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The Powell & Pressburger Pages

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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Jack Cardiff in Bristol
Jack Cardiff at Bristol Silents to see The Informer (1929)
Jack was a production runner and his father had a small role in it.

Andrew Smaje

Jack was on good form in Bristol yesterday, and enjoyed a good hour and a bit's worth of anecdotes in conversation with Matthew Sweet. It was nice to have some illustrative clips - BN (the scene where Sister Ruth puts on her lipstick and escapes a sleeping Deborah Kerr - Jack explained his DIY approach to getting the candle to seem to be blowing in the wind), plus African Queen and a section of Jack's own film The Lion. An opening salvo of clips from a Sky Movies broadcast of Jack's Honorary Academy Award (?) caused some considerable gasps from this viewer. There were a few seconds here and there of The Red Shoes, and I've never seen it on a big screen before (even on a video-projected clip from Sky Movies ...). Blooming heck, it takes your breath away, doesn't it?

The screening of The Informer was, bizarrely, slightly better attended that the interview - and Jack stayed to watch his dad make a brief appearance in the film (which is splendid: if you thought The Lodger was a sophisticated British silent, this is ten times more gutsy and well-told). Hurrah for the superb live score, which wasn't appreciated enough, I felt (anyone else there thought otherwise?)

Jack signed a lot of books afterwards. Some even bought Matthew Sweet's fascinating book Shepperton Babylon (although there wasn't exactly a queue to get his autograph on it). Sweet was a good host, although he couldn't help himself. Jack had just told a delightfully coy anecdote about the fim's female star, Lya De Putti (about how as a 14-year old runner on the film, he'd been told to go see if Miss de Putti had arrived, walked up to her dressing room, opened the door and found she was completely naked with her dress coming over her head - unseen, young Jack skulked away to report that Miss de Putti had indeed arrived...) - Sweet had to add that she died a few years later a forgotten figure and had choked to death on a chicken bone. He's a smart man, Sweet, but it wasn't the moment: I doubt he knew it, though. He does come across as having an ego the size of a small moon. There were mutterings from audience members about him being 'cocky'. A shame - I'd like to hear him talk about British silent films; when his greed for a sticky end which Shepperton Babylon so lustfully displays, can find a correct context.

Sorry, I've gone right off topic. The Informer is listed on imdb as being a sound film - which clearly ruins it. It's a film set in Dublin, filmed in Elstree, with a largely Scandanavian (and Hungarian) cast. No wonder the accents sound odd on a sound version added at the last minute, in response to Blackmail coming out.

Right, I've had me moan.

Mark Fuller

Hi Andrew,
You should have made yourself known, and said Hi....although I wasn't wearing my name badge....I'm the leaflet hander-outer. I'm glad it was the Red Shoes clip from the Oscar tribute that made you gasp, not our cavalier way with copyright law... and I'm glad you enjoyed The is a silent film, some prints of which had soundtrack added post-sync as you suggested; I haven't seen any of those, but I can't see how it could improve it. Only Hitch's Blackmail comes close to an improvement on the silent version, but then the two versions are quite different. and I will pass on your thanks to Stephen Horne, he is superb, his work on Cottage in Dartmoor has to be heard to be believed. In almost any other country he would be seen as THE silent film pianist, but we also have Neil Brand, and the States have Phil Carli, .... so Stephen is probably only the third best in the world right now... I thought the applause he got was terrific, although Matthew did forget to introduce him, when he was stood with Jack just before the film. ...

re. Matthew I will leap to the defence; if he comes across that way ON STAGE I can assure you, he is not at all like that off it; he is a seriously nice guy, and as far as I have seen universally popular with those who know him. With his achievements, he has to be a nice bloke or he would be universally hated. The mini-cv on the handout (if you still have it) missed out such minor stuff as his spell as theatre critic for the Evening Standard, and writing for Dr Who - and that's just what I happen to know about; he is pretty ego-free considering....I remember him going on the radio in an effort to save Mike Read's musical on Oscar Wilde on the basis that it was so bad it was great fun; it was his ES review that had closed it down.

Shepperton Babylon is a gossip's history of British Cinema; people tend not to gossip about how clean living someone was, but the opposite. And much of the history of British Cinema has its sordid moments.He presented a season for the NFT on Henry Edwards earlier this year, which perhaps you might have preferred; we would like to get him back to Bristol for a repeat of that; fingers crossed. Try and get hold of his Inventing The Victorians; a great book, microscopically resarched, on how, actually, the Victorians were thrill-seeking, broad minded, and that the stern stereotype was an invention largely of the Bloomsbury set and Strachey in particular.

I'm with you about his Lya de Puti story - but you have to understand that he collects bizarre showbiz deaths. He was particularly delighted with my story of Billie Ritchie, a veteran Fred Karno actor who went to Hollywood in Chaplin's wake, and died of ostrich bites sustained while filming a slapstick comedy.

Glad you enjoyed yourself...say hi next time!!


Jack and Nicki enjoyed themselves too, which was nice.

Andrew Smaje

Hi Mark
Yes, I thought you would be there but there were quite a few leaflet-hander-outers with no name badges.

I managed to sound a bit more down on Matthew Sweet than I intended - I thoroughly enjoyed Shepperton Babylon, and if any members of the list haven't read it, it's a brilliant portrait of the chaotic world of early British film, and uniquely (and finally, very convincingly) he manages to tie together the opposite ends of the spectrum: the pioneers of silent film, and the similarly ad-hoc soft porn film makers of the late 60s and 70s. I didn't agree with his views on John Mills, I have to say: but he'd died about 2 days before I read that section, and only a month or two after I'd seen Scott of the Antarctic - one of the most beautifully photographed films ever made, especially those surreal and deeply moving last few minutes (our Jack again, of course).

Bristol trips