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Friday, September 29, 2006


Michael Powell's 101st Birthday


A small salute today (September 30) for Michael Powell . He was born 101 years ago today. For Powell and his partner Emeric Pressburger, it was just one masterwork after another for nearly twenty years of joint filmmaking. My favorite is I Know Where I’m Going, while runners-up include A Canterbury Tale (recently out on DVD), A Matter Of Life and Death (Stairway To Heaven in the US), Black Narcissus, and The Red Shoes. Rarities like The Small Back Room and Battle Of the River Plate (in widescreen) can be had on Region 2 DVD from Amazon UK. Powell’s unexpected downfall came with Peeping Tom --- a thriller so disturbing that it made him a pariah throughout the industry. Critical embrace for the film came too many years later to do him much good, but at least Powell enjoyed festival recognition and plaudits for an outstanding memoir he wrote during retirement.

Speaking of birthdays, today is also Deborah Kerr’s eighty-fifth. She worked with Michael Powell in The Life and Death Of Colonel Blimp and Black Narcissus. The Innocents was another terrific film she did in England during the early sixties. Anybody know how she’s getting along these days?

7 Comments:

Blogger East Side said...

Anyone who could direct two brilliant yet utterly diffent movies like "A Matter of Life & Death" and "Peeping Tom" is an extraordinary talent.

8:25 AM  
Anonymous Dan Oliver said...

I think you're off by a year. TCM celebrated Powell's 100th birthday last year, and indeed in Powell's autobiography 'A Life in Movies' he gives his birthdate as September 1905. So Happy 101 to Michael.

Interesting that Deborah Kerr was also born today since they fell in love in the early 40s and, again according to Powell, came close to marrying, but her desire to accept a contract with MGM and move to Hollywood got in the way. That and the clear implication that he had no wish to be 'Mr. Deborah Kerr'. Still, it's clear from reading his books that part of him remained in love with her the rest of his life.

Happy Birthday to them both.

9:22 AM  
Anonymous ayres orchids said...

"I Know Where I'm Going" is one of the most underrated films I can think of... for those of us who dig our romance simmering and submlimated, it's steamy stuff (alliterative today, ain't I?)

I've never seen "Peeping Tom," but I'm fond of all the Powell films I have seen.

9:43 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Ouch, Dan! You're right. I've just gone in and made the correction. Thanks for letting me know early on this. John.

10:19 AM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

I'll call it I Know Where I'm Going for the sake of simplicity, but the exact title of this sublime film has always been a source of confusion for me, and the various sources don't help much. The title is the bare words on the poster here, but that's from the American release. I've also seen it given as I Know Where I'm Going!, with the exclamatory emphasis, and even 'I Know Where I'm Going!', indicating that the words are a quote from Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller), shouted from the train window as she steams away on her adventure. I think I like this last version best because of the subtle irony -- as we and Joan will learn, she definitely does not know where she's going, in any sense of the phrase.

One thing that struck me on first viewing was the oblique similarity between I Know Where I'm Going and ... wait for it ... Brigadoon. Consider: a modern, go-getter protagonist whose life is all planned out (despite an uneasy, unacknowledged sense of dissatisfaction) becomes stranded in the remote reaches of Scotland and finds love and happiness among the locals. Take I Know Where I'm Going, switch the genders of the two lovers, add songs and the element of fantasy, shake well, and voila! -- Brigadoon!

True, Alan Jay Lerner's reported inspiration for the musical was a story by the German Friedrich Gerstacker; moreover, Powell's film was released in the U.S. on August 8, 1947, while Brigadoon opened on Broadway months earlier (March 13). Still, I Know Where I'm Going had been kicking around the British Isles since November 1945, and it's fun to speculate. At the very least it's an interesting confluence of art.

Rest in peace, Mr. Powell, and happy birthday, Ms. Kerr (who I understand suffers from Parkinson's disease). Thank you both for the memories.

2:44 PM  
Blogger East Side said...

I just noticed that little "NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN" tag on the poster for "Stairway to Heaven." Hunh?

8:30 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

I just noticed that little "NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN" tag on the poster for "Stairway to Heaven." Hunh?

The nude kid on the beach (yeah, it's ridiculous but that's my story and I'm sticking to it).

3:13 PM  

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