The Masters  
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.

[Any comments are by me (Steve Crook) and other members of the email list]

  Steve's Logo

Walter Reade Theater, Lincon Center, NYC

Press Release

The Film Society of Lincoln Center's
Walter Reade Theater Presents

Michael Powell: Beauty Unending
May 6 - 31 2005

Major Retrospective Honors 100th Birthday of Landmark Director

Beginning May 6, in celebration of the 100th birthday of one of the greatest artists who ever stepped behind a camera, the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater presents a comprehensive xx-film retrospective Michael Powell: Beauty Unending.

Powell is one of a handful of directors who energized the medium and redefined its limits and possibilities with each new movie. You can feel his passion and excitement in every image he crafted, whether it was based in the natural world (The Edge of the World), in the height of artifice (The Red Shoes), or in a combination of the two (I Know Where I'm Going).

You can also feel Powell's love for his country, of its history and its art, and his love of the great world beyond. Powell's vision is a grand and ravishingly lyrical one - alternately tragic and romantic, hard-nosed yet transcendental. His is a vision to stand with some of the finest in twentieth-century art and literature.

"I am not a director with a personal style," Powell once said. "I am cinema." A grand statement, to be sure, but also a realistic assessment. Visionaries need not indulge in false modesty, and if the word visionary had not already existed would have had to have be invented to describe Michael Powell.

Thanks to Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese, Mark McElhatten, Ian Christie, Fleur Buckley, Erich Sergeant, Jake Perlin.

Michael Powell: Beauty Unending is presented in six parts, with films grouped thematically. This release introduces each section with a short essay by series organizer Kent Jones; the films in the section follow in chronological order. A separate schedule is available with short descriptions of each film, again in chrono order.


I: High Art
When many of us hear Michael Powell's name, we think of artifice, in the true sense of the word - "the making of anything by art, construction, workmanship," according to the OED. Where most filmmakers, particularly under the studio system, used fabricated sets or landscapes as replacements or fill-ins for unruly reality, for Powell artifice led the way to a totalizing vision, the creation of a world unto itself, and a world view as well.

"I was struck by the theatricality of these films," writes Martin Scorsese, "the cinematic theatricality. It wasn't theatricality of acting, but design of actors in the frame, the way they looked and moved, the camera movement, the angles and the lighting. Jump cuts, quick dissolves, fantasy sequences that were almost Disney-like - you got the sense that anything could happen, was going to happen..." This sense of delirious, intoxicating, even dangerous beauty, the center of life itself, is intimately connected with color.

Powell began working in color prematurely - that is to say, as part of a project that was really not his own, but producer Alexander Korda's. There was once a screening of The Thief of Bagdad at Zoetrope studios during Powell's stint there, and after it was over, a little boy rushed up to Powell and said, "It's the best movie I've ever seen." "A lot of grown-up children, even today," wrote Powell, "share this view, including Francis Coppola and his brother August."

It was in the mid-40s when Powell and his partner Emeric Pressburger (together known as the Archers) collaborated with an assortment of brilliant and adventurous cameramen and operators (Georges Périnal, Geoffrey Unsworth, Jack Cardiff, Christopher Challis, Freddie Francis), art directors and production designers (Alfred Junge, Hein Heckroth, Alfred Lawson), musicians (Sir Thomas Beecham, Brian Easdale) and choreographers (Léonide Massine, Robert Helpmann, Frederick Ashton), not to mention scores of gifted performers (Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook, Ludmila Tchérina, Powell's beloved Pamela Brown) to create a new kind of cinema - call it the Art film. Or, as Powell put it, the Composed film.

If there is one movie that best represents Powell's all-consuming vision of art, it is The Red Shoes, which is in color in a way that few films have ever been. It is a ravishing film, and a great one as well - reckoned by Scorsese to be one of five greatest ever made.

"I am often asked why The Red Shoes, of all our films, became such a success in every country of the world," wrote Powell. "I think that the real reason...was that we had all been told for ten years to go out and die for freedom and democracy, for this and for that, and now that the war was over, The Red Shoes told us to go and die for art."

In 1951, Powell undertook what was probably his boldest experiment and deepest venture into artifice, a film based on Jacques Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann. "This is the movie that made me want to make movies," wrote George Romero, one of the film's greatest fans. Powell sums it up beautifully in his autobiography: "Nobody understands it, but everyone loves it." The same might be said of Oh... Rosalinda!, the Archers' underappreciated, all-star Cinemascope rendering of Johan Strauss' operetta Die Fledermaus and the last in their unofficial trilogy of art films (with Anthony Quayle as Orlovsky, Anton Walbrook as Dr. Falk, Ludmila Tchérina as Rosalinda, and Michael Redgrave as Colonel Eisenstein).

And then, five years later, after the Archers had disbanded, the great rogue of English cinema committed his greatest offense - Peeping Tom. Powell's remarkable film about voyeurism, cinema, and the thin line between a passion for art and madness, was received with such harrowing negativity ("From its slumbering mildly salacious beginning to its appallingly masochistic and depraved climax, it is wholly evil") that he was more or less left for dead as a filmmaker. It took 30 years for the film to be seen again (thanks to Scorsese) and properly understood. As Laura Mulvey wrote, Peeping Tom "creates a magic space for its fiction somewhere between the camera's lens and the projector's beam of light on the screen."

Peeping Tom Michael Powell
U.K., 1960; 86m
Fri May 6: 1:30;
Sat May 7: 8:30;
Sun May 29: 4:30 & 9
The Tales of Hoffmann Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
U.S.[??], 1951; 128m
Fri May 6: 3:30;
Sun May 8: 8
The Thief of Bagdad Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, Tim Whelan
U.K./ U.S., 1940; 106m
Fri May 6: 6:15;
Sat May 7: 1:30;
Sun May 8: 1
The Red Shoes Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
U.K., 1948; 113m
Fri May 6: 8:30;
Sun May 8: 3:15;
Sun May 29: 2 & 6:30
Oh... Rosalinda! Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
U.K., 1955; 101m
Sat May 7: 3:45;
Sun May 8: 6
An Evening with Thelma Schoonmaker Sat May 7: 6
Thelma Schoonmaker is known to most as Martin Scorsese's editor. But she was also the wife of Michael Powell, and in many ways she was his final collaborator, working tirelessly to preserve his films and archival materials and help him finish the second volume of his autobiographical writings, Million Dollar Movie. Ms. Schoonmaker has agreed to come and share some of her memories of her late husband, and to give us a rare glimpse of source materials for projects realized and unrealized. An evening that shouldn't be missed by anyone interested in Michael Powell or in the history of cinema.

II: Beginnings
Powell broke into the movies in the late 20s, and his first formative experiences were with flamboyant Hollywood mythmaker Rex Ingram. "Both Rex and his friend and fellow director Erich von Stroheim shared a taste for the bizarre and the erotic, the morbid and the perverse," wrote Powell in the first volume of his autobiography. He goes on to add, "What artist doesn't?"

The Magician, about a magician/scientist (a not-so-carefully disguised version of Aleister Crowley) seeking the blood of a virgin for his experiments to extend the span of human life (!), from a Somerset Maugham novel, was the first film on which Powell worked (as an assistant director) "from start to finish. I think that Rex wrote the script of the film, but I can't be sure. I may have had a hand in it myself." Powell also appeared as an actor: "I was clapped into a make-up chair, had my head shaved, was allotted a battered suit of clothes, a pair of glassless spectacles, a toy balloon, and a bag of bananas...and was told to be funny. I tried."

Powell began his feature directorial career making "Quota Quickies" - 4-reel pictures that were shot in a matter of days, the British equivalent of the B-movie or the Drive-In picture. "When movies became talkies," wrote Powell, "the British Parliament passed a law to protect the baby British talkie from being thrown out with the bathwater by the all-conquering Yanks. It compelled a British show a certain percentage of British-made products, whether the public (who couldn't care less) screamed for them or not."

This is where Powell learned his craft, but he embarked on his maiden directorial voyage with a firm knowledge of his own abilities and passions: "When I look back at my first days as a film director, I am amused at my presumption. I was in my twenty-sixth year. I had never had the slightest doubt that I was born to be a film director." Today, Powell's first film, Two Crowded Hours, is believed lost. The second film, Rynox, which began shooting no more than one week after Hours wrapped (ahead of schedule), is based on a mystery novel by Phillip MacDonald about the murder of a business tycoon. "Rynox was...more like a Hollywood film.... There was a certain slickness about the script that nagged me. I got away with it by good casting."

Red Ensign, made three years and eight films later, was a semi-documentary melodrama set in the world of shipbuilding. "With its impressive shipyard exteriors and [Leslie] Banks' energetic performance," writes preeminent Powell scholar Ian Christie in Arrows of Desire, "Red Ensign looks today like a film struggling to cast off quota-period cliché and achieve both topicality and a true cinematic scale and rhythm." The Phantom Light, a mystery about the murder of a lighthouse keeper and one of five films Powell made in 1935, is often cited as the best of the early movies. "Powell's style emphasizes, enjoys, the measured masculine movements," wrote the late Raymond Durgnat. "Enclosed in wet black oilskins in night space, the men's faces beam. It's pure Kipling: hierarchy, duty, decision, inner light."

Her Last Affaire, Powell's first film of 1936, is yet another mystery - this time, the victim is a politician's wife. Durgnat reckoned that the dynamic of the story and Powell's treatment of his material illuminates "the logic, forbearance, and humility in old-fashioned, upper-class, 'patriarchal' codes of honor. It's more understanding, therefore interesting, than retro-exposés of 'establishment hypocrisy' like White Mischief."

Crown vs. Stevens, Powell's penultimate Quota picture, is "a Simenon-type murder tale [that] dwells on the servitudes and grandeur of the shopkeeping trade." By Powell's lights, "The quota-quickies I made during the last months of my purgatory...were a damn sight more honest and more entertaining, because they were not trying to be anything but what they were, and they were tailored from first-class scripts." Powell was soon to meet American producer Joe Rock, who helped him realize his first truly great film, The Edge of the World.

Crown vs. Stevens Michael Powell
U.K., 1936; 66m
Tue May 10: 2;
Thurs May 12: 4:30 & 7:30
Red Ensign Michael Powell
U.K., 1934; 69m
Tue May 10: 3:30;
Thurs May 12: 3 & 6
The Volunteer Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
U.K., 1943; 29m
Tue May 10: 5;
Wed May 11: 6;
Thurs May 12: 1:30
Rynox Michael Powell
U.K., 1932; 48m
The Phantom Light Michael Powell
U.K., 1935; 76m
Tue May 10: 9;
Wed May 11: 1 & 4:20
Her Last Affaire Michael Powell
U.K., 1936; 78m
Wed May 11: 2:40;
Thurs May 12: 9
The Magician (silent) Rex Ingram
U.S., 1926; 83m
Wed May 11: 8:15
with live piano accompaniment
by Donald Sosin

III: Mysticism
"Powell always identified with the 'fantastic' strand of English culture," wrote Laura Mulvey in her notes for the DVD of Peeping Tom, "and succeeded better than anyone in adapting it for the cinema. The 'fantastic,' or the 'gothic,' not only aims to disturb its reader or spectator, it disturbs the boundaries of cultural tradition. It stands in opposition to British realism and merges with the European fantastic." This strain in Powell's work, almost all of which has intimations of the supernatural, is at the heart of his singularity in English cinema, and accounts for a lot of the bafflement and hostility with which his films were greeted.

Thought to be Powell's masterpiece by many (not least Andrew Sarris, David Mamet, and Derek Jarman), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a cautionary wartime tale, urging England to abandon its civility in order to smash the Nazis, but it is also a movie about time travel, in which Roger Livesey's Clive Candy ages as his vision of womanhood - Deborah Kerr as his first beloved, his wife, and then his young assistant - does not. "Working on the final version of the script with Emeric, I would pull out of [my] ragbag of reminiscence enough colored patches in Blimp's life to make a crazy quilt of Technicolor.... The script grew until it had all the beautiful inconsequence of the life and death of a typical English gentleman." Not to mention a gently crystalline vision of time that is unrivalled in the cinema.

A Canterbury Tale, made one year later, is another time-travel film, in which an American soldier, a British soldier, and a land-girl in the Women's Corps find themselves stranded one town away from Canterbury, where the 20th century and the age of Chaucer merge into one. They are sent on the Pilgrim's Way, and all three receive their blessings when they reach the cathedral. If there is a secret Powell-Pressburger film, this is it - it may not be as well known as his other great films, but it is passionately loved by a happy few (including film scholar Peter von Bagh), and it is the only film Powell made in his home county of Kent.

I Know Where I'm Going has, over the years, become one of Powell's most beloved films. Once again, linear time dissolves into the whirlpool of Corryvreckan, as Wendy Hiller's straight arrow Joan and Roger Livesey's Laird of Kiloran are bound together by an ancient "curse." "I Know Where I'm Going succeeds in spinning a web of myth and evocative symbolism around its central search for self-discovery," writes Ian Christie of this deeply romantic movie.

In A Matter of Life and Death, which director John Marbury has called "my favorite time-travel movie," Livesey makes his final appearance in a Powell-Pressburger film as a doctor who fights to keep David Niven's young airman alive - finally, by arguing his case before a heavenly tribunal. This fever-pitch fantasy, shot in brilliant colors and "pearly" blacks and whites (an effect obtained by shooting in Technicolor and printing without the dyes), was Powell's favorite, and it is also a favorite of director Bertrand Tavernier: "Every time I have a moment of doubt, it's one of the films I look at to give me confidence."

Gone to Earth was an adaptation of Mary Webb's Precious Bane, [Actually of her novel Gone to Earth] with a troubled Jennifer Jones, dogged by her husband David O. Selznick ("None of us could understand what her life was like," writes Powell, in a typically frank passage from his autobiography. "Nobody could understand what it was like living with a man like David."), giving a glorious performance as the deeply superstitious, innocent gypsy girl Hazel who falls prey to the local squire, played by David Farrar. "All around us, from our crowd of locals, from our artists, and from the onlookers, I was being reminded of my mother's tales and of my childhood visits to Worcestershire. Even the landscape, with its abrupt changes from civilization to savagery, contributed to the story and helped the actors."

The Life and Death of
Colonel Blimp
Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
U.K., 1943; 120m
Fri May 13: 1;
Sun May 15: 6:45
A Matter of Life and Death Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
U.K., 1946; 104m
Fri May 13: 4:15 & 8:30;
Sun May 15: 2
I Know Where I'm Going Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
U.K., 1945; 92m
Fri May 13: 6:30;
Sat May 14: 2;
Mon May 30: 2 & 6
Gone to Earth Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
U.K., 1950; 110m
Sat May 14: 4 & 8:45
A Canterbury Tale Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
U.K., 1944; 124m
Sat May 14: 6:15;
Sun May 15: 4:15

IV: War
Powell and Pressburger reached the peak of their popularity, and artistic powers during wartime, which probably accounts for the fact that so much of their output was devoted to stories of war and espionage. In his book, Powell makes the case that the British film industry would have disappeared were it not for Alexander Korda's successful efforts to put filmmaking to use as an "essential war weapon." The Spy in Black, a WWI story of a German U-Boat captain played by Conrad Veidt who tries to enter Britain through the Orkneys with the help of his contact (and double agent) Valerie Hobson, was released the week that WWII was declared. This sleek, beautifully calibrated film was momentous for another reason, because it marked the very first collaboration between Powell and Pressburger.

They followed it up quickly with another Veidt/Hobson vehicle, the quickly made but exciting Contraband, in which Veidt is a Danish sea captain carrying valuable chemicals whose ship is detained in England. "It explained how the Contraband Control was being operated against neutrals and why the Royal Navy had set up the control at Ramsgate," writes Powell. "We made the conditions of London, blacked out but still getting on with its night life and private life, so interesting and so fascinating that it was called Blackout when it was released in America."

One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (the title comes from a recurring BBC announcement during the war) reversed the formula of 49th Parallel, with a British bomber crew shot down over the Netherlands seeking the help of the Dutch underground to escape. Powell and Pressburger, beginning with a half-completed script, shot in the lowlands of the Fen country and, as always, kept the details as realistic as possible, making for a film as poetically charged and exciting as it is carefully observed. Like Parallel, Aircraft was edited by David Lean.

Powell also worked on several shorts for the war effort. The recently re-discovered Smith, starring Sir Ralph Richardson as a destitute WWI vet who receives help from the Embankment Fellowship Center, was forgotten because it was lost in the mobilization effort. The Volunteer is a lively half-hour film made as a favor to Pressburger's friend Richardson in an effort to boost recruiting to the Fleet Air Arm ("Emeric, what is a semi-documentary?" Powell asked his partner. "I have never made a documentary in my life. The thought of a semi-documentary scares the shit out of me.") An Airman's Letter to His Mother, judged a small masterpiece by many including Raymond Durgnat, consists of a series of camera movements through the house of a woman whose son has gone missing in action, as a letter written by him and to be opened in the event of his death is read by John Gielgud. This letter, from Flying officer Vivian Rosewarne, was published in The Times and reprinted many times.

The Archers' adaptation of Nigel Balchin's The Small Back Room operates at many levels - a romance, a drama of regeneration, and, in the end, a hair-raising suspense story. David Farrar is a weapons expert with a tin leg, who finds it impossible to believe that he can hold the attentions of the devoted Kathleen Byron, and who endures a night of the DTs (represented by one of Powell's greatest expressionist inventions, a whisky bottle that keeps growing larger as the minutes slowly pass) before proving his mettle by defusing a German bomb on the Chesil Bank in Dorset. This is probably his most undervalued movie, perhaps because the British public in 1949 was in the mood for pretty much anything but a film about wartime London.

For their last two films together, Powell and Pressburger turned back to war. The Battle of the River Plate tells the story of the early pursuit (without radar!) of the German pocket battleship the Graf Spee, which had been sinking British merchant ships, all the way to the South American coast. This unusually intricate - and logistically complex - cat-and-mouse thriller, shot in VistaVision, was the Archers' last great success. Despite Powell's withering assessment, Ill Met by Moonlight, based on a true story about a group of British officers and Cretan partisans who kidnap a German officer, is a terrific combat movie. Far from the most ambitious of the Archers' films, it remains a wonderfully atmospheric work with a great score by Mikis Theodorakis, who would soon become famous for Zorba the Greek and Z. It was the end of one of the greatest artistic partnerships in the history of movies.

Contraband Michael Powell
U.K., 1940; 92m
Mon May 16: 2;
Thurs May 19: 2:30 & 6:30
The Small Back Room Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
U.K., 1949; 106m
Mon May 16: 4 & 8:30;
Wed May 18: 1
One of Our Aircraft Is Missing Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
U.K., 1942; 102m
Mon May 16: 6:15;
Tue May 17: 2
Smith Michael Powell
U.K., 1939; 10m
Tue May 17: 4;
Thurs May 19: 4:30 & 8:30
The Spy in Black Michael Powell
U.K., 1939; 82m
The Battle of the
River Plate
Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
U.K., 1956; 119m
Fri May 20: 6:30;
Sun May 22: 2;
Mon May 23: 3
Ill Met by Moonlight Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
U.K., 1957; 104m
Fri May 20: 9;
Sat May 21: 2:30;
Tue May 24: 3

V: Exploration
The tradition of the director-as-explorer/adventurer begins with the cinema itself - to see and then interpret the world through a camera! Powell, always the restless traveler, is part of this tradition, but he remade it to his own specifications. For Powell, the natural world was just one among many elements from which he composed.

His first truly personal film and one of his greatest, The Edge of the World began with Powell's reading of a news story about the evacuation of St. Kilda in the Hebrides - the film was eventually shot on Foula in the Shetlands, where Powell and his crew, stationed in huts, braved gales, treacherous cliffside locations, and dwindling food supplies, as they dragged their heavy equipment from location to location on stretchers and in wheelbarrows. "Why didn't I trick these shots in a studio? It was the faces. Islanders have an inner strength and repose that other men and women do not have, and it shows in their faces."

A few years later, after Powell had cemented his reputation in the industry and forged his partnership with Pressburger, the two of them set off on a voyage through Canada, in preparation for a film about the Germans landing on Canadian soil (intended as a warning and a plea to isolationist America), to be made for the Ministry of Information. "We crossed the vast prairies by air.... We made sudden sallies into the country north of Winnipeg, or south of Calgary.... In the Rockies we saw Banff and Lake Louise, and couldn't decide between the two.... Everywhere we went, we bought pamphlets, books, maps, poems, posters, advertisements, until our luggage had doubled in weight." The result was the wonderful, exciting 49th Parallel, which features many stars but whose biggest star is the changing landscape.

It may seem perverse to look at a work of total artifice like Black Narcissus through the lens of exploration - the film is so visually dazzling that it sparkles. Yet Powell, who had traveled through the Middle East and Asia in 1937 in preparation for an aborted adaptation of Edward Thompson's Burmese Silver, insisted on shooting in England - Horsham in Surrey, to be exact, and at Pinewood. And he did so out of respect for Rumer Godden's novel and its sense of place. "The atmosphere in this film is everything," he told his production team, "and we must create and control it from the start. Wind, the altitude, the beauty of the setting - it must all be under our control." The explorer and the artist were one.

Black Narcissus Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
U.K., 1940; 100m
Fri May 20: 2:30;
Sat May 21: 9;
Sun May 22: 6:30;
Mon May 30: 4 & 8
An Airman's Letter to His Mother Michael Powell
U.K., 1941; 5m
Fri May 20: 4:30;
Sat May 21: 7;
Sun May 22: 4:30
The Edge of the World Michael Powell
U.K., 1937; 81m
49th Parallel Michael Powell
U.K., 1941; 123m
Sat May 21: 4:45;
Sun May 22: 8:30

VI: Endings
After Peeping Tom, Powell was a marked man in the British film industry. By his own admission, he had burned many bridges, without hesitation or regret, but it left him in an untenable position, and he began a new and restless life as an independent, unaffiliated artist, looking for sympathetic partners and material that excited him. There were many disappointments and near-misses - a version of The Tempest with James Mason ("That scene with it Shakespeare?" Mason asked Powell as he read the actor his script. "I said, 'No, it's Powell,' and read on."), adaptations of Picnic at Hanging Rock, Daisy Miller, Michael Frayn's The Russian Interpreter, and Ursula K. LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea.

By the mid-70s, he realized that his days as a filmmaker were over...just as his days as a mentor were beginning when Martin Scorsese tracked him down in London through producer and publicist Mike Kaplan. "Meeting Martin Scorsese in Ladbroke Grove was like meeting a twister in Kansas. He talked a mile a minute, his mouth full of exclamations, explanations, opinions, questions, and contradictions." With Scorsese's arrival Powell understood that he was an artistic godfather to a whole generation of American filmmakers, and it gave the master a new lease on life - as well as a new romance in the person of Scorsese's editor Thelma Schoonmaker, who became his wife.

Along the way, there were a few projects that came to fruition. Bluebeard's Castle, made in 1964, is a filmed version of the Bartok opera instigated by a singer/producer named Norman Foster that offered Powell the chance to work again with Hein Heckroth, one of his most valued collaborators. An extravagant piece of expressionism and one of Powell's greatest "composed" films, it was shot on a minuscule budget in eight and a half days in a studio in Salzburg. "What did it matter that there was not enough money to pay everybody the fees that had been agreed?" wrote Powell. "There is always something a little unreal about being paid for something that you love to do.... It was one of the most delightful experiences of my life in movies."

It was around this time that Powell began his Australian sojourn, with an adaptation of John O'Grady's novel They're a Weird Mob, a fish-out-of-water story about an Italian immigrant, played by Walter Chiari, who arrives in Australia only to find that the magazine job he's been promised by his cousin is a sham and who winds up laying bricks. For Powell, a first reading of the source material for his only outright comedy brought back beloved memories of Leo McCarey's Ruggles of Red Gap. The film was greeted with silence by the British, but it was a smash, and even a kind of landmark, in its home territory.

Powell found the country so hospitable that he looked for another project, which came to fruition three years later. It was Michael Pate, the son-in-law of Powell's old guardian angel Joe Rock, who brought the Norman Lindsay novel Age of Consent to his attention. If Powell was never able to make The Tempest, he at least got a purchase on it with this lovely, robust film about a painter played by Powell's Prospero, James Mason, who retreats to an island in an attempt to recapture his inspiration and finds it in the person of a lovely young nymph played by Helen Mirren. "The film was full of nudity, but it was a painter's nudity," wrote Powell. "Goya has shown us in La Maja Desnuda that most people are more interesting without their clothes.... My film belonged to the age of innocence." As usual, even on his last major film, there was a battle, over the innocent nudity and, oddly, the score. We are presenting Age of Consent in its original cut and with its original score intact.

Appropriately Powell made his last film, quite unexpectedly, in collaboration with his old partner, pushing through a film version of a Pressburger story called The Wife of Father Christmas, about a little boy who loses one of his pet mice in the Tower of London, suddenly turns yellow on the tube trip back home, and travels through his television set via wireless waves in the middle of the night to retrieve his mouse and return to his original color.

A small triumph, The Boy Who Turned Yellow was greeted with the usual consternation by the bigwigs, despite the fact that kids all over England voted it the best children's film two years running. It was the same battle the Archers had fought again and again throughout their entire partnership. Ultimately, Powell and all his intrepid collaborators from Pressburger on down have had the last laugh on the little men he called the "chair polishers." They are long forgotten, while the name of Michael Powell, and that of everyone else he brought into his magic circle, burns more brightly with each passing year.

Age of Consent Michael Powell
Australia, 1969; 103m
Wed May 25: 2:15;
Fri May 27: 6:15;
Sat May 28: 8
The Boy Who Turned Yellow Michael Powell
U.K., 1972; 55m
Wed May 25: 4:30;
Sat May 28: 2:30
Bluebeard's Castle Michael Powell
West Germany, 1964; 60m
Thurs May 26: 8;
Fri May 27: 4:45;
Sat May 28: 4
They're a Weird Mob Michael Powell
Australia/U.K., 1966; 112m
Fri May 27: 2:30 & 8:30;
Sat May 28: 5:30

All screenings are $10; $7 for students; $6 for members of the Film Society and co-sponsoring organizations, and $5 for seniors for weekday matinees. The Walter Reade Theater is located at 165 W. 65th St., plaza level. Tickets are available at or at the box office. There is a $1.25 surcharge per ticket for tickets bought online. For general information, call (212) 875-5600.

Contact: Inés Aslan at 212/875-5625 or
Graham Leggat at 212/875-5416 or

Full Schedule

Back to index