More discussions of Cinéma Vérité … Powell, Pressburger, and Black Narcissus

– from A Filmic Map: Discussions of Cinéma Vérité


The films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger always create a strange, compelling place or world that doesn’t powell and pressburgeractually exist, yet does, and in many ways is more vital – certainly more lasting – than the people who are found there. Their stories … The Red Shoes, A Canterbury Tale, A Matter of Life and Death, I Know Where I’m Going! … show how place changes people. Michael Powell made several films before and after his work with Pressburger, but those works – notably, The Edge of the World, Peeping Tom, and Age of Consent – never stray from a primary focus on place. Reality and fantasy coexist in these films – and I think that may be the secret to their lasting appeal . The stories are universal, but strongly grounded in a specific and real world.

Black Narcissus, one of their best films, embodies the struggle – the tension between body and spirit, flesh and reason, self and other, freedom and repression. The story, in terms of its visual and Black Narcissus 11narrative force, makes this conflict direct and clear. Coming to terms with truth is never easy, is often horrific, and is nearly always transformational. A Powell / Pressburger film always moves toward transformation, but it’s a change that is only possible with and through loss. This is the type of journey everyone knows about but wants to avoid at all costs.

The setting of Black Narcissus – the strange, remote, deteriorating Palace of Mopu, black-narcissus-373high in the Himalayas – is a perfect fit for a journey to find the self, and creates the necessary tension that will force the issue. The look of the film – exotic, haunting, disturbing – is, according to several sources, heavily influenced by the paintings of Caravaggio and Vermeer. There are several films that have impacted me to such a degree I carry them in my head – always. This is one of them.


It was inevitable that I write in some way about the works of Powell and Pressburger. The visual world of their films is one I immediately connect with. The characters in their stories are compelling and unforgettable – at least to me. When considering writing a poem connecting with their films, I felt a bit overwhelmed – unable to decide which film should be the focus. Once I give up the notion of only one film, the writing became easy. “Michael Powell’s Women” was the result. Here’s a link to a wonderful reading of the poem by Nic Sebastian at Whale Sound. Her voice elevates the words, and makes the lines visual.


~ by samofthetenthousandthings on July 10, 2015.

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