Sunday, September 11, 2011

Top Ranked Films of Michael Powell

Michael Powell
8 titles, tied for 11th with 5 others – 34th overall in points with 19,155, just behind Robert Altman and just ahead of Clint Eastwood

Michael Latham Powell (September 30, 1905 – February 19, 1990) was a renowned English film director, celebrated for his partnership with Emeric Pressburger, working together as "The Archers". Reputedly Powell basically directed and Pressburger basically wrote screenplays, but the two obviously felt it all to be a collaberative effort.

Powell got his start at an early Technicolor specialist on films, trained by that color studio. He gradually gravitated to directing, and eventually made some of the most visual and color-saturated films of that era, notably A Matter of Life and Death (1946, aka Stairway to Heaven in the U.S., which balked at a film with death in the title soon after WW2), Black Narcissus (1947), and The Red Shoes (1948). Black Narcissus in particular is one of the most visually stunning films ever made, and Powell recreated the look of a convent in the Himilayas all on a British sound stage with matte painting backgrounds. Ironically, he was vilified for his solo work Peeping Tom, which was really just a Hitchcockian murder thriller, a bit too unsubtle for my taste compared to his other films.

These are all the films of Powell’s (both with and without Pressburger) that made the top 1000 in our 2011 update of the Top Ranked 1000 Films on the Net, all polls.

1. The Red Shoes (1948) #252
2. A Matter of Life and Death (1946) #350
3. Peeping Tom (1960) #360
4. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) #422
5. Black Narcissus (1947) #438
6. Thief of Bagdad, The (1940) #578
7. A Canterbury Tale (1944) bw #710
8. I Know Where I'm Going! (1945) #799

I like all of Powell’s films. Red Shoes is probably the most intense, Black Narcissus the most visual, and A Matter of Life and Death (released in the U.S. as "Stairway to Heaven") the most cerebral, dealing as it does with the afterlife vs corporal reality, the connection between the two, and judgment as a man must argue to continue his life.

Martin Scorsese was so influenced by him that he flew to England to meet him after Powell’s retirement, and then brought him back to the U.S. to meet other directors affected by his work. Powell was apparently overwhelmed and assumed he had retired into relative obscurity, had no idea his work was so revered among other directors. I haven’t reviewed it but also liked I Know Where I’m Going, an early black-and-white film about stormy islands, and Edge of the World, another early bw film about people barely surviving in the outer Shetland Islands.

The stunningly shot Black
Narcissus is a good example
of Powell's visual work

See the full list of top ranked 100 directors here: Top Ranked 100 Directors, 2011 Edition

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