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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Submitted by Bob Keser
The Edge of the World
14th September 1938
The New Republic
The new picture from England (at the Fifty-fifth Street Playhouse in New York City) is something to remind you of Flaherty's Man of Aran, being about the life and gradual extinction of the hardy men and women clinging to the rocks against the sea, living (but just barely) on one of the islands off the coast of Scotland. Comparisons will tangle us up, but at least you can see that while there is no such dull fussing here as there was in the unenlivened portions of Aran, there is no comparable in mighty effect of wind and sea and a waste horizon to burn your eye. Michael Powell heard how the last hatful of people had left their homes on St. Kilda in the Hebrides, and saw a story in it. So he went to the similar island of Foula, carrying the usual amount of etcetera referred to in press releases, and spent the usual amount of etcetera (according to the release, six months and 200,000 feet of film), and he worked out a story.
The main point is that the island is played out, what with the peat thinning and trawlers sweeping out the fish; and the little community is split into a faction for getting away and starting over, and the die-hards who can think of nothing but that they were born there, and the generations before them. There are a boy and girl, one in each camp of course, [Or rather a girl for the boy in each camp to argue with and over] and the sort of complications that often materialize out of such situations (alack). The boy returns rather too patly in time to get the baby to a mainland doctor; the community packs up to leave the homeland; and old sobersides, for no particular reason outside of plot convenience, "goes over" the cliff.
But here again, and much more deliberately, the story serves only as a window on a kind of life. It enlivens the facts to be presented but at the same time it diverts attention from their simple verity whenever its forced structure shows through (and strangely enough, the simpler the tale the more chances it seems to have of looking Simple Simon). Principally we are worried by and excited over the way things go in the island: the stout homespun sermon, the village parliament, the trawlers rolling and scavenging out there, the seamed but strangely peaceful faces looking away into the weather (all but the principals were recruited from Foula).
Recalling Flaherty's picture of Aran, I can see that many more essential details of life were brought before its cameras complete. Still it seems to move more easily this way, the worries of people actually giving point to the tight, frugal little houses and paths, sheep-pens, and cliff faces, making the harsh elements and clear air nearer to the senses as one realizes their doom and elusive promise. The Edge of the World is a sort of halfway mark between fiction pictures and those semi-fictions we call documentary in our unguarded moments (P.S., most of our moments are unguarded anyway; documentaries have to have a story to be more than family albums, and some of them have stories pretty well developed).
14 September 1938
(The New Republic)
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