Powell and Pressburger

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The Archers
Industry Film production company
Fate Partnership ended
Founded 1943
Defunct 1957
Headquarters United Kingdom, {{{location_city}}}, {{{location_country}}}
Key people Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Products Contraband (1940), 49th Parallel (1941), One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Canterbury Tale (1944), I Know Where I'm Going! (1945), A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), The Small Back Room (1949), The Elusive Pimpernel (1950), Gone to Earth (1950), The Tales of Hoffmann (1951), Oh... Rosalinda!! (1955), The Battle of the River Plate (1956), Ill Met by Moonlight (1957), (among others)

The British film-making partnership of Michael Powell (1905–1990) and Emeric Pressburger (1902–1988) — together often known as The Archers, the name of their production company – made a series of influential films in the 1940s and 50s. Their collaborations — 24 films between 1939 and 1972 – were mainly derived from original stories by Pressburger with the script written by both Pressburger & Powell. Powell did most of the directing while Pressburger did most of the work of the producer and also assisted with the editing, especially the way the music was used. Unusually, the pair shared a writer-director-producer credit for most of their films. The best known of these are The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947) and The Red Shoes (1948).

In 1981 Powell and Pressburger were recognised for their contributions to British cinema with the BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award, the most prestigious award given by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

History[edit]

Early films[edit]

Michael Powell was already an experienced director, having worked his way up from making silent films to the First World War drama The Spy in Black (1939), his first film for Hungarian émigré producer Alexander Korda. Emeric Pressburger, who had come from Hungary in 1935, already worked for Korda, and was asked to do some rewrites for the film.[1] This collaboration would be the first of nineteen, most over the next 18 years.

After Powell had made two further films for Korda, he was reunited with Pressburger in 1940 for Contraband, the first in a run of Powell and Pressburger films set during the Second World War. The second was 49th Parallel (1941), which won Pressburger an Academy Award for Best Story. Both are Hitchcock-like thrillers made as anti-Nazi propaganda.

Birth of The Archers[edit]

The pair adopted a joint writer-producer-director credit for their next film, One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942) and made reference to "The Archers" in the credits. In 1943 they incorporated their own production company, Archers Film Productions, and adopted a distinctive archery target logo which began each film. The joint credit "Written, Produced and Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger" indicates their joint responsibility for their own work and that they weren't beholden to any studio or other producers.[2]

In a letter to Wendy Hiller in 1942, asking her to appear in Colonel Blimp, Pressburger explicitly set out 'The Archers' Manifesto'. Its five points express the pair's intentions:[3]

  1. We owe allegiance to nobody except the financial interests which provide our money; and, to them, the sole responsibility of ensuring them a profit, not a loss.
  2. Every single foot in our films is our own responsibility and nobody else's. We refuse to be guided or coerced by any influence but our own judgement.
  3. When we start work on a new idea we must be a year ahead, not only of our competitors, but also of the times. A real film, from idea to universal release, takes a year. Or more.
  4. No artist believes in escapism. And we secretly believe that no audience does. We have proved, at any rate, that they will pay to see the truth, for other reasons than her nakedness.
  5. At any time, and particularly at the present, the self-respect of all collaborators, from star to prop-man, is sustained, or diminished, by the theme and purpose of the film they are working on.

They began to form a group of regular cast and crew members who were to work with them on many films over the next twelve years. Hardly any of these people were ever under contract to The Archers. They were hired film by film. But Powell and Pressburger soon learnt who they could work well with and these people enjoyed working with them.[4] When Raymond Massey was offered the part of the Prosecuting Attorney in A Matter of Life and Death his cabled reply was "For The Archers anytime, this world or the next."[5][page needed]

Powell and Pressburger also co-produced a few films by other directors under the banner of The Archers: The Silver Fleet (1943), written and directed by Vernon Sewell and Gordon Wellesley, based on a story by Emeric Pressburger,[7] and The End of the River (1947) directed by Derek N. Twist to which both Powell and Pressburger contributed un-credited writing.[8] Both Sewell and Twist had worked with Powell & Pressburger previously on other films and were being given their first chance as directors.

The remainder of the war saw them release a series of acclaimed films:

The collaboration[edit]

Generally, Pressburger would create the original story (for all their films from 1940–1946 and The Red Shoes) and write the first draft of the script. They would then pass the script back and forth a few times – they could never work on it together in the same room. For the actual dialogue, Pressburger would know what he wanted the characters to say but Powell would often supply some of the actual words.

They would both act as producers, perhaps Pressburger slightly more so than Powell, since he could soothe the feathers ruffled by Powell's forthright manner. They became their own producers mainly to stop anyone else interfering, since they had a considerable degree of freedom, especially under Rank, to make just about any film they wanted.

The direction was nearly all done by Powell, but even so The Archers generally worked as a team, with the cast and crew often making suggestions. Pressburger was always on hand, usually on the studio floor, to make sure that these late changes fitted seamlessly into the story.

Once the filming was finished, Powell would usually go off for a walk in the hills of Scotland to clear his head, but Pressburger was often closely involved in the editing, especially in the way the music was used. Pressburger was a musician himself and had played the violin in an orchestra in Hungary.

When the film was finally ready and Powell was back from the Highlands, it would usually be Powell that would be the front man in any promotional work, such as interviews for the trade papers or fan magazines.

Because collaborative efforts such as Powell's and Pressburger's were, and continue to be, unusual in the film industry, and because of the influence of the auteur theory, which elevates the director as a film's primary creator, Pressburger has sometimes been dismissed as "Michael Powell's scriptwriter", but Powell himself was the first to say, in many interviews, that he couldn't have done most of what he did without Pressburger.

Post-war success and decline[edit]

End of the partnership[edit]

In the early 1950s Powell and Pressburger began to produce fewer films, with notably less success. The Archers' productions officially came to an end in 1957, and the pair separated to pursue their individual careers. The separation was quite amicable and they remained devoted friends for the rest of their lives.[6]

Later collaboration[edit]

The pair would reunite for a couple of films:

Filmography[edit]

Awards, nominations and honours[edit]

Four of their films are among the Top 50 British films of the 20th century according to the British Film Institute, with The Red Shoes placing in the top 10.

Year Film Award Powell Pressburger Others
1937 The Edge of the World Presented at the Venice Film Festival YesY
1943 49th Parallel Oscar nominated for Best Picture YesY
1943 49th Parallel Oscar winner for Best Writing, Original Story YesY
1943 49th Parallel Oscar nominated for Best Writing, Screenplay YesY with Rodney Ackland
1943 One of Our Aircraft Is Missing Oscar nominated for Best Writing, Original Screenplay YesY YesY
1943 One of Our Aircraft Is Missing Oscar nominated for Best Effects, Special Effects Ronald Neame
(photographic) and
C.C. Stevens (sound)
1946 A Matter of Life and Death First ever Royal Film Performance YesY YesY
1948 A Matter of Life and Death Winner Danish Bodil Award for Best European Film YesY YesY
1948 Black Narcissus Oscar winner for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color Alfred Junge
1948 Black Narcissus Oscar winner for Best Cinematography, Color Jack Cardiff
1948 The Red Shoes Nominated for Venice Film Festival Golden Lion YesY YesY
1949 The Red Shoes Oscar winner for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color Hein Heckroth and
Arthur Lawson
1949 The Red Shoes Oscar winner for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture Brian Easdale
1949 The Red Shoes Oscar nominated for Best Picture YesY YesY
1949 The Red Shoes Oscar nominated for Best Writing, Original Story YesY
1949 The Red Shoes Oscar nominated for Best Film Editing YesY Reginald Mills
1950 The Small Back Room BAFTA Award nominated for Best British Film YesY YesY
1951 The Tales of Hoffmann Oscar nominated for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color Hein Heckroth
1951 The Tales of Hoffmann Oscar nominated for Best Costume Design, Color Hein Heckroth
1951 The Tales of Hoffmann Cannes Film Festival nominated for Grand Prize of the Festival YesY YesY
1951 The Tales of Hoffmann Winner Silver Berlin Bear from Berlin International Film Festival as Best Musical YesY YesY
1956 The Battle of the River Plate Selected for the Royal Film Performance YesY YesY
1957 The Battle of the River Plate BAFTA Award nominated for Best British Film YesY YesY
1957 The Battle of the River Plate BAFTA Award nominated for Best British Screenplay YesY YesY
1957 The Battle of the River Plate BAFTA Award nominated for Best Film from any Source YesY YesY
1959 Luna de Miel Cannes Film Festival nominated for Golden Palm YesY
1970 Partial retrospective of their films at the National Film Theatre YesY YesY
1972 The Boy Who Turned Yellow Children's Film Foundation winner of the 'Chiffy' award for the best film YesY
1978 Made Hon DLitt, University of East Anglia YesY
1978 Made Hon DLitt, University of Kent YesY
1978 Retrospective of their extant works at the National Film Theatre YesY YesY
1980 Dartmouth Film Award YesY
1981 BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award YesY YesY
1982 Awarded Career Gold Lion from the Venice Film Festival YesY
1983 Made Fellows of the British Film Institute (BFI) YesY YesY
1987 Awarded Hon Doctorate, Royal College of Art YesY
1987 Akira Kurosawa Award from San Francisco International Film Festival YesY

Powell and Pressburger, the people and their films have been the subject of many documentaries and books as well as doctoral research.[10][11][12]

An English Heritage blue plaque to commemorate Powell and Pressburger was unveiled on 17 February 2014 by Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker at Dorset House, Gloucester Place, London, where The Archers had their offices from 1942-47.[13]

Critical opinions[edit]

British film critics gave the films of Powell and Pressburger a mixed reaction at the time, acknowledging their creativity but sometimes questioning their motivations and taste. For better or worse, The Archers were always out of step with mainstream British cinema.[16][17][18][19]

From the 1970s onwards, British critical opinion began to revise this lukewarm assessment, with their first BFI retrospective in 1970 and another in 1978. They are now seen as playing a key part in the history of British film, and have become influential and iconic for many film-makers of later generations, such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and George A. Romero, among others.[20]

Regular cast & crew[edit]

Powell and Pressburger reused actors and crew members in a number of films. Actors who were part of The Archers' "stock company" include:

Notable crew members include:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ a b Powell 1986, pp 302–303
  2. ^ Powell 1986, pp 386–387
  3. ^ Macdonald, 1994. pp 189–190
  4. ^ Powell, 1986. p. 579. David Farrar was the only person ever given a multi-film contract by The Archers
  5. ^ Powell, 1986
  6. ^ a b BBC Arena documentary, A Pretty British Affair (1981)
  7. ^ The Silver Fleet at the Internet Movie Database
  8. ^ The End of the River at the Internet Movie Database
  9. ^ Powell, 1992. p. 81
  10. ^ "Pilgrims in Print". British Film Institute. BFI.org. Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  11. ^ "Powell and Pressburger: Books". Amazon. Amazon.com. Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  12. ^ Thiéry, Natacha (2003). Photogénie du désir: les films de Michael Powell et Emeric Pressburger, 1945–1950 (PhD thesis) (in French). Paris: Université de la Sorbonne nouvelle. "URL may only take you to an index page, from which the thesis can be searched for" 
  13. ^ "POWELL, MICHAEL (1905-1990) & PRESSBURGER, EMERIC (1902-1988)". English Heritage. Retrieved 4 May 2014. 
  14. ^ Entertainment Weekly
  15. ^ A Biographical Dictionary of the Cinema
  16. ^ Contemporary reviews of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)
  17. ^ Contemporary reviews of A Canterbury Tale (1944)
  18. ^ Contemporary reviews of I Know Where I'm Going! (1945)
  19. ^ Contemporary reviews of A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
  20. ^ Mirasol, M. (5 March 2010). ""Black Narcissus," which electrified Scorsese". Chicago Sun-Times. suntimes.com. Retrieved 13 December 2010. 
Bibliography

External links[edit]