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 Neal Lofthouse
In The Picture
Philip Jenkinson looks for clues in "The Small Back Room"
Radio Times 12th-18th October 1985
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Small Back Room is so brilliantly studded with verbal and visual clues I would like to mention some I have discovered during many screenings; its is one of my favourite films.
Our "back room" boy, played by David Farrar, has an artificial leg and a drink problem. Every time but one he enters his flat, a bottle and a framed photo are in the foreground. Why are they missing on this one occasion? When Farrar goes to the dancehall his table is at foot level; he isn't watching the dancers, he's watching their feet. But why, when he encourages his girlfriend to dance with another man and she hesitantly obeys, is the line " What a beautiful couple they make" planted quite so firmly? Kathleen Byron (his girlfriend) is, at face value, loyal and supportive. Yet why does she mix up the time of a rendezvous, and why does she taunt Farrar by saying, "I put the flowers on my table, where else would I put them? " (The flowers are a gift from another man).
Much use is made of the word "tremblers" in connection with booby traps. When Farrar hasn't had a much-needed drink he trembles, and even the mysterious object he has to try to defuse is flask/bottle-shaped. And here's another fascinating visual plant: the scenes at Stonehenge are photographed in parallel sideways tracking shots to emphasise the flatness; Farrar is in no danger here. Yet on every single outside location where another object is discovered, the ground is uneven, possibly treacherous.
One of my favourite scenes concerns a high-level commitee meeting about a new tactical weapon, where the remarks are nearly drowned out by the sound of pneumatic drills. Nothing so symbolic about that you my say. Yet why does a man walk in, interupt the meeting and say, "May I draw the black-out sir?" It is broad daylight, we have heard no planes and there hasn't been the sound of an air-raid siren.
Watch the "seagulls" hovering over the wonderful Portland Bill location; might they possibly be vultures? Before I get too carried away, here's a simple quiz: which well known actor/director plays the tiny part of the dying soldier in the tent, his face half obscured by a bandage? A clue: perhaps his best knowm film is " Whistle Down the Wind".
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