Saturday, November 22, 2008

Black Narcissus

61 years old.
It ought to creak with age. Certainly David Farrar plays the bad boy Englishman with the typical stiffness of English male actors of the time, but that can't be held against him: it's the way the did things then, and he's almost the only actor in the movie to play in that cinema-theatrical way. Kathleen Byron as the mentally intense Sister Ruth has a few similar scenes, but they work because of who she is and because of the super-charged atmosphere. But the other nuns, and the rest of the characters, come across as up-to-date as most of those in movies these days. Deborah Kerr is superb, her face constantly showing depths behind the spoken words.
But the thing that continues to stand out is the cinemaphotography (Jack Cardiff) and art work, all of it done in England, most of it done in the studio. You know you're not up in the mountains as you watch it, but your eye struggles to tell you the truth of what you're seeing. Furthermore, shot after shot is a work of art, the colour wonderfully balanced, and contributing to the intensity of the drama. This film is a pleasure to watch quite apart from its story.

Made in 1947 in vibrant Technicolor, Black Narcissus is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful films ever made. The fact that all but a few scenes were shot on sets, with matte paintings used for the backdrops, makes it all the more remarkable.

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