Thursday, 11 December 2014

Film Review: Black Narcissus (1947)

Figure 1: Movie poster

"Back Narcissus" (1967) is an adaptation of Rumer Godden's 1939 novel which had the same name, the film its self was extremely ahead of its time for the content in which it was based on and for its production design as it was filmed all in a studio yet you are fooled to believe it is filmed at location. It was directed by British film-makers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, The film is a tale of nuns who have been relocated to help a village in the mountains and live in an old not in use brothel.The intentions of the nuns was to build a medic centre and a school for the children but a young Mr Dean (David Farrar) who is there to help the sister settle in to their new home is causing the nuns to doubt their faith and vows to God.

Figure 2: Still shot of one of the sisters ringing the bell on top of the mountain

Throughout the film there is many sexual references building tension between both the sisters and the viewers. The references aren't to obvious but are more subtle all except one were Sister Ruth (KathByron leen) announces to the sisterhood that she is giving up the order and is then later discovered wearing a very striking red dress and also slowly applied lipstick in an erotic way. The lighting throughout the film is also an indication of the sexual tension and frustration is getting to the sisters. Mark Duguid agrees with use of sexuall references and states "Powell and Pressburger's delirious melodrama is one of the most erotic films ever to emerge from British cinema" (M Duguid, BFI).


Figure 3: Shot showing an example of the dramatic matte paintings

One of the key features in what makes this film so amazing in the sense that it really submerges the viewer into really  thinking that the matte paintings and set designs are real. The film was preponderantly shot in Pinewood studios in London with the odd Jungle shot filmed in Kent which is really hard to believe whilst watching the film. Empire magazine also commented on this feature by saying " No amount of CGI could ever capture the dramatic splendour of the beautiful matte paintings that push a church bell" (Empire)

Black Narcissus

Figure 4: Sister Ruth beginning to crack from the sexual tension

There is no doubt that "Black Narcissus" is one of the best films to ever come from British Cinema purely for the fact that it tackled issues of the time that would not have deemed appropriate for its time so they it was done in a creative and subtle way to make it possible. The Films is one of the most acclaimed movies of all time with it being on of the rare few films to be awarded 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Neil Smith a journalist for total wrote a good summary of what this film is about. "...there's so much more to admire here - from the heightened reality conveyed by the Pinewood sets to Jack Cardiff's sumptuous, Oscar-winning Technicolor cinematography" (N Smith Total)

Illustration List

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M Duguid BFI:

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