Peeping Tom (1960, Michael Powell)

Things noticed during this, my third viewing of Peeping Tom and first in a theater:

  • Moira Shearer doesn’t do much dancing – but she does a little.
  • Similarities to Hitchcock’s Psycho with the psychoanalysis of a killer, probably better done here than in Psycho.
  • Written by Leo Mark, my old databases teacher!
  • The girls Mark kills don’t try very hard to get away.
  • Mrs. Stephens (Maxine Audley, Chaplin’s queen in A King In New York) is drunk during her close-call confrontation in Mark’s back room. She is always drunk!
  • Helen (Anna Massey, later in Frenzy and still a prolific actress) has the best “thank you”s that I have ever heard on film. This was her second film, and her first (John Ford’s Gideon’s Day) also featured a serial killer. She is kind of annoying at times, though, like when she sees the lizard on one of Mark’s films.
  • Powell appears as Mark’s father, who abuses Mark in the name of science.
  • The color and cinematography are awesome.
  • The movie is awesome!

Tales of Hoffmann (1951, Pressburger & Powell)

First rented this in December 2005, took over two years to finish it. Only movie to top that is The Decalogue (begun in 2001, still unfinished).

Katy didn’t want to watch it, and I’ve got trouble with it myself, not having any experience with opera. Some of the songs (“all in vain”) are lovely, though. The acting is extremely stagy, with huge facial expressions and body movements. Hoffmann himself moves stiffly through the film, maybe the only non-dancer in the cast but with a great voice (if he’s not dubbed). Sumptuous set design and costumes, one large room at a time with not much that is apparently cinematic about it. Even some of the effects (scattered, living doll parts created by actors wearing mostly black) are stagy. But then it can explode into incredible matte-painting sets with killer editing tricks and one very memorable camera-trick perspective shot involving a staircase shot from overhead. Camera is mostly still during dialogue/singing scenes, with some well-parceled sweeping movements… all fits together amazingly. Some of the richest color I’ve seen on my little television and laptop screens. They make great use of height in the frame, all columns and high-ceiling rooms. Since the dance numbers are mostly one or two people at a time, you never wish for widescreen. Only thing that really needs to be said is that it has more amazing bowl-me-over visual moments than almost anything else I’ve ever seen. Need to watch again as many times as possible.

Hoffmann is at the ballet falling for the dancer, whom his rival is also lusting over. He and his friends abandon the show for a bar where Hoff narrates three stories, starring himself, his rival, and Hoff’s nearly silent male companion (played by a female redhead), about three thwarted romances. At the end, the girls all dance together and collapse back into the original girl. And as Hoff falls exhausted to the bar table at the end of his story, the dancer shows up only to be escorted away by the rival.


The main dancer and the doll in the first story were Moira Shearer from The Red Shoes. The second girl with a jewelry obsession was Ludmilla Tcherina. Third girl, sickly with a dead mother, was Anne Ayars. All are stage dancers best known for this and other Powell films.

Hoffmann was a big opera star, also appeared in Carousel. Rival Robert Helpmann (probably the most facially expressive here) has played sinister characters in a few films. The most prolific was Pamela Brown, Hoff’s silent companion, who had fourth-billed roles in Cleopatra, Lust For Life, Olivier’s Richard III and Powell/Pressburger’s I Know Where I’m Going, which is the next one I’ve gotta see.


Also watched a 1956 widescreen Powell solo short of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with some of the same art crew as Hoffmann. It was an early showoff reel for CinemaScope, only now available in a shortened far-from-pristine print. The voiceover stands out awkwardly, but the costumes and dancing are great – the living broom and dancers representing the water that fills the room. Cool little film. IMDB says the apprentice, Bulgarian born, was the second woman to ever be knighted in Norway.

Black Narcissus (1947, Powell + Pressburger)

Who ever would’ve thought that I’d like a movie about nuns as much as this. Fucking incredibly amazing movie, one of the best I’ve ever seen, and I don’t think that’s just because I’m kinda drunk. Need to see this again and again. Would kill to see it in the theater. Maybe next year, 60th anniversary and all. Oughtta watch it again simply because I wasn’t paying as close attention as I should’ve… but still, seems like an extremely worthwhile movie.

Nuns opening school/hospital in the mountains with “primitive” people and a gruff, attractive male neighbor. One, maybe more of them, loses her mind. Plot and character don’t really need to be discussed, not that I paid strict enough attention to them to be able to discuss anyway, but even though they’re pretty great themselves, it’s the visuals that make the thing a fucking masterpiece. Wanted to cry at the end.

I like how some of the most beautiful shots (in terms of scenery, staging) are also some of the most fakey (obvious sets + backgrounds). Little praying, if any – surprising for a nun movie. Better than Nazarin probably… gotta see Viridiana next.

Also: a cockatoo and an african grey – in the same shot!

The Life & Death of Colonel Blimp (1943, Powell & Pressburger)

Oops, I thought this was a comedy. I’d somehow convinced myself that Powell makes comedies and I’m never right. Maybe it’s because I watched this instead of I Know Where I’m Going! (a comedy?), which I couldn’t find.

Anyhow, a few funny parts but not a comedy. Criterion says “The film follows the exploits of pristine British soldier Clive Candy as he battles to maintain his honor and proud gentlemanly conduct through romance, three wars, and a changing world. Vibrant and controversial, it is at once a romantic portrait of a career soldier and a pointed investigation into the nature of aging, friendship, and obsolescence.” and I have nothing more to add. Good overall, sad at times. I think a very perceptive war movie (and without any battle scenes).