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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

BLACK NARCISSUS (1947)

Writing/directing team Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, with lenser Jack Cardiff & production designer Alfred Junge, prestidigitated a stunning TechniColored Himalaya from the depths of a suburban London studio in this one-of-a-kind religioso-psychological thriller. Deborah Kerr is the Sister Superior, sent with a gaggle of Nuns to teach, farm and treat the body & soul of suspicious natives. Setting up shop in a mountain aerie palace once used to house concubines, Sister Kerr comes up against two unexpected road blocks, the manly, disdainful British trade agent (David Farrar sporting sexually provocative shorts) and worse, the increasingly exposed neuroses of her order (and herself) stuck inside Our Lady of Perpetual Neurasthenia. Farrar notes that there’s something in the atmosphere bringing it out, but the slightly ‘off’ quality really comes from the distinctive filmmaking of P&P (The Archers) who technically go their own way, giving many of their films a sort of handmade artisanal quality, especially in the arrhythmic editing. You’re always a wee bit off-balance under their charge. Sometimes this comes off as too much of a good thing, but here it works like a charm; a creepy scary sort of charm as Kerr fights off memories of a happy past life as well as the micro-society breakdown she’s supposed to be in charge of. While all thru the pic, the sheer audacious look of things remains a wonder to behold. How ever did they pull it off?! (Look for the recent, 2010, Criterion DVD upgrade with much improved color consistency & picture sharpness.)

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Powell brought in composer Brian Easdale to write the insistently active, game-changing film score using lots of vocal murmurs in the orchestral mix for storm & emotional highlighting, very Verdi/RIGOLETTO.

DOUBLE-BILL: The Archers followed this up with the unjustly overlooked SMALL BACK ROOM starring this film’s levelheaded David Farrar going a little off and crazed nun Kathleen Byron now acting as steadying influence.

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