With great pleasure we announce that during the 22nd edition of the International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography CAMERIMAGE we will host a retrospective of the films made by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the famous filmmaking duo whose work has been great inspiration for many acclaimed artists of worldwide cinema. In celebration of their work we will be joined by special guests: Michael Powell's wife and three-time Academy Award winning editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and two film scholars and experts in the cinema of Powell and Pressburger, Erich Sargeant and Ian Christie.
Below you will find Ian Christie's introduction to the cinema of Powell and Pressburger, and the list of their films that will be screened at Camerimage.
"Forty years ago, the films of Michael Powell were all but unknown, almost impossible to see in anything like their original state, and seemingly irrelevant in the era of the ‘new Hollywood’ of Spielberg, Coppola and Scorsese. But by the early 1980s, a revolution in taste was underway, and audiences around the world began to discover The Archers, Powell and Pressburger’s joint signature from 1942–56, while some of Hollywood’s new aristocracy declared themselves devout fans. Truncated films began to be repaired and faded colour revived, with The Archers’ films setting new standards in restoration right up to the unveiling of a spectacularly restored The Tales of Hoffmann at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year.
Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell
What has given them this extraordinary second life? It started with the unlikely partnership of an Englishman who only seemed to have a traditional ‘stiff upper lip’ and a Hungarian refugee who loved and understood England better than most of its natives. This was not so surprising, since it was another Hungarian, Alexander Korda, who brought them together in 1938 as a small part of his ambitious mission to put Britain on the world cinema map. The result was an unusual thriller, The Spy in Black, starring the great German actor Conrad Veidt, which caught the anxious mood of the time on the eve of what would become the Second World War.
Powell had already shown his ambition by leading an expedition to film on the remote Scottish island of Foula in 1936, which produced The Edge of the World, a film that now seems to anticipate some of the romantic themes that would underpin his joint work with Pressburger. But it was the war that had not only brought Pressburger to Britain, having abandoned his career in Germany when the Nazis came to power, but also gave the Powell-Pressburger team the challenges they needed. One of Our Aircraft is Missing, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and A Canterbury Tale all took everyday wartime experiences – bomber crews baling out, home defence organization and allied troops stationed abroad – and transformed them into profound meditations on the values at stake in the war against Nazism, and what ‘Englishness’ meant in these testing times. Often paradoxical, playing up stereotypical characters – like the venerable Colonel Blimp, already a popular cartoon figure at that time – in order to challenge them, they found the propaganda imperative a stimulus to invention.
Still from "The Tales of Hoffman"
Still from "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp"
The Archers also prided themselves on looking ahead, speculating about what audiences would be interested in a year ahead, and their two final wartime films, I Know Where I’m Going! and A Matter of Life and Death, both dealt with the challenge of peace. In one, a very modern young woman learns humility amid an ancient way of life in the Hebrides; and in the other an English pilot and an American servicewoman become characters in a supernatural allegory about their countries’ historic relationship, set in the operating theatre and in heaven.
British filmmaking had reached new heights during the war, but the post-war climate was bleak. The Archers caught the spirit of neo-romantic artists in other media, and created a series of spectacular melodramas, starting with Black Narcissus, set in the emotional cauldron of a Himalayan convent and acknowledged by Hollywood as a Technicolor masterpiece. The Red Shoes followed, pushing beyond the confines of the musical romance to visualize both the outer and inner world of dance; and its influence would also be vast, even as it perplexed critics in search of sober realism.