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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Original at Glasgow University
Of all the Archers Reggie Mills is the least written about in all the published material. He was a successful film editor in Britain and America for forty years and went on to direct a musical film about Beatrix Potter in the 1970s, using costumed dancers in the animal roles. Indeed when he joined the Archers at the end of the war he worked on only one 'straight' film before the experiments in 'composed film' (for an explanation of which, found in the Brian Easdale section click here) and musical pictures became the order of the day. According to Powell "He loved opera and spent all his money on concerts and recordings. He lived in a world of his own and hardly ever made a public statement."
In his capacity as editor Mills "used to drive [Powell] mad because when I had what I thought was a good suggestion, I found that he had already tried it and discarded it. He had worked with masters and was a master himself. He always used to remind me of a brown owl. He would sit at his cutting table and look at me with his round eyes, with his round face, with his round spectacles, blinking amiably and cutting ruthlessly. He was extraordinarily precise in his timing". Once A Matter of Life and Death had been finished and shooting on the next film [Black Narcissus] begun Mills had to adapt to a new method of working. The ten minute sequence in that film which had been shot on set to Brian Easdale's pre-recorded piano track arrived in Mills's cutting room. He had already gotten to know Easdale through his presence at rough cut screenings as the film went along, Easdale would take notes as Mills, Powell and Pressburger discussed what they saw and made suggestions. Being musically inclined anyway Mills was apparently 'delighted' by this development in their working practice.
He put the ten minute sequence "together in about three days, editing with the score propped up in front of him and the piano track Brian had written and recored himself on the side."This method of scoring, shooting and cutting profoundly affected the nuances of the image on the screen. "Here was the 'composed film' that I had been dreaming about in which music, emotion and acting made a complete whole, of which the music was the master."So effective was the method found to be that their next film The Red Shoes featured an extended seventeen minute ballet sequence made in the same fashion. The apotheosis of this technique came with Tales of Hoffmann in the early fifties, a entire filmed opera. Mills influence would sometimes extend on to the set, where the Archers would collaborate on solving a problem, for instance on The Red Shoes a shot of Moira Shearer running down a sprial staircase was taking too long, they worked out a method of spinning the staircase, with the camera craning down the side of it but that still didn't provide enough footage so Mills told them to just shoot it twice and he would cut it together and make it look like it was one shot, as it does in the finished film.