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The Michael Powell Centenary Conference
2nd - 4th September 2005, Bangor University, North Wales

Report by: Steve Crook

Day 2: Saturday 3rd September 2005

I'd set my alarm for 7:30 but was up before then. A good job too because the fire alarm went off at about 7 o'clock! We all gathered outside, a nice informal way to meet some of the others that I didn't know already, also some other people staying at the college for other courses, conferences or events. It turned out that the steam from the shower in one of the rooms (you know who you are <G>) had set off the alarm.

A bite of breakfast and then back to the Main Arts Building for that morning's papers. This was where it started to get difficult. Andrew had booked the site for the long weekend but there had been so many people that wanted to present papers that they had to be run as parallel sessions. That was a shame. I wanted to hear them all!

I had to miss the papers by:
Anna Powell (no relation) (Manchester Metropolitan University):
The language of Sensations: Synaesthesia and Affect in The Tales of Hoffmann
Patricia MacCormack (APU)
Cinemasochism: Peeping Tom and the Ecstatic Gaze

Those that did attend those said they were both very good

I chose to hear the papers by:
Llorenç Esteve (Film Historian):
Honeymoon / Luna de Miel (1959): A Spanish Experience
Leïla Wimmer (University of Warwick):
The Creation of an alternative canon: Peeping Tom and its critical reception in France

Llorenç's paper gave a lot more of the background to the film than even I was aware of, reminding people that the version a lot of them have seen is the heavily cut version that was shown on UK TV. Now that it's been fully restored by Charles Doble it can be seen that it does fit into the series of "high art" films TRS, ToH and OR!. However, we don't claim it's a masterpiece like TRS but it is certainly worthy of more attention. It wasn't all that happy a production with money problems and quite a few disagreements. Then Micky's Bently being stolen and one of the thieves being killed when they crashed it into a river, that didn't help. There are a few plot holes, they could have done with Emeric to tie them together. But it's well worth watching.

Leïla gave a very good description of how P&P films were "discovered" in France. Dismissed by the established critics and academics they were championed by Positif and Midi-Minuit fantastique and some renegade critics (as he was then) like Bertrand Tavernier. It was Peeping Tom that they picked up on at first although now Gone to Earth is rapidly gaining in popularity there as well. Interestingly, to get Powell more accepted in France, they had to champion him as an auteur.

A break for tea & coffee at about 11 then back to the lecture rooms for another decision. I had to miss:
Alan Marcus (University of Manchester):
Black Narcissus as Primal Drama
Adam Bingham (University of Sheffield):
Black Narcissus and Melodrama

Instead I chose to hear:
James Chapman (The Open University):
"Conservative by nature, Labour by experience": The historical moment of A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
Diane Friedman (Illinois):
A Matter of Fried Onions: the Medical Case History by Michael Powell

James' paper looked at some of the historical context of AMOLAD. With reference to other films made at about that time with some vaguely similar themes and in connection to the time in which it was made. It was very interesting James but you had the misfortune to be paired with what was (for me) the most fascinating presentation of the weekend.

Diane is an advanced-practice nurse from Illinois specialising in neurology and sleep disorders and is very interested in treament of trauma, epilepsy and other brain related problems. The first time she saw AMOLAD she realised what was wrong (medically) with Peter D. Carter and as the film progressed she was more and more convinced that these film-makers had done their homework. She wrote a fascinating paper, A Matter of Fried Onions which was published in Seizure in 1992. Since then she's been expanding on this work and her presentation covered a lot of what she's found. It turns out that there are indications all through the film that a good diagnostician could use to identify Peter's problem with some remarkable accuracy. It wasn't really necessary for the film to be as accurate as it was but is an example of the detailed research that they, especially Emeric, often did for their films. Diane gave us a brief but thorough introduction to neurology, how it all works and what happens when it goes wrong. Then she showed us the number of scenes in the film that tied in with Peter's condition, and the things that Dr Reeves was doing to diagnose that condition. Many of what poeple regard as oddities in the film such as Peter not being able to see June in the garden or Dr Reeves getting Peter to look at the "redhead with the legs" are now all seen to be either part of his condition or part of the diagnosis.

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