Black Narcissus

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Powell & Pressburger’s Black Narcissus is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen, along with The Red Shoes, The Life of Pi, Cinema Paradiso, Amelie and Malena.

Shot in 1947, this film did not have the special effects that today’s films use and yet it still delivers.  Many directors and actors cite Black Narcissus as a great example of stunning cinematography.

Black Narcissus

Beautiful as the film is, the cast and story are wonderful too.  I grew up watching a lot of movies from the 30’s and 40’s and what I like about these eras are the number of stories written for women.  These were proper stories instead of women running around in short skirts being ‘ditzy’.  Personally, I feel this is the best performance Deborah Kerr has given in a film.

A group of Anglican nuns move into what used to be an old palace in the Himalyas to set up a convent. They want to run a school to educate the local children, as well as administer first aid and help the sick.  Tensions start to mount between Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron), who is mentally unstable, and Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr), who has only recently become Sister Superior.  The nuns rescue a young girl called Kanchi (Jean Simmons) from a beating and take her back to the convent to live.  They seem part-horrified, part-intrigued by the young girl’s blatant sexuality.  Caught up in this is Mr Dean (David Farrar) who acts as an agent between the nuns and the locals.  Sister Ruth sees that Mr Dean likes Sister Clodagh and becomes irrationally jealous of their burdening friendship as she likes him herself.  Things escalate and lead to a dramatic conclusion.

Sister Ruth with Kanchi

Even though the air is fresh, the mountains/surroundings are vast, the flowers bright, and the sky is blue, as a viewer you can feel the intense claustrophobia that starts to effect the nuns’ behaviour.  The old palace has a brooding menace that haunts every shadow and corner.  You can see how somebody already unwell could lose their mind.

Mr Dean with Sister Ruth

If you love old movies, beautiful cinematography and a good tale, then I thoroughly recommend Black Narcissus.

Sister Ruth and Sister Clodagh

What is the most beautiful film you have ever seen?

 

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Movies, Memories and Childhood: Part II – Spielberg

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I was lucky growing up.  Born in the mid-70’s, all the best children and family films were enjoyed by my generation.  These films have become part of pop culture and are still much loved today.

For me, one name is synonymous with my childhood: Spielberg.  My generation grew up with Steven Spielberg’s movies.  Without sounding too much like Dawson Leary, Spielberg’s films have a magic that other directors don’t have.  I think the closest directors in creating Spielbergian magic these days would be JJ Abrams and M Night Shymalan, the latter with Signs in particular.

ET and Elliot in the famous bike scene

Certain scenes in his movies really stand out for me; in Jaws, the mother of the little boy (killed by the shark) walks up to Brody and slaps him, Brody seeing the shark…..the opening scene of Raiders and Indy shooting the assassin in the market…..in ET it’s the scene with the bicycles and the goodbye….in Empire of the Sun it’s the scene with Jim and his Mother in the crowd…..there are too many moments to name, but I remember them all.

Empire of the Sun

Some are dismissive of his work for this very reason, but how can you dismiss a director who made Empire of the Sun, War Horse, Lincoln and Schindler’s List?  Every Spielberg film has at least one truly beautiful moment.  The light, the music (by the amazing John Williams), the emotion…..Spielberg is like a magician, turning scenes into iconic cinematic moments.

The Goonies

Spielberg has also written and/or been executive producer of other childhood favourites such as, The Goonies, Gremlins and Back to the Future.  One talented guy.

More recently Steven Spielberg directed the wonderful ‘The Adventures of Tintin’.  My 5 year old loved it.  It is so good that after 10 minutes, you forget it’s animated.

Jaws

I always feel Steven Spielberg underrates himself as a director in interviews.  Being humble is a very good quality, but if I ever had the chance to tell him, I would tell him how beautiful and inspiring his films have been and how he is still inspiring the next generation of children (my son).  I hope he keeps on making wonderful films.

“I interpret my dreams one way and make a movie out of them and people see my movies and make them part of their dreams” Steven Spielberg

images: IMDb

Movies, Memories and Childhood: Part I

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My first blog post referred to my first ‘serious’ movie as a child, the Raiders of the Lost Ark, and its impact on me.  This post is about an entirely different sort of movie and why it is special to me.

Disney’s The Sleeping Beauty

I was just over 4 years of age and my brother was 2 when my Grandma (my Father’s Mother) took us to a local independent cinema that was screening The Sleeping Beauty.  We had never been to the cinema before, but our little baby brother was fighting for his life in the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital and our Grandma wanted to treat us whilst we were staying with her.

For two hours (the cinema had a proper break in the middle with an usherette selling ice-creams – superb!), we were immersed in this beautifully animated, magical story.  The film made me forget how much I was missing my Mummy (our parents were staying with our brother in the hospital) and when I would see her again.

Disney’s Maleficent

I had forgotten this memory, as if it had been locked away, but I recently bought my eldest son a Disney film and when we sat to watch it, there was a trailer for the restored version of The Sleeping Beauty. I started crying because it triggered my memory of that time that was tinged with uncertainty, even down to remembering my Grandma bringing chocolate for us in her beige leather handbag and the scent of her L’Air du Temps perfume.

I am now looking for The Sleeping Beauty on dvd.  For someone who is a self-confessed tomboy, it will be a little at odds with my film collection.  However, I don’t care because the four year old me will now always be grateful to Disney for my moment of much-needed escapism and a film that will always remind me of my beloved Grandma, who died in 1994.  If Disney does this for all sad, worried or frightened children, then they’re okay in my book.

“This is a time when we need to smile more and Hollywood movies are supposed to do that for people in difficult times.” Spielberg

images: Disney

Lost in Translation

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I love Sofia Coppola.  She is one of my favourite directors.  In a sea of male directors, Sofia has become well respected in her profession.  Sofia has, like many brilliant directors, her own style that is instantly recognisable.  You know you are watching one of her films.

Lost in Translation

As visually beautiful as Ms Coppola’s films are, I love her focus on her characters too.  Of all her work, I think, personally, this is truest in the exemplary Lost in Translation.

Charlotte, Lost in Translation

Starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen, and set in Tokyo, this has a winning formula from the start.

Two bored and lonely individuals, Charlotte, newly married and pottering about in the hotel she is staying in whilst her husband (a photographer, played by Giovanni Ribisi) goes off to work, and Bob, an ageing action movie star staying in Tokyo to film a commercial, form an unlikely friendship.  They set about exploring Tokyo and turning their time there into an adventure, whilst getting to know one another.

Bob:  It gets a whole lot more complicated when you have kids.

Charlotte:  It’s scary.

Bob: The most terrifying day of your life is the day the first one is born.

Charlotte:  Nobody ever tells you that.

Bob:  Your life, as you know it…is gone.  Never to return.  But they learn how to walk, and they learn how to talk…and you want to be with them.  And they turn out to be the most delightful people you will ever meet in your life.

Charlotte:  That’s nice.

I love seeing Scarlett in a non-sexpot role for a change.  She is a great actress and gets to show this through Charlotte.  I love Bill Murray as a comic actor, but he is wonderful as Bob, bringing a vulnerability and sensitivity to him, proving what a great serious actor Bill is too.

There are some truly touching moments in the film, none more so than the ending, which is not clichéd either.

Lost in Translation is essentially a non-traditional love story. A non-chick flick, chick flick for the more discerning film lover.

lostintrans

Lost in Translation: 2003

Images: IMDb