Now, for “Film Favorites”, two of the most beautiful experiments in color ever made: Akira Kurosawa’s Ran and Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes.
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the champions of feverish color and quintessentially British cinema, probably never found a subject more perfectly attuned to their signature style than The Red Shoes. A tale of upcoming ballet star Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) studying under the dictatorial, monomaniacal Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), torn between Lermontov’s demands and her true love for his composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring), The Red Shoes is the pinnacle of their fixation on obsession and oppression as they intertwine and tangle to the point where flying into the sun is indistinguishable from crashing and burning. Under their vision, art and the pursuit of art become an Icarus act, and it is only fitting that the two men seemed primed and driven to obsessively push the limits of color cinema until they too would burn brightly before falling into the sun. Continue reading →
Michael Powell, especially when paired with his long-time partner in crime Emeric Pressburger, was a director cripplingly ahead of his time (although they shared credits, Pressburger favored writing and Powell handled most of the behind-the-camera work). Literally crippling, in fact, for his provocative, lurid, deeply confrontational 1960 horror Peeping Tom, at that point perhaps the most daring and subversive commentary on filmmaking and film-watching ever released, essentially killed his career. Dark-hearted in a way even Hitch’s fellow 1960 release, Psycho, never approached, Peeping Tom grabbed a world not ready for it and shoved itself right up into humanity’s soul with voyeuristic, directly implicating POV filmmaking and sickly green hues to induce malaise and shock. It was an atomic final gasp on one of the all-time directorial careers. Continue reading →
Like The Night of the Hunter, Peeping Tom essentially ended its director’s career (although Charles Laughton was not of the same caliber as Peeping Tom’s Michael Powell, easily one of the most respected British filmmakers ever). And like TheNight of the Hunter, that fact has unfortunately overshadowed the quality of the film underneath, for both happen to be among the truly great social nightmares of our time. This 1960 masterpiece is an excruciating descent into the mind of a killer and an unnerving look into the secrets people keep behind closed doors. It is also ultimately, an act of filmic deconstruction aimed squarely at the cinematic gaze. Peeping Tom is not only effective due to its ahead-of-its-time first-person murder sequences (the film’s proto-slasher killer films his victims as he kills them with the pointed edge of his camera tripod), but it also begs hair-raising questions about the nature of voyeurism and contains one of the creepiest film performances ever in Carl Boehm’s Mark Lewis, easily on par with Anthony Perkin’s all-time classic interpretation of Norman Bates in Psycho, released in the same year. Still, for all its spellbinding strengths, it is so often overlooked. Perhaps it is for the best, for it leaves Peeping Tom always lying in wait, always looking on from behind, always leering and breathing heavily and skulking about around the edges. Maybe that is where it belongs; approaching it head-on is a tall, demanding order. But few tasks are more rewarding. Continue reading →