am the cinema." British director Michael Powell once famously remarked to a French interviewer. words that might sound like an empty trumpet call if they‘d come from almost anyone else. but in this case are certainly more warranted than most.
It’s worth remembering Powell first apprenticed with the great silent ﬁlmmaker Rex Ingram in Nice in the mid-20s. He himself started directing in Britain during the 30s. turning out almost two dozen ‘quota quickies‘ before he got to make a more personal project. The Edge of the World in 1937. Throughout the 40s and 50s. his series of films made in collaboration with Hungarian-born writer Emeric Pressburger — A Matter of Ltfe and Death. The Red Shoes and Tales of Hoffman among them — constituted the finest. most imaginative body of work the British screen has ever produced. However. the furore caused by the reaction to his 1960 solo offering Peeping 'lom. now recognised as one of the milestone movies about the movies. largely finished off his career. There followed only a couple more projects in Australia and many might-have- beens. but the later part of the 70s saw a new generation of writers and filmmakers (Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola among them) begin a revival of interest in his work that continued right up until his death in I990.
‘I know more about the cinema than anyone else because I'm it.’ he said when I met him in the autumn of I986. and with the life that he‘d had behind him. this callow young whippersnapper wasn’t going to argue. To meet someone who virtually exempliﬁed the course of the 20th century‘s great art form was an honour more than anything else.
‘Art is art and you can’t sell out on it.’
Perched. alert. in a quiet corner of the bar at the George Hotel. he was in [Edinburgh that day to promote the first volume of his autobiography A Life In Movies and introduce a screening of the 1950 Powell-Pressburger rural melodrama Gone '12) [fart/z at the Filmhousc. at that time. just the latest in a substantial programme of revivals initiated by the British Film Institute. 'I‘hankfully. this allowed viewers to rediscover his films. on the silver screen where they belonged. a maverick. inspirational body of
. work that waited far too long to receive its critical due. I’d persuaded a certain defunct Scottish style magazine that Michael Powell was much more exciting than anything else going on
in celluloidland that month and thus I got to meet the man who remains one of my personal heroes.
A week later the editor informed me that 81- year-old directors weren‘t quite their bag after all. and the piece was never published.
Bright-eyed. eager to communicate. Michael Powell I met certainly belied his years. There was an impish quality there. an irrepressible sense of humour. but also a certain enthusiastic arrogance which indicated a more difficult side to his nature as well. Appropriately.
Carl Boehm as Mark In Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom
1995 will mark 100 years of cinema. In the first of The List’s special
centenary interv1ews, Trevor Johnston remembers meeting the great he was m“ high on [he ﬁrst volume of his BI‘ltlSh maverick DlI‘CCIOI‘ MICHAEL POWELL and found hlmself memoirs. a substantial. highly detailed tome that rubbing S\houldﬁrg with a 06mm passionately reﬂects his profound involvement
. . C . .
in the trials and triumphs of creation. while doing little to dispel his reputation as a hard- headed perfectionist and something of a ladies' man. ‘It’s a film book all right. but its message is that all art is one.’ he proclaimed over the table with a look of deep seriousness. ‘I look on my
10 The List 16 December 1994—12 January I995