Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger's Black Narcissus (1947)

Figure 1. Black Narcissus poster 

Made in 1947 Black Narcissus is a truly unique film. Dealing with themes such as tension and isolation the story focuses on nuns making a former brothel in the Himalayas into a nunnery as well as a school and hospital. The nuns become lonely and sexually frustrated in this new place.

This rather than being portrayed by the actors is instead portrayed by the environment. In his review Uhlich describes the set, “those matte-painting vanishing perspectives and cinematographer Jack Cardiff’s harshly exaggerated lighting cues—creates a psychologically charged space in which an ungodly tragedy can unfold” (Uhlich, 2012). The film was all made in a studio with Matte Paintings and this artificiality makes the environment seem strange which only adds to the film. The matte paintings used in the film are incredibly detailed and give the impression of a real place.

 Figure 2. Set with Matte Painting

The set is also great at showing the hysteria of sister Ruth. As mentioned by Brussat “Michael Powell has called it an erotic film, and so it is on many different levels. There is the sexual arousal of Sister Ruth who casts aside her habit and puts on a red dress and thick red lipstick” (Brussat, s.d). When she changes her clothes and appearance the lighting also changes. The colours change from blue to read to show her new attitude and her newfound sexual desire.

 Figure 3. Sister Ruth applies her lipstick

The memories and flashbacks in the film also help us to understand the nuns desires. Kendrick recognises this in his review “Yet, as the film makes clear, walls have memories. In fact, memory is one of the most striking themes throughout Black Narcissus, as it becomes the avenue through which ideals are shattered and dreams disillusioned.”(Kendrick, s.d). These flashbacks as mentioned in the quote add to the sorry feeling we get for the nuns. There are also other visual references to how the nuns feel. For example the birdcages show how they feel unfree and the flowers show their innocence. Also their white clothes become dirty towards the end however as they leave the rain falls which could be symbolism for them being cleansed.

Though this film isn't always clear it is indeed thought provoking and uses it’s set to advance it’s story.

Illustration List

Powell, M/Pressburger, E (1947) Figure 1. Black Narcissus poster http://www.doctormacro.com/Images/Posters/B/Poster%20-%20Black%20Narcissus_10.jpg (Accessed on 9/12/14)
Powell, M/Pressburger, E (1947) Figure 2. Set with Matte Painting http://mmimageslarge.moviemail-online.co.uk/Black-Narcissus-5711_1.jpg (Accessed on 9/12/14)
Powell, M/Pressburger, E (1947) Figure 3. Sister Ruth applies her lipstick http://image.glamourdaze.com/2012/09/1940s-lipstick-Kathleen-Byron-in-Black-NarcissusC.jpg (Accessed on 9/12/14)

Brussat, F/M (s.d) http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/films/films.php?id=20119 (Accessed on 9/12/14)
Kendrick, J (s.d) http://www.qnetwork.com/index.php?page=review&id=2412 (Accessed on 9/12/14)

Uhlich, K (2012) http://www.timeout.com/us/film/black-narcissus-3 (Accessed on 9/12/14)


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