You Need a Shot of Michael Powell


Some more excellent information, thanks Mark.
"Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

Peeping Tom (1960)

Visual storytelling genius Michael Powell teamed up with scripter Leo Marks to make this audacious film which predated Psycho by months and was lambasted by the British critics as a "sexual snuff" film at the time of its release. In fact, after making one more film in England, this film's notoriety basically exiled the Master to Australia. Today, many of those same critics call it a masterpiece, and whatever you think about it, it's one of the most original and bizarre flicks ever made. Peeping Tom almost ranks up there with The Red Shoes as Powell's most-all-encompassing fever dream. When I say fever, I mean that the entire film is embued with red lights and it undoubtedly inspired such directors as Mario Bava and Dario Argento in the use of their color pallette and their subjective camerawork.

The thing about this Powell movie which got him into so much trouble was that no matter how cinematic his images were, the critics only saw prostitutes, murder, sick-and-twisted father/son relationships, unhealthy preoccupation with sex and death, and here's the kicker: the fact that Powell himself played the twisted scientist father and had his own son play his son at an early age as a victim of his father's abuse. The psychological underpinnings of the main character's actions, which are far more developed than those of Norman Bates, didn't count for much for the lynch mob critical community, even though Hitch came along a few months later and made them come up with excuses for him. The problem is that no matter what Powell accomplished in his film, he didn't film the flourishes that Hitch did with a far-more unexplainable story (even though some "psychiatrist" tries to explain Norman's motivations at the end of Psycho). Norman Bates is a sympathetic character, but there's no way he's more sympathetic than Mark Lewis in Peeping Tom. Even so, it's quite an accomplishment for both Powell and Hitch to put out such films so close together in the prehistoric year of 1960. It's just sad that the proven genius Powell was turned into a pariah while the proven genius Hitchcock became a millionaire.
Great review, Mark. I've been wanting to check that one out since I keep hearing it compared to Psycho. I can't seem to find it available in any DVD store near me.

I actually prefer Peeping Tom to Psycho for some of the reasons Mark mentioned such as Powell's use of color (definitely an influence on Bava, and Argento who went to great lengths to shoot his 1980 film Inferno in Technicolor in order to achieve a similar saturated effect - though Peeping Tom was shot in Eastmancolor). I also think Karlheinze Bohm is brilliant in the lead role, and love that he's such a sympathetic character.

From the 60's I still prefer Roman Polanski's Repulsion though

I prefer Peeping Tom to Psycho partly because of Powell's use of color (definitely an influence on Bava, and Argento who shot many of his early films using the same Eastmancolor - Coincidence?). I also like Karlheinze Bohl's performance as Mark in the film; particularly the way he humanizes the character portraying him as sympathethic and vulnerable, as well as predatory.

Though from the 60's I rate Polanski's Repulsion higher than both of them

"A film is a putrified fountain of thought"
Ahh! I've been dying to see The Red Shoes for like a year now, and I can't find it in any of my local movie stores and I can never find it on tv. And it keeps popping up everywhere, it's haunting me! I think I'm just gonna buy it oline. Is it a movie that's good for rewatches?

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
In your case, it seems like a match made in heaven. It has to be the best "dance" movie ever made, and the cinematic technique has to be some of the most spectacular ever on display. Just the way that Powell films the opening and closing credits with the burning candle and the music sends chills down my spine.
It's what you learn after you know it all that counts. - John Wooden
My IMDb page

Great thread as always Mr Eff. I thought I might drop in and mention that I just caught Black Narcissus last week and I was pretty impressed with it. I don't think I've seen any other Powell & Presberger flicks, but that is something I aim to remedy when I get done with the lists.

But ummm, yeah, Black Narcissus was just beautiful. That castle they were in was great. I don't know if it was real or not, or if they even actually shot any scenes there but the panoramic shots they took of it were absolutely terrific!

I'll be on the lookout for Red Shoes, sounds like my kind of flick, no doubt.
We are both the source of the problem and the solution, yet we do not see ourselves in this light...

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
Red Ensign (1934) and The Phantom Light (1935) (both Michael Powell) both

Red Ensign almost comes across as a propaganda film supporting Great Britain's investment in cargo ships during the Great Depression, even when there is no money to invest. Entrepreneur businessman David Barr (Leslie Banks) uses his charisma to get people to invest in him, whether it be money or hard, unpaid work. Powell's expert use of cinematography, editing, special effects and words on screen are already easily seen in this film made long before his famous collaborations with Emeric Pressburger. Barr comes across as single-minded, almost seeming to believe that he is above the "ordinary" person. The film does involve politics, economics, romance, patriotism, and suspense, so it's a very well-made film about a subject many might not think of as being all that interesting. Leslie Banks gets to play a major-league S.O.B. in one of his best roles, and Powell lovers will want to check it out.

The Phantom Light is a looser Powell flick, even though it's supremely cinematic. This one comes off as a cross between James Whale's earlier The Old Dark House and Alfred Hitchcock's later Jamaica Inn. It's set at a Welsh lighthouse which seems to be cursed and/or haunted. There are a collection of crazy characters, great atmospherics, nice suspense, quite a bit of sex, and plot twists all over the place. I've been to many lighthouses so maybe I'm prejudiced in favor of them, but just because you haven't been to so many doesn't mean that you won't like this flick. Powell's sense of elongated suspense scenes is found throughout this film, and that's the main reason he's mentioned in the same breath as Hitchcock to this very day.

Thanks for that mark. I have a vague recollection of seeing The Phantom Light, though only from your description, way back when late one night, but I was unaware of Red Ensign. It sounds interesting, so I'll keep an eye out for it.

I recently read a recommendation for "red shoes" aswell, maybe I SHOULD check it out, "The Phantom Light" sounds interesting too.

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
The Red Shoes (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1948)

The Red Shoes is a timeless film. Sure, it was made over 60 years ago, but it feels as if it was made yesterday. There's no other way to describe all the glamour, the color, the flamboyance and the all-encompassing cinematics of the film. Although I don't personally feel that it's the Duo's best, it's at least as good as The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and A Matter of Life and Death, so if it doesn't quite rate as highly as those in general, it may very well have to do with some form of sexism, or maybe it's just a rejection of highly-stylized melodrama, which I never suggest people to adopt. After all, what are Once Upon a Time in the West, Taxi Driver, Fight Club, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Requiem For a Dream and Blade Runner if not extremely-stylized melodramas? I'll admit that I prefer the melodrama of The Red Shoes because it's far more original, cinematic and "human" than the others I mentioned, but if you like even only one of those other films, you owe it to yourself to watch Powell/Pressburger, and The Red Shoes is as good a place to start as any.

The Red Shoes is a fever dream where an immature young woman is taken advantage of by older men. Now, the fact that I know from experience that this doesn't mean that the men actually hold the advantage over her is unfortunately counterpointed by the fact that it's adapted from a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, and his tales tended to be incredibly violent and caused extreme pain to his "heroines". While it's true that Anderson's original ending had the woman dancing the Red Shoes lose both of her legs, this film cannot allow itself to come to such an extreme finale. However, it can certainly be said to be a tragedy, and this is where The Red Shoes earns even more points. The man who seems to drive Vicky to desperate acts comes across in the end as the person who loses the most. It's clear that Vicky loses more but her strong-willed Mentor seems to suffer a nervous breakdown before our eyes during the film's stunning conclusion.

Even if The Red Shoes was an utter potboiler, any lover of cinema would want to watch it because it covers almost every single thing a film can do. Aside from having some of the greatest color cinematography ever recorded on film, it has tons of unexpected cinematic innovations and shows where cinema can actually go into something resembling dreams and nightmares. Most of the film is completely unexplained, but if you think about it, so is much of your and my lives. We cannot understand how we got from Point A to Point B, let alone Point M. The Red Shoes makes such things comprehensible, especially for people who don't want to figure it out for themselves. However, if you think you have a clue why your life is going the way it is, The Red Shoes may be even more enlightening.

I love The Red Shoes; it's one of my favourite films.

I hate how people sneer at it and call it melodramatic. It's totally cinematic and no wonder it converted Scorsese. It's fantasy- just brilliant. The colour is stunning- I don't think we appreciate colour enough these days.
You cannot have it both ways. A dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love can never be a great dancer. Never. (The Red Shoes, 1948)

HERE is an interview of Martin Scorsese by The Guardian about his love for Powell & Pressburger. And HERE is Michael Powell's wife (and Scorsese's editor) Thelma Schoonmaker narrating some behind the scenes footage of Powell on location in Scotland for The Edge of the World.
"Film is a disease. When it infects your bloodstream it takes over as the number one hormone. It bosses the enzymes, directs the pineal gland, plays Iago to your psyche. As with heroin, the antidote to Film is more Film." - Frank Capra

Finally got around to seeing A Matter of Life and Death this evening, and I loved it. It felt very "modern" both because of the visual techniques and the storytelling ones (a reference to Technicolor? How meta). It rather reminded me of It's a Wonderful Life in that regard, and what do you know, they both came out in 1946.

Great stuff. Can't wait to dive into some of Powell and Pressburger's other collaborations.

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
Finally got around to seeing A Matter of Life and Death this evening, and I loved it. It felt very "modern" both because of the visual techniques and the storytelling ones (a reference to Technicolor? How meta). It rather reminded me of It's a Wonderful Life in that regard, and what do you know, they both came out in 1946.

Great stuff. Can't wait to dive into some of Powell and Pressburger's other collaborations.
What rating do you give it?