strides, he doesn't read - he mentally tears the inside out of both book and author. He doesn't merely think - he sits in ponderous silence and, though myriads of ideas jostle each other in his active brain, he rejects all but the one which sets fire to his imagination and finally brings him to his feet with a grin of triumph.

For him all roads lead to work. His interests: books, plays, people, pastimes and places, all have some bearing on films. He is vigorous, purposeful, ruthless, and may be truly described as dynamic. In conversation one is immediately impressed with his knowledge, and watching him direct is like seeing a spring of energy unwind itself many times a day. He is an excellent chef, seldom patronises the studio restaurant, but prepares all his meals in his caravan which is parked in the studio. When he is not cooking, he is dictating notes or planning the shooting for the rest of the day. And when he is not actually directing, his active brain is always two jumps ahead of his colleagues, mentally visualising the next fifty shots.

He is himself a great film fan, takes an intense interest in the work of other British and American directors, and considers that there are three film geniuses alive today - Griffith, Chaplin and Disney. Powell has remarked that "good film directors are personalities, with physical energy, a good eye, a painstaking craftsman's mind, and a flare [sic] for handling people." He might well be describing himself, for he has these qualifications - and many more.

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