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Review: Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger


- Director David Hinton and narrator Martin Scorsese are in the mood for love, reminiscing about a directorial duo that live rent-free inside of the latter’s head

Review: Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger

“These images often run through my mind,” says Martin Scorsese in the David Hinton-directed doc Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger, heading to the Dublin International Film Festival following its Berlinale world premiere. He is walking the audience through the weird and wonderful world of Powell and Pressburger movies. No wonder – this is where mysticism meets lush Technicolor, and restraint meets madness on top of a Himalayan mountain, like in their Black Narcissus. It’s a world that was celebrated, then forgotten, then reevaluated again. This film, like Madonna’s last tour, is all about celebration.

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Scorsese is very good at spotlighting people he appreciates – Netflix’s Pretend It’s a City, scored to the delightful sound of him giggling at Fran Lebowitz’s every word, was a perfect example of that. This time, he goes even deeper, talking about a directorial duo that, in one way or another, has been with him his entire life. First, as mysterious figures responsible for the wonders he kept rewatching as a kid suffering from asthma. Then – in the case of Powell – as a close friend. He cares about them deeply and seems to hope everyone else will, too. It’s a love story.

It’s a surprisingly sweet one, too, about one filmmaker reaching out to another, a young kid wanting to thank his old master and, as a result, pretty much saving his life – for some cineastes, it can make for a proper tearjerker, especially after another personal connection is revealed later on. Needless to say, it involves a wedding, just like every happy ending should.

But it’s not just about Scorsese and Powell, who passed away in 1990. It’s about Michael Powell and Hungarian-born Emeric Pressburger, who kept delivering films that were unlike anything else. This writer still remembers watching A Matter of Life and Death for the first time, not knowing what the hell was happening and enjoying every minute. That was a film that, apparently, was supposed to help Anglo-American relations. They were different, over-the-top, and they were proving how playful cinema can actually be.

“It was a beautiful mind I responded to,” said Powell about Pressburger. That’s another love story, right there, the at-first-sight kind of experience. To Scorsese and his friends, they became “mythical beings”. Now, they are turning into human beings again, into friends who used to lift each other up and separated when they could no longer do that.

He has a soft spot for the lesser-known rom-com I Know Where I’m Going!, he gushes over their production company The Archers and opens up about the things he stole, like those disturbing reds in Mean Streets. Hilariously enough, it is revealed here, that was the only thing Powell didn’t like about the film. He might compare Travis Bickle to the troubled impresario Boris Lermontov, played by Anton Walbrook in The Red Shoes, but Scorsese isn’t blind to their failures. He also recalls the scandal of Peeping Tom, Powell’s still-disturbing solo outing that pretty much buried him alive. “The only really satisfactory way to dispose of Peeping Tom would be to shovel it up and flush it swiftly down the nearest sewer,” hyperventilated one critic at the time. It’s a little scary to think what would have happened if Scorsese hadn’t decided to champion their work, for no reason other than gratitude. Would they have got that BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award in 1981? Who knows.

As entertaining as it is to watch these clips, Hinton’s film could be shorter. It could also be naughtier, but reverence is the key word here. It doesn’t completely avoid pain, however, especially at the beginning, with Powell living alone, forgotten and struggling. In an old interview, he talks to some journalist about The Red Shoes, where a promising ballerina is asked to choose dance over love.
“Why did you want to talk about someone willing to sacrifice her life for art?”
“Because I would do it myself,” he says. It was close, but luckily, he didn’t have to.

Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger was produced by the UK’s Ten Thousand 86 and Ice Cream Films, with Altitude Film Sales handling the international sales.

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