Made in England: the Films of Powell & Pressburger

May 8th, 2024
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: David Hinton | UK Doc 122′

A leisurely look at the filmography of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, forever to be known as The Archers. Made In England which premiered at this year’s Berlinale and is directed by David Hinton (longtime director of numerous episodes of The South Bank Show). The documentary has a trump card that raises it above ‘run of the mill’ linear telling of their dual careers in that it is guided and contextualised by long time supporter Martin Scorsese.

To say that Scorsese narrates the film is to do it and him a disservice; he starts with a tale he has told many times before and that is his own cinematic origin story, from discovering the adventure fantasy that Michael Powell co-directed in 1940: The Thief Of Bagdad. Scorsese, although he watched it on a tiny B&W television, remembered the name of the director and his formal experimental mise en scene that he wanted to see more of. Made in England is very much in the vein of Scorsese’s two documentaries that focus and US and Italian cinema.

People think having the internet and access to unlimited information makes them more informed and engaged with the world, but the opposite of that is true, and we sometimes forget how it was in the pre-internet era. I discovered Powell and Pressburger through the prism of Emeric Pressburger which is unusual. I read an essay he wrote for the Faber annual film journal Projections entitled: The Early Life of a Screenwriter, which sent me on a mission to discover the films this man had written.

After relating his discovery of Powell & Pressburger Scorsese – in immense detail – takes the audience on a journey through the ups and downs (mainly ups) of their career, which encompasses WWII, the creation of their partnership as The Archers and adventures through the UK and US studio system, and the eventual split of the partnership, with Michael Powell’s career being destroyed after the release of Peeping Tom.

Scorsese numerous times talks about their representation of love which they told through a visual language that can only be described as ‘pure cinema’; the juxtaposition of Colour; light; music and movement. One thinks of what Jean Luc Godard said about Nicholas Ray, but which can also stand in for Powell & Pressburger: “There was theater (Griffith), poetry (Murnau), painting (Rossellini), dance (Eisenstein), music (Renoir). Henceforth, there is cinema. And the cinema is (Nicholas Ray.) Powell and Pressburger”.

Their cinema gives a Kierkegaardian dizziness of freedom, it shows the impulses but also the limitations of love. It is a cinema that stops the written in its tracks and deals a death blow to its descendent: the imaginary. This is its virtue: to switch off, to put a stop to make believe. Their universe is a hermetically sealed one that is disgusted by the rigour of humanity, and they continue to remind us that what interests them is the rigour of angels and romanticism, rather than the logic of chess masters

What we are left with, of course, is that the films are now thankfully readily available, and many of the iconic ones have recently had a cinematic release. One of the images that will endure is the feeling of safety and excitement when one comes across the legendary logo of The Archers, that beautiful technicolour comfortable indent. ©DavidMault @D_W_Mault




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