Archive for the ‘john minton’ Tag

A wed wose, how womantic

Kathleen Byron in Black Narcissus

Kathleen 'The Lips' Byron in Black Narcissus

Kathleen Byron in Black NarcissusKathleen Byron in Black NarcissusI’m a Romantic at heart. I love the paintings of Johns Minton, Craxton and Piper (as gorgeously gathered at the Barbican in 1987 in A Paradise Lost). And I love Jack Cardiff’s Technicolor red. I was saddened to hear of his passing yesterday – he was one of British cinema’s greatest. I met him once a couple of years ago at a tribute in his honour at BAFTA – and the honour was mine .

When I first saw it in my 20s, I was really taken by Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) with James Mason and Ava Gardner, for its 50s surrealism and its Romantic colour. Cardiff shot it for the literary maverick Albert Lewin (who also made the off-beat The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)). It reminds me of the graphic style of Abram Games, my mum’s teacher and mentor, designer of the quintessentially 50s Festival of Britain logo.

Much though I admire A Matter of Life and Death (1946) and The Red Shoes (1948), it is the third great film he shot for Powell & Pressburger that I reckon marks the highpoint of his career – Black Narcissus, for which he won an Oscar in 1947. How can you forget Kathleen Byron’s bright red lips?

I was fortunate to encounter Michael Powell – it was in Cambridge in 1985 at the Arts Cinema (then in Market Passage)  when I was at college. I had set up the University Film Society and he visited with his Mrs, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, for a screening of Colonel Blimp. I have his autograph on the Arts Cinema programme on my Wall of Honour – alongside my signed picture of Neil Armstrong (swopped for a signed Damned single with editor Mark Reynolds), and photos of Chaplin, Muhammad Ali and Gandhi. Powell and Cardiff were perfectly attuned in their neo-Romantic outlook.

On the plane back from Dublin this evening I read he spent two years developing a script for my beloved Ulysses in the early 60s but it never came to anything. I reckon it is filmable but you’d need to stray a long way from Joyce (but not in spirit) to pull it off. I organised a 16mm screening of Joseph Strick’s 1967 effort with Milo O’Shea in my 20s for some reason that entirely escapes me now.

Cardiff was born on 18th September (1914) a date which has a special meaning for me – but I’m not telling you why. The point is we’re connected – 18th September, Elstree, The Archers, Lewin. (Powell was born 30th September, Lewin on the 23rd and Madeline Kahn on the 29th, significant clustering vibe here.) Cardiff was a real craftsman of my grandfather Ian Harris’ generation and had that special English Romanticism. I was struggling all day yesterday as I left England for Ireland to pick anything out of St George’s Day. Those red crosses of St George all over the pubs were just an unsettling embarrassment. But Cardiff’s red shoes, red rose (in Life & Death), red lips have the quintessence of what is great about England. In the words of Lili von Shtupp, with her distanced Teutonic view across the water: A wed wose, how womantic!

A Matter of Life and Death

Kim 'The Lips' Hunter in A Matter of Life and Death

A Matter of Life and Death

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