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138 - Black Narcissus 
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Post 138 - Black Narcissus
Hi there

A few weeks ago Criterion celebrated 50,000 fans on Facebook by offering all their discs for 50% off for 50,000 seconds. I bought 6 Blu Rays for about $15 each.

One of them was Black Narcissus - it sits in the top 150 movies of all time. 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Directed by Michael Powell and released almost 65 years ago. This was the third or fourth time I had seen it.

What do you need to know?

Nun played by Deborah Kerr gets assigned to a ... hold on, Criterion can explain better

This explosive work about the conflict between the spirit and the flesh is the epitome of the sensuous style of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. A group of nuns—played by some of Britain’s finest actresses, including Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron, and Flora Robson—struggle to establish a convent in the Himalayas, while isolation, extreme weather, altitude, and culture clashes all conspire to drive the well-intentioned missionaries mad. A darkly grand film that won Oscars for Alfred Junge’s art direction and Jack Cardiff’s cinematography , Black Narcissus is one of the greatest achievements by two of cinema’s true visionaries.

I first saw this film in Black and White on TV in England!! As a keen photographer I can assure you that it is one of the greatest pieces of cinematography in all of film history. The Blu Ray is spectacular!

Whilst not one of my all time favorite films, it seems to grow on me with each viewing. It's sumptuous old school film making. 8/10

BUT BEST OF ALL

There is a commentary track with Michael Powell and Martin Scorsese. Of course, Powell's ex wife is Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese's long time editor.

Rob


Sun Mar 27, 2011 11:41 pm
Post Re: 138 - Black Narcissus
Every once in awhile I'll watch a Criterion film on Netflix that I make a note to buy when the sales come around. Black Narcissus is one of those films. I watched it for the first time in February, only about a week before another Powell/Pressburger film, The Red Shoes. While the latter is probably the more accomplished feature, Black Narcissus is definitely a film with plenty to offer.

Throughout the film, I got the sense that the nuns present in the convent are there more for a means of escape rather than anything related to God. Deborah Kerr's Sister Clodagh, for example, is haunted by a failed relationship from her past. Another nun, in charge of taking care of the growing produce, absentmindedly plants flowers instead, reminiscing on some unrevealed previous trauma. Meanwhile, Kathleen Byron's Sister Ruth feels so wildly out-of-place with her harsh temper and repressed sexuality bubbling beneath the surface that it seems likely that her past is also a troubled one. To these women, devoting their lives to serving God is either an excuse to forget, or a possible way to atone for past sins.

So then, it seems reasonable to look at the events of the film as a direct challenge from God. He is a terrific presence in the film, a manipulator of various temptations and obstacles. There's David Farrar's Mr. Dean, who walks around imposing his influence with his roguish demeanor, oftentimes shirtless, almost encouraging the women to fall for him. There's the Young General, who comes in and immediately challenges the convent's rule of only teaching children, and who brings with him the black narcissus perfume, another temptation from the outside world. And of course, there's the elements themselves, with the terrible weather beating down on the souls of the women. All this is a dare from God, a questioning of whether these women are determined and sincere enough to continue their devotion.

All this is brought to the screen with amazing craft by Powell and Pressburger. Reading up on the film after I had watched it, I was amazed to learn that it was filmed entirely in studios. It certainly fooled me. This approach allows the filmmakers to create some dazzling images, all in the most glorious colors you're likely to see in a feature film. The tone of the film starts relatively quiet, but it builds up constantly until a thunderous finale that approaches full-blown operatic horror. A fitting representation of the wrath of God.

Black Narcissus is definitely a film that will benefit from multiple viewings. I'm writing this based on my memory from a month ago, so I'm probably either forgetting or flubbing details. It certainly left a strong first impression though, and I look forward to looking at it even closer when I inevitably watch it again.


Sat Apr 02, 2011 4:08 am
Post Re: 138 - Black Narcissus
Blonde Almond wrote:
Every once in awhile I'll watch a Criterion film on Netflix that I make a note to buy when the sales come around. Black Narcissus is one of those films. I watched it for the first time in February, only about a week before another Powell/Pressburger film, The Red Shoes. While the latter is probably the more accomplished feature, Black Narcissus is definitely a film with plenty to offer.

Throughout the film, I got the sense that the nuns present in the convent are there more for a means of escape rather than anything related to God. Deborah Kerr's Sister Clodagh, for example, is haunted by a failed relationship from her past. Another nun, in charge of taking care of the growing produce, absentmindedly plants flowers instead, reminiscing on some unrevealed previous trauma. Meanwhile, Kathleen Byron's Sister Ruth feels so wildly out-of-place with her harsh temper and repressed sexuality bubbling beneath the surface that it seems likely that her past is also a troubled one. To these women, devoting their lives to serving God is either an excuse to forget, or a possible way to atone for past sins.

So then, it seems reasonable to look at the events of the film as a direct challenge from God. He is a terrific presence in the film, a manipulator of various temptations and obstacles. There's David Farrar's Mr. Dean, who walks around imposing his influence with his roguish demeanor, oftentimes shirtless, almost encouraging the women to fall for him. There's the Young General, who comes in and immediately challenges the convent's rule of only teaching children, and who brings with him the black narcissus perfume, another temptation from the outside world. And of course, there's the elements themselves, with the terrible weather beating down on the souls of the women. All this is a dare from God, a questioning of whether these women are determined and sincere enough to continue their devotion.

All this is brought to the screen with amazing craft by Powell and Pressburger. Reading up on the film after I had watched it, I was amazed to learn that it was filmed entirely in studios. It certainly fooled me. This approach allows the filmmakers to create some dazzling images, all in the most glorious colors you're likely to see in a feature film. The tone of the film starts relatively quiet, but it builds up constantly until a thunderous finale that approaches full-blown operatic horror. A fitting representation of the wrath of God.

Black Narcissus is definitely a film that will benefit from multiple viewings. I'm writing this based on my memory from a month ago, so I'm probably either forgetting or flubbing details. It certainly left a strong first impression though, and I look forward to looking at it even closer when I inevitably watch it again.


Nice comments - did you listen to the commentary?
Rob


Sat Apr 02, 2011 10:40 pm
Post Re: 138 - Black Narcissus
I watched it through Netflix, so I haven't heard the commentary yet. It's a definite purchase whenever the next Criterion sale comes along though.


Sat Apr 02, 2011 11:28 pm
Post Re: 138 - Black Narcissus
Quite expensive
You can always get the disc from Netflix for nothing ;-)
Rob


Sat Apr 02, 2011 11:58 pm
Post Re: 138 - Black Narcissus
Robert Holloway wrote:
Quite expensive
You can always get the disc from Netflix for nothing ;-)
Rob


Very true. But it feels like one of those films I need to own, especially on Bluray. :)


Sun Apr 03, 2011 1:10 am
Cinematographer

Joined: Sat Aug 22, 2009 6:19 pm
Posts: 617
Post Re: 138 - Black Narcissus
Saw this on streaming video this morning. I'm sure that didn't help accentuate the visuals at all, but they were spectacular anyway. The constant effect from the weather made almost all scenes, both indoors and out, animated and interesting. Interplay between the two leads was fantastic with good support all around although I felt the buildup led to an event that wasn't probable for the characters involved. The music seem like it was a bit much until I finished viewing, then I realized it perfectly set the right mood to get in touch with the characters.


Mon May 09, 2011 2:09 pm
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Post Re: 138 - Black Narcissus
CasualDad wrote:
Saw this on streaming video this morning. I'm sure that didn't help accentuate the visuals at all, but they were spectacular anyway. The constant effect from the weather made almost all scenes, both indoors and out, animated and interesting. Interplay between the two leads was fantastic with good support all around although I felt the buildup led to an event that wasn't probable for the characters involved. The music seem like it was a bit much until I finished viewing, then I realized it perfectly set the right mood to get in touch with the characters.



and to think it was all shot in a studio!
Rob


Mon May 09, 2011 4:30 pm
Cinematographer

Joined: Sat Aug 22, 2009 6:19 pm
Posts: 617
Post Re: 138 - Black Narcissus
Robert Holloway wrote:
and to think it was all shot in a studio!
Rob


Yeah, you can tell by the backgrounds and many of the outdoor props. But it still was a visual treat in so many delicious ways.


Mon May 09, 2011 6:41 pm
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