Original at http://www.bbc.co.uk/movies/archive/powell/interview1.html

An interview with Michael Powell

The Red Shoes is often cited as one of your best collaborations with Pressburger. Was it as satisfying a film for you to make as it was to watch? Powell3.jpg Oh yes. You see, for me, art is certainly the equal of religion in terms of value and importance and of course what made The Red Shoes unique was that it was about art and nothing but art and nothing but the best of art would do. The dancer is forced to go on and on beyond the point of human endurance, in a search for perfection. And at this point, art actually passes into becoming religion. In this sense, The Red Shoes symbolizes everything that Emeric and I strived for in all our work together, creating images and sounds that are beyond mere words. Why did your partnership with Emeric Pressburger come to an end? Well, we'd run out of ideas. We'd done a couple of films that were based upon real events. One was called The Battle Of The River Plate and that was a success. But it was a pretty British affair, no concessions. And then we did another one based upon a real kidnapping of a German general in Crete, called Ill Met By Moonlight. And I couldn't do anything with it, I just couldn't bring anything interesting to it because I didn't like being tied down to the facts. I resisted the realism, and Emeric embraced it. So it was on the basis of this difference in approach that we sort of drifted apart. It was just a sad creative gap that opened up between two loving people. You then proceeded to move off in a fascinating new direction that the gentile spirit of Pressburger would never have followed. Peeping Tom couldn't have been a more radical departure from your previous films. Tell me how it came about? Peeping.jpg It came out of an introduction to Leo Marks who wrote the original story and the screenplay. I was introduced to him by Danny Angel who told me that Marks was a wonderful code breaker during the war. He said, "he's got a marvellous mind, you two ought to get together." He said "your both funny sort of bastards, you'd probably get on." And so I did meet him and after a good deal of talk, he suggested this idea. He said "would you like to make a film about a young man who kills people with his camera?" And I said "Yes! I would! That's exactly right!" The public were outraged by Peeping Tom. Would you accept that the contradictory nature of the film is strange? The fact that you watch this man carrying out atrocious acts of violence and then at the end, are expected to feel sympathy for him? Absolutely. And that is why the film failed. People refused to correlate violence and compassion together in the same person. But they were wrong; the film is full of compassion for a diabolical murderer. But, you see to me he wasn't a diabolical murderer, he was a cameraman. Do you regret the experience? Oh absolutely not! I had a wonderful time making it. I can honestly say that it was one of the most creatively fruitful films of my career. The only thing that I did not enjoy about it was when Carl Boehm and I went to the opening night and we were expecting a wonderful reaction. And then we came out and people were just looking at us as if we were pornographic filmmakers. They were horrified. It was a devastating experience for Carl Boehm particularly who, to this day, still can't quite understand what happened. You have made an important contribution to the realising of cinema as an art form and are continuing to inspire and influence the film giants of today such as Scorsese, Coppola and Spielberg. What, to you is the most important thing about filmmaking? When you work in film, you have an obligation to use the medium in order to say something that is heart felt and true. You must stretch and exercise it and, in doing so, say something that can not be said in paintings or in novels. That's all I did. I visualized, using pictures and sound, what could not be communicated in mere words. Film art must come from within, as with anything that calls itself art. If it is true then it will communicate itself. What really matters is the dignity and honesty of your art. I've been in the movies for God knows how many years, since 1921, and during that time have, hopefully helped contribute to that premise in some way. But this is not the end, only the beginning and its for young people to continue on with this legacy. Do you look back and think that the British public didn't really appreciate you? Well, since when did the British ever appreciate their great men?