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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.

A lot of the documents have been sent to me or have come from other web sites. The name of the web site is given where known. If I have unintentionally included an image or document that is copyrighted or that I shouldn't have done then please email me and I'll remove it.

I make no money from this site, it's purely for the love of the films.

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First Report

Well I've just got back from an amazing time at Canterbury Christ Church University College.

I've just called in to give you all the very latest, stop press news & then I'm off to get a bit of sleep (it's been in short supply recently).

Because I got it all (except where I changed tapes) on the tape recorder I'll have to go through it over the next few days & transcribe it (well, the important bits anyway) but thought I'd send out a few highlights straight away.

Kathleen Byron wasn't there. It was just a hope as her name was mentioned as having their last function.

Thelma Schoonmaker & Sheila Sim (Lady Attenborough) were there of course. Well, as the guests of honour, how could they not be? :)

Lord Dickie wasn't there. I asked Sheila (on Friday) if he was coming and she said he'd have loved to have done but had a charity function in Wales so they'd split up for the weekend.

Noreen Ackland (editor on PT & Queen's Guards & assistant editor on TRS, Hoffmann, Pimpernel & Ill Met) was apparently due to come but couldn't make it so sent her best wishes.

Also in attendance ... (on Friday & Saturday)

Prof Ian Christie, P&P expert.
Paul Tritton, the man writing the book about ACT
Jim Pople - 2nd assistant editor on ACT (I'd met him at Fordwich)
Nick Burton - Head Radio, Film & Television Studies Dept at CCCUC.
Myrtle Paton, widow of Bill, Powell's right hand man.

and a crowd of about 50 people for the naming ceremony itself on Friday.

As we were all settling down for Thelma to do her dedication I looked around at the crowd & thought I recognised a face and YES it was Columba Powell !!

Nick Burton welcomed us all and introduced the special guests. He then read out a message from Martin Scorsese that Thelma had brought which said (I'll transcribe it from the tape later) how he felt that Micky would be so very proud to have such a building named after him, especially in the area he grew up in and loved.

The dedication & naming ceremony itself was fairly short & lovely. A few short speeches, then Thelma pulled the cord to unveil the plaque which will go outside the building. It was actually unveiled inside, a sensible precaution I suppose as it turned out to be quite pleasant weather but you can never tell in England in October :)

Thelma's lecture after the dedication was about how Scorsese had been influenced by Powell with lots of direct examples. Of course Scorsese always did things his own way but when she ran the pairs of clips one after the other the connection was (fairly) obvious. Even where it wasn't she assured us that "Marty always insisted this was his Powell homage in this film".

I've got the full details on the tape but does anyone care to make any guesses before I transcribe them? Remember this is where something in a Scorsese picture is a (fairly) direct connection or reference to something in a P&P picture.

I'll give you the example of the "swish pans" from TRS as Vicky dances Swan Lake at the Mercury Theatre. The camera blurs each time she turns. It's only when she stops that we can see the audience & see that Lermontov is sitting there. Compare this to the sequence in Casino (1995) where De Niro explains how it works with the dealers watching the punters, the shift managers watching the dealers, the pit bosses watching the shift managers and so on up to the eye in the sky (CCTV) watching De Niro. As each "watcher" is named the camera does a similar pan to that person. In fact they were all separate takes & Thelma joined the blurry bits together. She finished with an extract from her working version of Bringing Out the Dead (1999) - due to be released in the US on the 22nd. Gosh, a sneak preview of the next Scorsese movie, we were honoured :)

A fascinating talk with a film clip to support each example. She pointed out that there was plenty more that Scorsese just admired (or loved) but these were to show the direct influences.

So that was the end of Friday. Down through a quiet(ish) city centre to the hotel, a quick pint & a munch, a few thoughts about the questions I wanted to ask people (now that I knew who was there) then off to bed.

I woke before the alarm on the Saturday. How could I sleep with another great day ahead :)

A leisurely breakfast & a dawdle through the city. I nipped into the Cathedral & had another look at what a wonderful job they did in reproducing it in the studio. As I had the CCCUC brochure in my pocket and it had the picture of Micky & Emeric on the steps leading to the organ I stood at the top of the steps to compare them. It's pretty darned good :)

It's not quite a perfect copy (unless they've changed some of the Cathedral pillars since 1944 <G>) but it's so close that even someone who knew the Cathedral wouldn't guess. Of course if they knew the Cathedral they might spot that there ain't no organ up those steps - but never mind :)

OK, so back into the college by 10:30 for coffee, general mingling & chat to everyone else there. Time for a bit of a chat especially with Myrtle Paton about all sorts of P&P stuff- lovely lady.

Nick Burton gave us the (planned) schedule of events and told us how he'd become interested in P&P (we weren't born this way were we? <G>) then introduced Peter Vujakovic. Up until then he'd been the only unknown name in the program which said he was "Principal Lecturer in Geography at CCCUC." and would talk about "People, Place & Landscape - The cultural geographies of Powell and Pressburger."

Full details when I've transcribed them but briefly it was all about the way the countryside was portrayed in P&P films (and some others) with reference to the people of the countryside as well as the land itself. Lots of cross referencing, especially to Kipling's "Puck of Pooks Hill"

The Ian Christie took the stand and gave us a lovely talk about the context of the film in the time when it was made. How much of it was at the behest of the Ministry of Information (Wartime propaganda people) and the sorts of things they were trying to get films to show then.

We all know (I trust) that AMOLAD was made after a request from the MoI to try to smooth over the strained relations between Britain and the US at the time but I never thought of ACT as (partly) attempting to do the same job. Ian's a great lecturer and so knowledgeable it's always a pleasure to hear him.

A break for lunch at 1 o'clock. Nick Burton said "We've told the Students Union (just next door) to expect you and there are plenty of sandwiches laid on". So we then had a classic example of how in this country we so often manage to muddle through a crisis. That's right, there had been a communication breakdown somewhere & the Students Union wasn't expecting about 80 people to descend on them expecting to be fed !! But we managed :)

After "lunch" Paul Tritton spoke about how he'd got involved and the work he'd done in tracking down surviving members of the cast & crew in preparation for his book. He then played us an audio tape with a greeting from John Sweet :)

That lovely man is now 81 and living in North Carolina. He sent a recent picture as well and you'd know him instantly. Especially if you ignored the wrinkles and the white hair and beard & just looked into those eyes. As the tape played and with "then and now" pictures of him up on the screen ... ah it was wonderful.

Lady A then took the stand. She said how she'd prepared a nice little introduction since Nick asked her to do this a while ago but having just listened to everyone else she thought everything she had planned to say had either been said or sounded trite in comparison. So she threw away her notes & just told us her experiences. Not long out of RADA she'd done a few theatrical performances, but not many, when her agent sent her along to The Archer's offices. There she met Michael Powell ... "and my life changed" (again, full details to follow) She said how Micky had just "fixed her with those blue eyes" for a while then she'd sat there while he expounded on how he saw the film. She was hooked.

She seems to have been one of the fortunate ones (as were they all) in that Powell treated them all quite well, but still drove them hard to achieve perfection. But she says there were few unhappy moments.

Mind you, her first day wasn't too auspicious. She told us that she'd been a land army girl for a while & really could do most of the work on the farm. She could drive a tractor but had never had to drive a horse & cart before. On her first attempt she demolished a gate that she was meant to take the cart through so they had to wait while a new gate was built. Don't ya just love her? :)

She's a sweet little lady (photos ASAP) and makes a nice pair with Thelma. Both of similar size, build & both with a similar head of white hair.

Then we had the screening. The BFI print. But for a new building there are a few things they now know they'll have to sort out. Like installing a 35 mm projector (or even two) !! They had to bring in a projector & as it's a 2 reeler we had a short intermission (but no ice cream) while they changed reels. Anyway, a great chance to see such a wonderful film on (reasonably) decent equipment.

Another slight goof was that somehow they had the screening down in the schedule as being from 2:45 - 4:15, an hour & a half. A bit tricky as it runs for just over 2 hours - so we over-ran the schedule :)

They closed with a Q&A session with all the guests & speakers answering questions. Again, all on the tapes & will be transcribed ASAP.

While we were mingling I managed to collar a few people for chats. I told them (those that didn't already know me) who I was & about this group and although there were quite a few shudders when I mentioned the Internet most liked the idea of the group.

I spoke to Columba and mentioned how Melbury Road had recently been on the market. He had heard & said it was WAY out of his price range. He then told me that he & his lady are living at Lee Cottages, Avening !! Where Powell lived with Pamela Brown. It seems there are a pair of cottages there and they own one. The other's up for sale and he's thinking about buying it to use as a museum. Shall we have a whip round to help?

Although he seemed a little shy in a large group he opened up as we chatted. He liked the idea of this group & said he'd only just got online and not too successfully. So I took of my Toxophile's hat & put on my professional hat (I make my crust as a systems analyst/designer/programmer) and gave him a bit of (free) advise as to a course of action to follow. I handed out cards quite liberally to everyone and told him to call me if he still had problems. So we might meet him online soon.

I grabbed Nick Burton, busy though he was, and thanked him for the invite. When I said who I was he said he'd seen me earlier & spotted the gleam of an enthusiast in my eye so he thought that must be the same person who wrote those emails & letters begging to come along :)

I chatted to Sheila (Lady A) as I said above, asking her about Dickie and her memories of the film. She certainly seemed to have had quite a good time making it and was "something special". OK, maybe they didn't fully understand it at the time, but they certainly realised it was "different, odd but very good".

I spoke to Thelma & she said that "Marty would love the idea of P&P fans around the world like that" and that she'd tell him. I asked (a bit of a long shot as she didn't work on it) if she knew about the names in the cast list of Boxcar Bertha. Were there actually characters called "M. Powell & Emeric Pressburger" in the film? There aren't in my copy, well if there are they aren't mentioned by name. She said she'd ask Marty & try to get back to me.

Well that's about it for now.

As I said I'll transcribe the tapes (& get the pictures developed) & circulate the best bits ASAP.

I'm off to beddy-byes now having had a WONDERFUL time. I think the "state of bliss" is so good I'll be smiling for a week or more :)


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