Devils debris


The Devils (1971).

There is only one English feature director whose work is in the first rank. Michael Powell is the only director to make a clear political analysis in his films, his work is unequalled. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is the finest English feature, and A Canterbury Tale and A Matter of Life and Death are not far behind. When he made these films he was heavily criticized for his treatment of serious themes. Blimp was banned by Churchill and remained in a savaged version for nearly forty years, a plea for tolerance and regard for the enemy as human made at the height of the war there is no more courageous English film. It is a tragedy he has made so few films in the last twenty years, none in the last ten, and a lasting condemnation of all those who make films. He was a major casualty of the spurious social realism of the sixties, whose practitioners have grown fat and invaded the media with their well-scrubbed minds.

Thus Derek Jarman writing in 1980. Ian Christie quoted Jarman’s sentiments in Arrows of Desire: the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (1985), pointing to the shared attitudes of the two directors, especially their outsider stance. There were other correspondences: both maintained an abiding interest in the artistic scope of cinema; both were marginalised by the British film world during their lives then lauded after their deaths. Michael Powell for years attempted to produce a film of The Tempest; Derek Jarman, of course, succeeded.


Return to the Edge of the World (1978).

Then there’s this odd coincidence from Return to the Edge of the World, a short documentary made in 1978 in which Powell and actor John Laurie returned to the Scottish island of Foula where they’d made Powell’s first feature film, The Edge of the World in 1937. The film opens with shots of Pinewood studios and the very first things we see are this pair of abandoned statues which anyone who’s seen Ken Russell’s The Devils will recognise from an early scene. Derek Jarman was the production designer on The Devils so these would have been created according to his instruction. I only noticed this recently when watching Return to the Edge of the World again as it’s now an extra on the BFI DVD of Edge of the World. No need to dwell on the inadvertent symbolism of abandoned statues and languishing careers.

Powell and Pressburger’s marvellous The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp was reissued recently. John Patterson discussing its writer and director tells us why the most English of movies often benefit from an outsider’s perspective.


Previously on { feuilleton }
Rex Ingram’s The Magician
The Devils on DVD
Derek Jarman’s music videos
Derek Jarman’s Neutron
Mister Jarman, Mister Moore and Doctor Dee
Powell’s Bluebeard
The Tale of Giulietta
The Tempest illustrated
In the Shadow of the Sun by Derek Jarman
The Angelic Conversation
The life and work of Derek Jarman