Powell and Pressburger

The British film-making partnership of Michael Powell (1905–1990) and Emeric Pressburger (1902–1988)—together often known as The Archers, the name of their production company—made a series of influential films in the 1940s and 1950s. Their collaborations—24 films between 1939 and 1972—were mainly derived from original stories by Pressburger with the script written by both Pressburger & Powell. Powell did most of the directing while Pressburger did most of the work of the producer and also assisted with the editing, especially the way the music was used. Unusually, the pair shared a writer-director-producer credit for most of their films. The best-known of these are The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Canterbury Tale (1944), I Know Where I'm Going! (1945), A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), and The Tales of Hoffmann (1951).

In 1981 Powell and Pressburger were recognised for their contributions to British cinema with the BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award, the most prestigious award given by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

Powell and Pressburger
The Archers
IndustryFilm production company
FatePartnership amicably ended
Founded1939
1943 (as "The Archers")
Defunct1957
HeadquartersUnited Kingdom
Key people
Michael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Products

History

Early films

Michael Powell was already an experienced director, having worked his way up from making silent films to the First World War drama The Spy in Black (1939), his first film for Hungarian émigré producer Alexander Korda. Emeric Pressburger, who had come from Hungary in 1935, already worked for Korda, and was asked to do some rewrites for the film.[1] This collaboration would be the first of nineteen, most over the next 18 years.

After Powell had made two further films for Korda, he was reunited with Pressburger in 1940 for Contraband, the first in a run of Powell and Pressburger films set during the Second World War. The second was 49th Parallel (1941), which won Pressburger an Academy Award for Best Story. Both are Hitchcock-like thrillers made as anti-Nazi propaganda.

Birth of The Archers

The pair adopted a joint writer-producer-director credit for their next film, One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942) and made reference to "The Archers" in the credits. In 1943 they incorporated their own production company, Archers Film Productions, and adopted a distinctive archery target logo which began each film. The joint credit "Written, Produced and Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger" indicates their joint responsibility for their own work and that they weren't beholden to any studio or other producers.[2]

In a letter to Wendy Hiller in 1942, asking her to appear in Colonel Blimp, Pressburger explicitly set out 'The Archers' Manifesto'. Its five points express the pair's intentions:[3]

  1. We owe allegiance to nobody except the financial interests which provide our money; and, to them, the sole responsibility of ensuring them a profit, not a loss.
  2. Every single foot in our films is our own responsibility and nobody else's. We refuse to be guided or coerced by any influence but our own judgement.
  3. When we start work on a new idea we must be a year ahead, not only of our competitors, but also of the times. A real film, from idea to universal release, takes a year. Or more.
  4. No artist believes in escapism. And we secretly believe that no audience does. We have proved, at any rate, that they will pay to see the truth, for other reasons than her nakedness.
  5. At any time, and particularly at the present, the self-respect of all collaborators, from star to prop-man, is sustained, or diminished, by the theme and purpose of the film they are working on.

They began to form a group of regular cast and crew members who were to work with them on many films over the next twelve years. Hardly any of these people were ever under contract to The Archers. They were hired film by film. But Powell and Pressburger soon learnt who they could work well with and these people enjoyed working with them.[4] When Raymond Massey was offered the part of the Prosecuting Attorney in A Matter of Life and Death his cabled reply was "For The Archers anytime, this world or the next."[5]

He knows what I am going to say even before I say it—maybe even before I have thought it—and that is very rare. You are lucky if you meet someone like that once in your life.
— Pressburger on Powell, [6]
He'd stood the story on its head, he'd turned a man into a woman and a woman into a man, he'd altered the suspense, he'd rewritten the end... I was rejoicing that I was going to be working with someone like this.
— Powell on first meeting Pressburger, [1]

Powell and Pressburger also co-produced a few films by other directors under the banner of The Archers: The Silver Fleet (1943), written and directed by Vernon Sewell and Gordon Wellesley, based on a story by Emeric Pressburger,[7] and The End of the River (1947) directed by Derek N. Twist to which both Powell and Pressburger contributed un-credited writing.[8] Both Sewell and Twist had worked with Powell & Pressburger previously on other films and were being given their first chance as directors.

The remainder of the war saw them release a series of acclaimed films:

The collaboration

Generally, Pressburger would create the original story (for all their films from 1940–1946 and The Red Shoes) and write the first draft of the script. They would then pass the script back and forth a few times—they could never work on it together in the same room. For the actual dialogue, Pressburger would know what he wanted the characters to say but Powell would often supply some of the actual words.

They would both act as producers, perhaps Pressburger slightly more so than Powell, since he could soothe the feathers ruffled by Powell's forthright manner. They became their own producers mainly to stop anyone else interfering, since they had a considerable degree of freedom, especially under Rank, to make just about any film they wanted.

The direction was nearly all done by Powell, but even so The Archers generally worked as a team, with the cast and crew often making suggestions. Pressburger was always on hand, usually on the studio floor, to make sure that these late changes fitted seamlessly into the story.

Once the filming was finished, Powell would usually go off for a walk in the hills of Scotland to clear his head, but Pressburger was often closely involved in the editing, especially in the way the music was used. Pressburger was a musician himself and had played the violin in an orchestra in Hungary.

When the film was finally ready and Powell was back from the Highlands, he would usually be "the front man" in any promotional work, such as interviews for the trade papers or fan magazines.

Because collaborative efforts such as Powell and Pressburger's were, and continue to be, unusual in the film industry, and because of the influence of the auteur theory, which elevates the director as a film's primary creator, Pressburger has sometimes been dismissed as "Michael Powell's scriptwriter", but Powell himself was the first to say, in many interviews, that he couldn't have done most of what he did without Pressburger.

Post-war success and decline

End of the partnership

In the early 1950s Powell and Pressburger began to produce fewer films, with notably less success. The Archers' productions officially came to an end in 1957, and the pair separated to pursue their individual careers. The separation was quite amicable and they remained devoted friends for the rest of their lives.[6]

Later collaboration

The pair would reunite for a couple of films:

Regular cast and crew

Powell and Pressburger reused actors and crew members in a number of films. Actors who were part of The Archers' "stock company" include:

Notable crew members include:

Critical opinions

Michael Powell's gift was that he saw things with terrible clarity. Perhaps his films have been waiting for DVD all along.
— Entertainment Weekly
11 January 2002[10]
There is not a British director, working in Britain, with as many worthwhile films to his credit as Michael Powell.
— A Biographical Dictionary of the Cinema
by David Thomson, 1975[11]

British film critics gave the films of Powell and Pressburger a mixed reaction at the time, acknowledging their creativity but sometimes questioning their motivations and taste. For better or worse, The Archers were always out of step with mainstream British cinema.[12][13][14][15]

From the 1970s onwards, British critical opinion began to revise this lukewarm assessment, with their first BFI retrospective in 1970 and another in 1978. They are now seen as playing a key part in the history of British film, and have become influential and iconic for many film-makers of later generations, such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and George A. Romero, among others.[16]

Filmography

Awards, nominations and honours

Four of their films are among the Top 50 British films of the 20th century according to the British Film Institute, with The Red Shoes placing in the top 10.

Year Film Award Powell Pressburger Others
1937 The Edge of the World Presented at the Venice Film Festival ☑
1943 49th Parallel Oscar nominated for Best Picture ☑
1943 49th Parallel Oscar winner for Best Writing, Original Story ☑
1943 49th Parallel Oscar nominated for Best Writing, Screenplay ☑ with Rodney Ackland
1943 One of Our Aircraft Is Missing Oscar nominated for Best Writing, Original Screenplay ☑ ☑
1943 One of Our Aircraft Is Missing Oscar nominated for Best Effects, Special Effects Ronald Neame
(photographic) and
C.C. Stevens (sound)
1946 A Matter of Life and Death First ever Royal Film Performance ☑ ☑
1948 A Matter of Life and Death Winner Danish Bodil Award for Best European Film ☑ ☑
1948 Black Narcissus Oscar winner for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color Alfred Junge
1948 Black Narcissus Oscar winner for Best Cinematography, Color Jack Cardiff
1948 The Red Shoes Nominated for Venice Film Festival Golden Lion ☑ ☑
1949 The Red Shoes Oscar winner for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color Hein Heckroth and
Arthur Lawson
1949 The Red Shoes Oscar winner for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture Brian Easdale
1949 The Red Shoes Oscar nominated for Best Picture ☑ ☑
1949 The Red Shoes Oscar nominated for Best Writing, Original Story ☑
1949 The Red Shoes Oscar nominated for Best Film Editing ☑ Reginald Mills
1950 The Small Back Room BAFTA Award nominated for Best British Film ☑ ☑
1951 The Tales of Hoffmann Oscar nominated for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color Hein Heckroth
1951 The Tales of Hoffmann Oscar nominated for Best Costume Design, Color Hein Heckroth
1951 The Tales of Hoffmann Cannes Film Festival nominated for Grand Prize of the Festival ☑ ☑
1951 The Tales of Hoffmann Winner Silver Berlin Bear from Berlin International Film Festival as Best Musical ☑ ☑
1956 The Battle of the River Plate Selected for the Royal Film Performance ☑ ☑
1957 The Battle of the River Plate BAFTA Award nominated for Best British Film ☑ ☑
1957 The Battle of the River Plate BAFTA Award nominated for Best British Screenplay ☑ ☑
1957 The Battle of the River Plate BAFTA Award nominated for Best Film from any Source ☑ ☑
1959 Luna de Miel Cannes Film Festival nominated for Golden Palm ☑
1970 Partial retrospective of their films at the National Film Theatre ☑ ☑
1972 The Boy Who Turned Yellow Children's Film Foundation winner of the 'Chiffy' award for the best film ☑
1978 Made Hon DLitt, University of East Anglia ☑
1978 Made Hon DLitt, University of Kent ☑
1978 Retrospective of their extant works at the National Film Theatre ☑ ☑
1980 Dartmouth Film Award ☑
1981 BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award ☑ ☑
1982 Awarded Career Gold Lion from the Venice Film Festival ☑
1983 Made Fellows of the British Film Institute (BFI) ☑ ☑
1987 Awarded Hon Doctorate, Royal College of Art ☑
1987 Akira Kurosawa Award from San Francisco International Film Festival ☑

Powell and Pressburger, the people and their films have been the subject of many documentaries and books as well as doctoral research.[17][18][19]

An English Heritage blue plaque to commemorate Powell and Pressburger was unveiled on 17 February 2014 by Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker at Dorset House, Gloucester Place, London, where The Archers had their offices from 1942-47.[20]

See also

References

Notes
  1. ^ a b Powell 1986, pp 302–303
  2. ^ Powell 1986, pp 386–387
  3. ^ Macdonald, 1994. pp 189–190
  4. ^ Powell, 1986. p. 579. David Farrar was the only person ever given a multi-film contract by The Archers
  5. ^ Powell, 1986
  6. ^ a b BBC Arena documentary, A Pretty British Affair (1981)
  7. ^ The Silver Fleet on IMDb
  8. ^ The End of the River on IMDb
  9. ^ Powell, 1992. p. 81
  10. ^ Entertainment Weekly
  11. ^ A Biographical Dictionary of the Cinema
  12. ^ Contemporary reviews of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)
  13. ^ Contemporary reviews of A Canterbury Tale (1944)
  14. ^ Contemporary reviews of I Know Where I'm Going! (1945)
  15. ^ Contemporary reviews of A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
  16. ^ Mirasol, M. (5 March 2010). ""Black Narcissus," which electrified Scorsese". Chicago Sun-Times. suntimes.com. Archived from the original on 4 January 2011. Retrieved 13 December 2010.
  17. ^ "Pilgrims in Print". British Film Institute. BFI.org. Archived from the original on 9 October 2010. Retrieved 11 December 2010.
  18. ^ "Powell and Pressburger: Books". Amazon. Amazon.com. Retrieved 11 December 2010.
  19. ^ Thiéry, Natacha (2003). "Photogénie du désir: les films de Michael Powell et Emeric Pressburger, 1945–1950" (PhD thesis) (in French). Paris: Université de la Sorbonne nouvelle. URL may only take you to an index page, from which the thesis can be searched for
  20. ^ "POWELL & PRESSBURGER". English Heritage. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
Bibliography
  • Christie, Ian. Arrows of Desire: The Films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. London: Waterstone, 1985. ISBN 0-947752-13-7, later edition, 1994. ISBN 0-571-16271-1 (pbk).
  • Christie, Ian. Powell, Pressburger and Others. London: British Film Institute, 1978. ISBN 0-85170-086-1.
  • Christie, Ian and Andrew Moor, eds. The Cinema of Michael Powell: International Perspectives on an English Filmmaker. London: BFI, 2005. ISBN 1-84457-093-2.
  • Darakhvelidze, George. Landscapes of Dreams: The Cinema of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (Part 1) (in Russian). Vinnitsa, Ukraine: Globe Press, 2009. ISBN 966-8300-34-3.
  • Esteve, Llorenç. Michael Powell y Emeric Pressburger (in Spanish). Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Catedra, 2002. ISBN 978-84-376-1950-7.
  • Howard, James. Michael Powell. London: BT Batsford Ltd, 1996. ISBN 0-7134-7482-3.
  • Lazar, David, ed. Michael Powell: Interviews. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2003. ISBN 1-57806-498-8.
  • Macdonald, Kevin. Emeric Pressburger: The Life and Death of a Screenwriter. London: Faber & Faber, 1994. ISBN 0-571-16853-1
  • Moor, Andrew. Powell and Pressburger: A Cinema of Magic Spaces. London: I.B. Tauris, 2005. ISBN 1-85043-947-8.
  • Powell, Michael. A Life in Movies (autobiography). London: Heinemann, 1986. ISBN 0-434-59945-X, later edition, 1993. ISBN 0-571-20431-7 (pbk).
  • Powell, Michael. Million Dollar Movie (The second volume of his autobiography). London: Heinemann, 1992. ISBN 0-434-59947-6, later edition, 2000. ISBN 0-7493-0463-4 (pbk).
  • Thiéry, Natacha. Photogénie du désir: Michael Powell et Emeric Pressburger 1945–1950 (in French). Rennes, France: Presse Universitaires de Rennes, 2009. ISBN 2-7535-0964-6.

External links

C.O.D. (film)

C.O.D. is a 1932 British crime film directed by Michael Powell and starring Garry Marsh, Arthur Stratton and Sybil Grove. A man assists a woman to dispose of the body of her stepfather.The film has been declared "Missing, Believed Lost" by the British Film Institute.

Crown v. Stevens

Crown v. Stevens is a 1936 British crime thriller film directed by Michael Powell. It was made as a quota quickie.

Gone to Earth (film)

Gone to Earth (1950) is a British Technicolor film by the director-writer team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It stars Jennifer Jones, David Farrar, and Cyril Cusack, and features Esmond Knight. The film was significantly changed for the American market by David O. Selznick and retitled The Wild Heart in 1952.

Gone to Earth is based on the 1917 novel of the same name by author Mary Webb. The novel was all but ignored when it first appeared, but became better known in the 1930s, as the neo-romantic revival gathered pace.

Her Last Affaire

Her Last Affaire is a 1935 British drama film directed by Michael Powell and starring Hugh Williams, Viola Keats, Cecil Parker and Googie Withers. The wife of a politician is found dead at a country inn. It was based on the play S.O.S. by Walter Ellis.

His Lordship

His Lordship is a 1932 British musical comedy film directed by Michael Powell. It was made as a Quota quickie.

Lazybones (film)

Lazybones is a 1935 British film directed by Michael Powell. It was made as a Quota quickie.

My Friend the King

My Friend the King is a 1932 British comedy film, directed by Michael Powell and starring Jerry Verno. The film was a follow-up to Two Crowded Hours, Powell's unexpectedly popular directiorial debut of the previous year, with comedian Verno reprising his role as a chirpy Cockney taxi driver who gets mixed up in shady doings. This film however was less well-received, with Powell recalling it as "a complete failure", also noting that he worked on six films during 1932 and that "they couldn't all be good...and they weren't".

My Friend the King is one of eleven quota quickies directed by Powell between 1931 and 1936 of which no print is known to survive. The film is not held in the BFI National Archive, and is classed as "missing, believed lost".

Oh... Rosalinda!!

Oh... Rosalinda!! is a 1955 British musical comedy film by the British director-writer team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The film stars Michael Redgrave, Mel Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, dancer Ludmilla Tchérina and Anton Walbrook and features Dennis Price.

The film is based on the operetta Die Fledermaus (The Bat) by Johann Strauss, but updated to take place in post-war Vienna as occupied by the four Allied powers: the United States, the United Kingdom, France and the USSR The music, played by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra under conductor Alois Melichar, has new lyrics by Dennis Arundell, and professional singers dubbed for some of the actors. The choreography is by Alfred Rodrigues, and the production was designed by Hein Heckroth.

Oh... Rosalinda!! is a light-hearted Technicolor romp that makes full use of the new CinemaScope process, and is not just a film of a staged production but a filmic operetta.

Red Ensign (film)

Red Ensign is a 1934 film directed by British filmmaker Michael Powell. It is an early low-budget "quota quickie".

Rynox

Rynox is a 1932 British crime film directed by Michael Powell and starring Stewart Rome and John Longden. Rynox was adapted from a novel by popular thriller writer of the day Philip MacDonald.

For many years Rynox was believed to be among the lost films of Powell's 1931–1936 quota quickie period; however an original print was found in 1990 in the vaults of Pinewood Studios and was subsequently transferred and restored by the BFI National Archive.

The Boy Who Turned Yellow

The Boy Who Turned Yellow (1972) is the last film collaboration by the British filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, and the last theatrical film directed by Michael Powell. The film was made for the Children's Film Foundation.

The Brown Wallet

The Brown Wallet is a 1936 British crime film, directed by Michael Powell and starring Patric Knowles. The Brown Wallet, adapted from a short story by Stacy Aumonier, was one of over 20 quota quickies directed by Powell between 1931 and 1936. It is among eleven of these films of which no extant print is known to survive, and its current status is "missing, believed lost".

The Elusive Pimpernel

The Elusive Pimpernel is a 1950 British period adventure film by the British-based director-writer team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, based on the novel The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905) by Baroness Emmuska Orczy. It was released in the United States under the title The Fighting Pimpernel. The film stars David Niven as Sir Percy Blakeney (a.k.a. The Scarlet Pimpernel), Margaret Leighton as Marguerite Blakeney and features Jack Hawkins, Cyril Cusack and Robert Coote. Originally intended to be a musical, the film was re-worked as a light-hearted drama.

The Fire Raisers (film)

The Fire Raisers is a 1934 British drama film directed by Michael Powell. It was described by Powell as "a sort of Warner Brothers newspaper headline story;" and marked the first of his four films with actor Leslie Banks.

The Love Test

The Love Test is a 1935 British romantic comedy film directed by Michael Powell and starring Judy Gunn, Louis Hayward, David Hutcheson, Googie Withers and Thorley Walters. It was made as a Quota quickie.

The Night of the Party

The Night of the Party is a 1934 British mystery thriller film directed by Michael Powell and starring Leslie Banks, Ian Hunter, Jane Baxter, Ernest Thesiger and Malcolm Keen. In the United States it was released as The Murder Party. It was made at the Lime Grove Studios in Shepherd's Bush. The art direction was by Alfred Junge, later a regular contributor to the films of Powell and Pressburger.

The Rasp

The Rasp is a whodunit mystery novel by Philip MacDonald. It was published in 1924 and introduces his series character, detective Colonel Anthony Gethryn. It is set in a country house in rural England.

The Small Back Room

The Small Back Room, released in the United States as Hour of Glory, is a 1949 film by the British producer-writer-director team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger starring David Farrar and Kathleen Byron and featuring Jack Hawkins and Cyril Cusack. It was based on the novel of the same name by Nigel Balchin.

Two Crowded Hours

Two Crowded Hours is a 1931 British comedy drama film directed by Michael Powell and starring John Longden, Jane Welsh, and Jerry Verno. It was made as a Quota quickie and is the first film where Powell is credited as the director.

Powell and Pressburger

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