Upcoming Saturday Night at the movies

Our next Saturday at the Movies, employing the Amazon Prime Watch Party function, will be on July 10 at 8 pm Eastern (US).  The usual cautions apply: you will need a US Amazon Prime account, a lap top or desk top computer to watch the movie,  a web browser other than Safari (with Chrome working best), and you will have to rent (at $3.99) or purchase the movie from Amazon before you can join the party.  Watch Party has a chat feature so that we can talk among ourselves while the movie is in progress, and we join together after the movie is over to discuss it via Zoom.

Our last film was Raw Deal directed by the great Anthony Mann and photographed by John Alton, the acknowledged master of noir black and white cinematography.  This time we turn to the UK and a remarkable coming together of creative talents behind the camera.  Known by the name of their production company, The Archers, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger wrote and directed an extraordinary series of films.  Remarkably, these films were dramatically and thematically unique: the “house style” was to approach every project on its own terms, guided only by pure imagination and executed with surpassing artistic skill.

You will probably know Powell and Pressburger by their most famous work, The Red Shoes (1948) with the luminous Moira Shearer, the movie that turned thousands of little girls into budding ballerinas, and the same number of little boys into tyrannical impresario wanna-bes.  Now anyone can dream of being a dancer or tyrant (or both)—sex does not matter. The more fortunate among you may also have seen A Matter of Life and Death (US title: Stairway to Heaven) (1946), about an English RAF flyer (David Niven) who falls to Earth from his crippled plane without a parachute but is missed in the fog by the heavenly messenger.  In the meantime, he falls in love with the American flight controller (Kim Hunter), the last person he spoke with before his exit from the plane.  Ultimately, he faces a trial in heaven with a hostile British-hating judge (Raymond Massey) and jury.

There are many other Archer movies, each as different in subject matter and mood as the last, (You might try the gentle and moving I Know Where I’m Going! (1945), starring Wendy Hiller, see https://www.yellowbarrel.org/films/i-know-where-im-going-1945 /.) But let’s stick with A Matter of Life and Death, because that brings us to the other great talent behind the camera for Black Narcissus: the man who was responsible for the camera itself, cinematographer Jack Cardiff, possibly the finest DP ever produced by Britain.  Here is what he did for A Matter of Life and Death:

This was a technical challange from the start, being not only highly dependent on a subtle but all pervading use of colour, but because sections of the film, which was divided between settings in heaven and on earth, were to be shot in black and white. Cardiff suggested they shoot not in black and white for the heaven sequences, but continue to shoot the thechnicolour stock, lighting the set for colour, but processing the colour stock as black and white, draining it of colour which gives the image a 'pearly' quality - precisely what the producers were after. Praise for the colour sequences was generous but nothing like as rapturous as that which greeted his next Archers film, Black Narcissus.

See http://www.powell-pressburger.org/Reviews/Jack/JackC02.html .  As you can tell from the article, what Cardiff did for Black Narcissus was even more spectacular.  You won’t believe that the film was photographed in the studio.  And need we speculate about who went on to photograph The Red Shoes?

Finally, in Black Narcissus you have one of the finest casts of British actresses ever assembled: Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron, Flora Robson, and Jean Simmons.  And make no mistake, this film is all about the women, with the man, played by David Farrar, present only to supply the sexual tension as the object of (suppressed) desire.

So join us on July 10 for an adventure into the Himalayas via the sound stages of Pinewood Studios, all from the comfort of your home.

Please send me your RSVP by close of business on July 9, emailing me atarthur.fergenson@ansalaw.com .


Arthur Fergenson