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Friday 16 May 2003, 23:02 - 23:30

PROGRAMME 7: Stacey Kent on Powell and Pressburger

Michael Powell

Picture of the film director Michael Powell.Michael Powel, the son of a hop maker, was born in Bekesbourn, Kent in 1905. Despite showing an early interest in film making, on leaving school in 1922 he became a bank clerk.

His introduction to film came on a visit to France to see his father, in 1925. The visit resulted in bit parts in a couple of movies. Bitten by the bug he returned to England and Elstree. There he worked in a variety of positions (including still photographer and later scriptwriter for Hitchcock) before being allowed to direct for himself, in 1931.

Between 1931 and 1937 Powell made a number of 'quota quickies', film notable for their cheapness and speed of production rather than their quality. His breakthrough was The Edge of the World (1937), a mountaineering film noted for its realism. This success resulted in a contract with Alexander Korda and his teaming up with Emeric Pressburger.

During the war Powell soon emerged as one of the most gifted of British directors, beginning with The Spy in Black (1939).

1942 saw Powell and Pressburger form The Archers, their joint production company, and so began the most fruitful period in both their lives.

Between 1942 and 1956 (when The Archers parted) they produced a number of excellent films notable for their visual beauty and cinematic bravura.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) was an affectionately satirical portrait of the British officer class which raised strong objections fro Winston Churchill. A Matter of Life and Death (1946) showed an airman pleading to hold on to a (colourful) life while judged by a ghostly jury in a (black and white) heaven. While Black Narcissus (1947) was the story of a nun struggling with her vocation in the peaks of the Himilayas, and The Red Shoes (1948), shot in vibrant colour, is claimed as the best ballet film of all time.

Powell risked his career with Peeping Tom (1960), a slasher movie portraying a porno-fiend psycopath. The risk didn't pay off. Ahead of its time it hearalded not a new dawn but a final eclipse for Powell. He never made another film, dying in 1990.

Emeric Pressburger

Picture of the film maker Emeric Pressburger.Born to middle class parents in Moklolc, Hungary in 1902 Emeric Pressburger was a multi-talented child (an amateur violinist and gifted mathematician). He enrolled to study Engineering (at Prague and Stuttgart) but left to earn a living when his father died.

He started as a journalist but soon became a screenwriter on a number of German films, working with Robert Siodmak and Max Ophuls. With the rise of the Nazis in 1933 Pressburger fled to France, and then in 1935 to Britain.

In 1938 Alexander Korda recruited him to write the script for The Spy in Black (1939). This was the first of a number of collaborations with Michael Powell.

With the dissolution of their partnership he worked only fitfully before dying in 1988.

Joining them in the studio is film historian Ian Christie to chart the rise, fall and resurgence of The Archers reputation.

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