Michael Powell


Director, Producer, Screenwriter
Michael Powell

About

Also Known As
Michael Latham Powell
Birth Place
Kent, England, GB
Born
September 30, 1905
Died
February 19, 1990
Cause of Death
Cancer

Biography

Michael Powell's introduction to the film business came at 20, when, with the assistance of his father, he secured a job with Rex Ingram's film unit based in Nice, France. In the late 1920s, Powell worked at Elstree Studios for Harry Lachman and Alfred Hitchcock. During the early 30s, Powell cut his directorial teeth on a number of forgettable, low-budget "quota quickies" for independent...

Family & Companions

Frances Reidy
Wife
Actor. Married from 1943 until her death on July 5, 1983.
Thelma Schoonmaker
Wife
Film editor. Married in May 1984 until his death; worked frequently with Martin Scorcese.

Bibliography

"Million Dollar Movie"
Michael Powell, Random House (1995)
"A Life in Movies"
Michael Powell (1987)
"A Waiting Game"
Michael Powell (1979)
"200,000 Feet on Foula"
Michael Powell (1939)

Biography

Michael Powell's introduction to the film business came at 20, when, with the assistance of his father, he secured a job with Rex Ingram's film unit based in Nice, France. In the late 1920s, Powell worked at Elstree Studios for Harry Lachman and Alfred Hitchcock. During the early 30s, Powell cut his directorial teeth on a number of forgettable, low-budget "quota quickies" for independent production companies in England.

In 1938, after making "The Edge of the World" (1937), a personal exploration of man's battle with nature on an isolated island off the coast of Scotland, Powell was brought together with German scriptwriter Emric Pressburger to develop "The Spy in Black" (1939) as a vehicle for Conrad Veidt. Powell made two more films without Pressburger, including co-directing "The Thief of Bagdad" (1940), a remarkable fantasy film, before forming a partnership with Pressburger in their own production company, the Archers.

Some of the most notable Powell-Pressburger achievements include "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" (1944), a satiric view of the British military that incurred the wrath of Winston Churchill, "A Canterbury Tale" (1944) and "I Know Where I'm Going" (1945), lyrical, often romantic, but sharp films which were, according to Powell, "a crusade against materialism"; "A Matter of Life and Death" (1945, known as "Stairway to Heaven" in the US), an epic but thoughtful fantasy film; "Black Narcissus" (1947), one of the most gorgeous films ever shot in color; and the lush "The Red Shoes" (1948), Archers' most prestigious effort and still cited as the best ballet story ever made.

Preoccupied with technique, Powell strove to achieve what he called "the unity of art." The essence of Powell's visual style and his attitude toward art and life, are best displayed in "Black Narcissus" (1947) and "The Tales of Hoffmann" (1951). "Black Narcissus" chronicles the failure of a group of Anglican nuns to establish a mission in the Himalayan mountains. Powell shot virtually all of the film in a studio to maintain complete control over color, setting and atmosphere in service to the film's complex character's and theme. With its constant undercurrent of repressed sexuality and the mystical power of nature, the film also reveals Powell's paganistic philosophy. Finally, for the film's dramatic climax, Powell first used what he called "composed film": Brian Easdale wrote the music for the scene before the dramatic action was plotted out and measured with a stop watch; the sequence was then shot and edited to mirror the rhythms of the music. "The Tales of Hoffmann," an eccentric, astonishingly expressionistic ballet-opera version of Jacques Offenbach's last work, stands as Powell's most magnificent attempt to fuse the arts into film form. Perhaps its only rival in this context is Disney's worthy but uneven and often overrated "Fantasia."

After Powell and Pressburger dissolved their partnership in 1956, Powell's most notorious work was the controversial "Peeping Tom" (1960). This brilliant, endlessly self-reflexive film is the story of a killer who stalks his female victims with a spear-and-mirror-equipped camera, to film them as they watch themselves die. Critical attacks on "Peeping Tom" were so vicious and extreme that they virtually terminated Powell's career. This uniquely unsettling film has since been revived and praised by Martin Scorsese, among others, as one of the great movies about the psychology of filmmaking and film viewing.

Although he is now acknowledged as one of England's foremost filmmakers, Michael Powell paid an enormous price for cultivating his personal vision within the context of a national cinema almost totally at odds with his artistic concerns. His emphasis on the bold uses of imagery and color has inspired a whole generation of filmmakers, including Ken Russell, Nicolas Roeg, John Boorman and Derek Jarman.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Age of Consent (1969)
Director
They're a Weird Mob (1966)
Director
Bluebeard's Castle (1964)
Director
The Queen's Guards (1963)
Director
Peeping Tom (1960)
Director
Honeymoon (1959)
Director
Night Ambush (1958)
Director
Pursuit of the Graf Spee (1957)
Director
Oh... Rosalinda! (1955)
Director
The Fighting Pimpernel (1954)
Director
The Wild Heart (1952)
Director
The Tales of Hoffmann (1951)
Director
Gone to Earth (1950)
Director
Hour of Glory (1949)
Director
Hour of Glory (1949)
Director
The Red Shoes (1948)
Director
A Matter of Life and Death (1947)
Director
Black Narcissus (1947)
Director
I Know Where I'm Going (1945)
Director
A Canterbury Tale (1944)
Director
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)
Director
One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1941)
Director
49th Parallel (1941)
Director
The Thief of Bagdad (1940)
Director
The Lion Has Wings (1940)
Director
Contraband (1940)
Director
U-Boat 29 (1939)
Director
The Edge of the World (1937)
Director
Behind the Mask (1936)
Director
The Love Test (1935)
Director
Some Day (1935)
Director
Lazybones (1935)
Director
The Phantom Light (1935)
Director
The Girl in the Crowd (1935)
Director
Red Ensign (1934)
Director
The Fire Raisers (1934)
Director
Something Always Happens (1934)
Director
The Night of the Party (1934)
Director
Hotel Splendide (1932)
Director
My Friend the King (1932)
Director
His Lordship (1932)
Director
C.O.D. (1932)
Director
The Rasp (1932)
Director
Rynox (1932)
Director
Two Crowded Hours (1931)
Director
Riviera Revels (1928)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (Do Not Use) (2011)
Himself
Modern Love (1990)
Leila and the Wolves (1985)
Voice
Isn't It Shocking? (1973)
Peeping Tom (1960)
Mr. Lewis
The Edge of the World (1937)
The Garden of Allah (1927)
A tourist

Writer (Feature Film)

Night Ambush (1958)
Screenwriter
Oh... Rosalinda! (1955)
Screenplay
The Fighting Pimpernel (1954)
Writer
The Wild Heart (1952)
Writer
The Tales of Hoffmann (1951)
Screenwriter
Gone to Earth (1950)
Screenplay
The Red Shoes (1948)
Screenplay
Black Narcissus (1947)
Screenplay
A Matter of Life and Death (1947)
Screenplay
I Know Where I'm Going (1945)
From Story
A Canterbury Tale (1944)
From Story
A Canterbury Tale (1944)
Screenwriter
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)
Screenplay
One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1941)
Screenwriter
Contraband (1940)
Screenplay
The Edge of the World (1937)
Screenplay
Red Ensign (1934)
Screenplay
The Fire Raisers (1934)
Screenwriter
The Fire Raisers (1934)
From Original Story
Perfect Understanding (1933)
Adaptation
Rynox (1932)
Screenwriter
77 Park Lane (1931)
Writer
Caste (1930)
Screenwriter

Producer (Feature Film)

Age of Consent (1969)
Producer
Sebastian (1968)
Producer
The Queen's Guards (1963)
Producer
Peeping Tom (1960)
Producer
Night Ambush (1958)
Producer
Pursuit of the Graf Spee (1957)
Producer
Oh... Rosalinda! (1955)
Producer
The Fighting Pimpernel (1954)
Producer
The Wild Heart (1952)
Producer
The Tales of Hoffmann (1951)
Producer
Gone to Earth (1950)
Producer
The Red Shoes (1948)
Producer
A Matter of Life and Death (1947)
Producer
Black Narcissus (1947)
Producer
I Know Where I'm Going (1945)
Producer
A Canterbury Tale (1944)
Producer
49th Parallel (1941)
Producer
One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1941)
Producer

Music (Feature Film)

Next Friday (2000)
Song

Film Production - Construction/Set (Feature Film)

Careful (1992)
Props Buyer

Production Companies (Feature Film)

Age of Consent (1969)
Company
Sebastian (1968)
Company

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (Do Not Use) (2011)
Other
High Crimes (2002)
Advisor
Heaven (1987)
Other

Cast (Special)

Rudy Coby: Ridiculously Dangerous (1996)

Director (Short)

Return to the Edge of the World (1978)
Director
The Sorcerer's Apprentice (1955)
Director
An Airman's Letter to His Mother (1941)
Director

Cast (Short)

Return to the Edge of the World (1978)
Himself
An Airman's Letter to His Mother (1941)
Narrator

Cinematography (Short)

An Airman's Letter to His Mother (1941)
Cinematographer

Writer (Short)

An Airman's Letter to His Mother (1941)
Writer

Producer (Short)

Return to the Edge of the World (1978)
Producer
An Airman's Letter to His Mother (1941)
Producer

Life Events

1922

Worked as a bank clerk

1925

Became an assistant to director and producer Rex Ingram

1928

Was the stills photographer on Alfred Hitchcock's "Champagne"

1928

Worked as a film cutter on "A Knight in London"

1930

Debut as scenarist, the "quota quickie" feature "Caste"

1931

Feature directorial debut, "Two Crowded Hours"

1937

Helmed "The Edge of the World", about residents of one of the remote islands in the North Sea; caught attention of Alexander Korda; also appeared in opening scenes as a British tourist alongside wife Frances 'Frankie' Reidy

1939

Alexander Korda offered contract to direct "The Spy in Black"; initial teaming with frequent collaborator Emeric Pressburger

1940

First co-directing credit with Pressburger, "Contraband"

1940

Was one of the many directors on "The Thief of Bagdad"

1942

Shared Oscar nomination with Emeric Pressburger for the screenplay of "... One of Our Aircraft Is Missing"

1942

With Pressburger, established the production company The Archers

1943

First Archers production in color, "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp"; engendered controversy for its use of color during wartime rationing; also elicited the scorn of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who didn't like its critique of British stuffiness while the country was in the midst of WWII

1946

With Pressburger, co-directed, co-wrote and co-produced the unconventional "A Matter of Life and Death/Stairway to Heaven", which mixed fantasy elements with a dramatic story of a pilot who survives a crash through the mistake of an angel and then must plead his case to a heavenly tribunal

1947

Co-produced (through The Archers), co-wrote and co-directed "Black Narcissus"; film won Academy Awards for for Best Color Cinematography and Best Color Art Direction

1948

Made one of the most famous of the Archers Productions, "The Red Shoes", about a ballerina torn between two men; film received five Academy Award nominations including Best Picture

1950

With Pressburger, crafted the remake "The Elusive Pimpernel", starring David Niven; film was originally intended as a musical but the production numbers were dropped

1960

Produced and directed the controversial film "Peeping Tom"; at time of its release was nearly universally panned; has since been re-evaluated as a masterpiece

1966

Produced and directed "They're a Weird Mob", a comedy written by Pressburger (under the pen name Richard Imrie)

1979

Published novel "A Waiting Game"

1981

Served as senior director in residence at Zoetrope Studios

1984

Marries film editor Thelma Schoonmaker

1986

First edition of his autobiography, "A Life in Movies"

1995

Second volume of memoirs, "Million Dollar Movie", published posthumously

Photo Collections

The Red Shoes - Movie Poster
Here is the American 3-sheet movie poster for the British film The Red Shoes (1948), directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

Videos

Movie Clip

Matter Of Life And Death, A (1947) - Camera Obscura Clever Dr. Reeves (Roger Livesey) shows off his "Camera Obscura" for American friend June (Kim Hunter) in a moment of gratuitous razzle-dazzle in A Matter of Life and Death, 1947, a.k.a. Stairway to Heaven, directed by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger.
Matter Of Life And Death, A (1947) - Full Dress Affair June (Kim Hunter) and Dr. Reeves (Roger Livesey) enter suspended animation as "Conductor 71" (Marius Goring) visits Peter (David Niven) in Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell's A Matter of Life and Death, 1947, a.k.a. Stairway to Heaven.
Matter Of Life And Death, A (1947) - This Is A Story Of Two Worlds Ambitious celestial animation and narration by John Longden in this framing piece from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death, 1947, a.k.a. Stairway to Heaven.
Matter Of Life And Death, A (1947) - Court Of Appeal The Judge (Abraham Sofaer) and the set take center stage in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death, 1947, a.k.a. Stairway to Heaven.
Matter Of Life And Death, A (1947) - All These Great Men To Choose From Brit flier Peter (David Niven) and heavenly escort "Conductor 71" (Marius Goring), himself an executed French aristocrat, on director Michael Powell's famous 266-step staircase, discuss possible advocates for his death-sentence appeal, in A Matter of Life and Death, 1947, a.k.a. Stairway to Heaven.
Matter Of Life And Death, A (1947) - G For George Following credits, from the filmmaking partners known as "The Archers" (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger), David Niven as a British bomber pilot and Kim Hunter the American radio operator receiving his signal, in A Matter of Life and Death, 1947, a.k.a. Stairway to Heaven.
Red Shoes, The (1948) - Maybe Next Year Permitted to dance Swan Lake, at a local matinee, Victoria (Moira Shearer), candidate for the Lermontov ballet, is shocked when the master (Anton Walbrook) attends, later selecting her for his European tour, in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Red Shoes, 1948.
Red Shoes, The (1948) - The Red Shoes Dance On Ballet master Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), angry that his principal is quitting to get married, briefs composer Crasker (Marius Goring) on a new project, then expresses disgust to Ljubov (Leonide Massine) and Victoria (Moira Shearer), in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Red Shoes, 1948.
Red Shoes, The (1948) - Covent Garden In The Morning On location in London, 1948, new hires Julian (Marius Goring) and Vicky (Moira Shearer) arriving separately at the Royal Opera House, him meeting monitor George (Jerry Verno) and principal Irina (Ludmilla Tcherina), in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Red Shoes.
Red Shoes, The (1948) - Patron Of The Arts Student Julian (Marius Goring) realizing his work has been stolen by Professor Palmer (Austin Trevor), who is then invited by Lady Nelson (Irene Browne), her niece Victoria (Moira Shearer) in waiting, early in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Red Shoes, 1948.
Black Narcissus - Kanchi Outcast and bored native girl Kanchi (Jean Simmons) amuses herself with a dance until the "Little General," (Sabu), also taken in by the convent, intrudes, in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Black Narcissus, 1947.
Black Narcissus - You're All Jealous Of Me! Sister Superior Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) confronts Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron), who's cracking up, now out of her habit and ready to leave their Himalayan convent, in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Black Narcissus, 1947

Trailer

Family

Thomas William Powell
Father
Hotelier.
Mabel Powell
Mother
Hotelier.
Kevin Michael Powell
Son
Filmmaker. Born in August 1945.
Columba Powell
Son
Poet. Born in 1953; appeared in "Peeping Tom" (1960).

Companions

Frances Reidy
Wife
Actor. Married from 1943 until her death on July 5, 1983.
Thelma Schoonmaker
Wife
Film editor. Married in May 1984 until his death; worked frequently with Martin Scorcese.

Bibliography

"Million Dollar Movie"
Michael Powell, Random House (1995)
"A Life in Movies"
Michael Powell (1987)
"A Waiting Game"
Michael Powell (1979)
"200,000 Feet on Foula"
Michael Powell (1939)