Thursday, July 16, 2009

Black Narcissus

Micheal Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1947 (8.5*)
This is one of the most visually stunning films ever made. At the time, it broke new ground in the use of Technicolor, and won Oscars® for cinematographer Jack Cardiff and art director Alfred Junge. The story is a simple one: a group of nuns, led by new a new Mother Superior played by Deborah Kerr, are sent to a remote Himilayan village in India because a local general has donated a large house to them for use as a school and medical clinic.

The location is a daunting castle-like stone building halfway up some steep mountains, overlooking the valley and road below. It was built by a king to house his wives in an isolated locale where they couldn't run away or otherwise misbehave. The nuns are at first excited by the response of the locals, whom they truly desire to help. Soon however, hardships, the spiritual setting, and other temptations begin to erode the faith of some and raise questions of their ultimate survivability. This film is more about locale affecting people than any other picture in memory.

To make this an even more amazing work of art, the entire picture was shot at Pinewood Studios, England using sets, and matte or background paintings! The restoration to dvd has brought back the brilliant lighting and color, copied by Cardiff, a painter, from the art of Vermeer and Rembrandt; "clean light" was one element he mentioned in an interview on the dvd. Being an early trained Technicolor expert actually got Cardiff this job, as this was Powell's first film in color. Kerr is excellent as usual, but the film acting laurels are stolen by Kathleen Byron, who slowly disintegrates under the strain in an unforgettable performance. Two Oscars®.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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