Thursday, January 10, 2013

Black Narcissus

I have decided to re-dedicate this blog to music videos, so it may seem incongruous that I'm beginning with a feature film review.  However, seeing "Black Narcissus" in all its Technicolor glory last night at Film Forum definitely inspired my inner music video director.  From its expressionistic cinematography to its otherworldly production design and meticulous costuming, it's an eye candy lover's dream.  And, according to Film Forum's page for the film, this was "experiment in 'composed film' — the 10-12 minutes leading up to the finale were shot, stop-watch in hand, to a pre-composed score," so parts of it are like a long-form music video.  I was first introduced to this film a few years ago when my Art Direction teacher at NYU showed us a clip.  I always remembered how striking one of the shots was of looking down a Himalayan cliff.  This film was made in 1947, entirely on Hollywood film sets and in England, so the effect was created simply by using a painting.  As a big fan of practical effects, I much prefer painted backdrops and models over CGI, and they certainly fit well within the beautifully artificial world of directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (aka The Archers).  The melodramatic plotline and period acting can come across as silly and outdated.  But I recommend drinking Black Narcissus' Kool Aid and immersing yourself in its richly sensuous world.  It's a shame not to view DP Jack Cardiff's Oscar-winning cinematography on the big screen, but perhaps watching it on Youtube will inspire you to seek it out in another form.

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