directors Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
There is Technicolor, and then there is TECHNICOLOR!!! And beyond that, there is TECHNICOLOR!!! in the hands of Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, and Jack Cardiff. Especially if it’s been restored and presented by Criterion.
The lurid lushness of over-saturated color has never been as stunningly realized as in Black Narcissus. Between A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), and The Red Shoes (1948), Cardiff, Powell, and Pressburger created three of the most amazing samples of Technicolor on film. The only other filmmaker whose Technicolor technique has knocked my socks off was Mario Bava, but this British trio were the tops.
Amazingly, this film about British nuns in settling a school and hospital in the Himalayas, which beyond its vibrant hues also creates an amazing sense of place and location, was shot entirely in England, and almost entirely at Pinewood Studios. It’s a masterpiece of visual effects and cinematography, a completely artificial world so compellingly drawn and realized that it becomes more real than real. As vivid as the most incredible dream. If only we all had such production values.
The story of these repressed young nuns, opened by the exotic and majestic beauty of their home upon the mountain, is almost secondary by contrast. But the themes of erotic awakening are aroused by the ever-present winds, swirling throughout the former seraglio. Eventually it comes down to a dramatic confrontation between Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) and Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) on the cliff where the bell rings.
This movie is stunning. Utterly stunning.
I watched The Red Shoes a few years back and its images continue to flit through my brain to this day. I’d seen Black Narcissus about 20 years ago on VHS, and while it failed to blow me away as it did this time, the images, too, have hung with me all along. Now perhaps, for good.