Most artists, at one time or another, fall out of public favor. But few have fallen so completely, so dramatically, and so fast from the zenith as Michael Powell. From its glory days of the '40s, his career saw a premature... [more]
Most artists, at one time or another, fall out of public favor. But few have fallen so completely, so dramatically, and so fast from the zenith as Michael Powell. From its glory days of the '40s, his career saw a premature burial when British film fell in love with gritty realism in the '60s and '70s. Only when England emerged from this prolonged trend was Powell disintered and revived. Directors who had grown up watching him, like Scorsese and Coppola (who enlisted him as an advisor at Zeotrope), dusted him off, proclaimed his greatness, and placed him carefully back on the mantlepiece.
Of course, any discussion of Michael Powell has to include Emeric Pressberger, with whom he shared equal credits. The team worked together for 17 years and reached a popularity not unlike that of the Coen brothers today. They were introduced by Alexander Korda in 1939 and went on to form The Archers company in 1942. Their films throughout this period are marked by outlandish twists of narrative and style. In spite of some melodramatic leanings, these innovations stamp the duo's films with a mark wholly different from that of the conventional studio narrative. Their most famous film, "The Red Shoes," broke out of the art-house circuit to become one of the top-grossing films of 1948.
After the partnership dissolved, Powell made a gutsy move that would cost him his reputation. "Peeping Tom" (1960) features a shy cinematographer who doubles as a serial killer and films his victims in their death throes. Incredibly self-reflexive, the film asks what should or should not be filmed. It also explores the erotic impulses of the camera and the roots of sexual violence in voyeurism.
The ensuing scandal resulted in Powell's demotion to television, then ultimately down to America. In his autobiography, he summed up his attitudes toward film and homeland: "I love England [but] I am writing these lines in a foreign country because I have been made to feel an outcast by my own people. I was 'too big a risk.' I was 'too independent....' I was all the things that have made my films different from my contemporaries' films. I have grown up. Audiences have grown up. Films have stayed in the nursery." [show less]