Friday, April 19, 2024

“MADE IN ENGLAND: THE FILMS OF POWELL AND PRESSBURGER”

THE STORY – Martin Scorsese first encountered the films of Powell and Pressburger as a child, sitting in front of the family TV. When The Archers’ famous logo appeared on screen, Scorsese recalls: “You knew you were in for fantasy, wonder, magic – real film magic.” Now, in this documentary, he tells the story of his lifelong love affair with their movies, including “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp,” “Black Narcissus,” “The Red Shoes” and “The Tales of Hoffmann.” “Certain films you simply run all the time, and you live with them,” says Scorsese. “As you grow older, they grow deeper. I’m not sure how it happens, but it does. For me, that body of work is a wondrous presence, a constant source of energy, and a reminder of what life and art are all about.” Drawing on a rich array of archive material, Scorsese explores in full the collaboration between the Englishman Powell and the Hungarian Pressburger, who thrived in the face of adversity during World War II but were eventually brought low by the film industry of the 1950s. Scorsese celebrates the duo’s ability to create “subversive commercial movies” and describes how deeply their films have influenced his own work.

THE CAST – Martin Scorsese, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger

THE TEAM – David Hinton (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 131 Minutes


From their first collaboration in 1939 with “The Spy In Black” to their last in 1957 with “Ill Met By Moonlight,” the works of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger have become a tableau for filmmakers to emulate. Their works’ catalog, including the iconic “The Red Shoes” and entry into the BFI’s Top 100 films “A Matter of Life and Death,” have inspired countless filmmakers across generations. One such filmmaker was Martin Scorsese, who acts as an amiable guide in David Hinton’s documentary “Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger,” a moving tour of the films of Powell and Pressburger narrated by Scorsese himself.

The first collaboration of Powell and Pressburger happened in 1939, which notably marked the start of World War II. The documentary highlights the importance of this as with the rise of a new wave of filmmaking techniques and styles, the British government realized the opportunity that film could be a powerful tool for the war effort and enlisted the duo to begin creating films that could be used as propaganda.

Not to be the kind of artists who are content with simplistic, nationalistic propaganda, the duo – as told by Scorsese – created work that didn’t just galvanize a nation behind the war effort but allowed for a nuanced view of the war to exist between the pages of the script written by both of them. Notably, the documentary highlights that the duo were equal collaborators. “Written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger” flies onto the screen with Scorsese’s narration telling us how intrinsic it was to their careers that they got equal credit while managing to highlight it through some dry Scorsese humor as “who yells cut?!” peeks through his laughter.

Hinton clarifies that their personalities and cultural backgrounds – Powell being British and Pressburger being Hungarian – made the two a creative force. At the heights of World War II, where nations were both divided and together in the effort against fascism, a collaboration between two factions proved to be a catalyst in making some of the best works of art the film world has ever seen. Their backgrounds also gave the duo a whole, well-rounded ideology of the filmmaking process. The documentary briefly goes into Powell’s career under silent film director Rex Ingram, where he learned the trade but finds little to discuss on Pressburger, who was often the first to bring a script to the table. The documentary still manages to paint a captivating picture of the two through archive interviews, with Pressburger’s wry smile an infectious counterpoint to Powell’s overtly British sensibilities. Pressburger’s use of sarcastic humor is both amusing and highlights their process as one that allows for compromise and respect.

The documentary premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2024, fresh from a cultural resurgence for the filmmakers. Their film “The Red Shoes” has just recently received a restoration, the version of which played in cinema spaces across the United Kingdom last year. While filmmakers like Scorsese, Francis Coppola, and Brian DePalma, who found the duo to be their inspiration, have championed the work since their careers began, it wasn’t always that way.

The documentary, which could have easily been a romanticized version of the truth, chooses to lift the curtain on an aspect of the British art scene: the government’s cruel and discarding nature when it comes to appreciating artists. After the duo had stopped producing films under the production company The Archers, Powell’s solo effort “Peeping Tom” received vast criticism. Shown jovially in the documentary through newspaper clippings that speak about the movie as if it had killed their firstborn child, we see Michael Powell in a caravan, frugally living before finding work in the industry again.

The documentary is light and full of real fire for art and the work of Powell and Pressbruger, mainly thanks to Scorsese’s constant narration, primarily when focusing on their usage of matte painting, forced perspectives, and various other practical special effects. For non-cinephiles, this is Scorsese genially introducing you to the works of geniuses, imbuing them with a real sense of passion that this film could light the fire underneath to change someone’s life like the films did for him; for cinephiles, this is a whistle-stop tour of the work of familiar filmmakers with some unfamiliar nuggets of information thrown in that won’t be spoiled here. But if you’ve gotten a chance to hear Scorsese speak passionately about films in person, this is a near-best compromise.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Scorsese's passion for cinema, specifically for Powell and Pressburger's films, comes through in abundance, and it's a good history lesson for those unfamiliar with the work of the two filmmakers.

THE BAD - It's a little long in the tooth, and if you're familiar with the films, it can feel slightly redundant.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 8/10

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Scorsese's passion for cinema, specifically for Powell and Pressburger's films, comes through in abundance, and it's a good history lesson for those unfamiliar with the work of the two filmmakers.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>It's a little long in the tooth, and if you're familiar with the films, it can feel slightly redundant.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>8/10<br><br>"MADE IN ENGLAND: THE FILMS OF POWELL AND PRESSBURGER"