Black Narcissus -Film Club

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The Modernist

Black Narcissus -Film Club

Postby The Modernist » 01 Feb 2008, 22:43

Arguably it's this and Red Shoes that have cemented Powell and Pressburger's critical reputation. This 1947 melodrama has become famed for its vivid cinematic style and sensuous, almost hallucinatory narrative.
But what do we really think...?
I'll post some of my thoughts in 20 minutes or so, but please don't wait for me. Feel free to say whatever you want.

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Re: Black Narcissus -Film Club

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 01 Feb 2008, 22:53

I'll jump in and say that it may at least partially deserve it's reputation as a masterpiece of sorts - but if so it is a strange, uneven, and flawed masterpiece. The acting is stiff, the story is overripe, the music is overpowering, and the visual style is striking but mannered.

Obviously it is the visual aspect of the film that gives it it's reputation. It is at times breathtaking to behold - even as you know you are looking at a painting in one scene and a sound stage in another. Somehow the sense of artifice makes the whole thing just a little bit creepy - which is the film's ultimate triumph.

What can you say about a horror film in which the most horrorific moment is the application of lipstick?

In strange way...I loved it.
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Re: Black Narcissus -Film Club

Postby The Modernist » 01 Feb 2008, 23:21

Davey the ____ Boy wrote:I'll jump in and say that it may at least partially deserve it's reputation as a masterpiece of sorts - but if so it is a strange, uneven, and flawed masterpiece. The acting is stiff, the story is overripe, the music is overpowering, and the visual style is striking but mannered.

Obviously it is the visual aspect of the film that gives it it's reputation. It is at times breathtaking to behold - even as you know you are looking at a painting in one scene and a sound stage in another. Somehow the sense of artifice makes the whole thing just a little bit creepy - which is the film's ultimate triumph.

What can you say about a horror film in which the most horrorific moment is the application of lipstick?

In strange way...I loved it.


That's very interesting because it's pretty much my reaction, it's a difficult movie to discuss because it is great (and I think it probably is) almost in spite of itself.
I found it hard going for the frst 50 minutes for all the reasons you give in your first paragraph. I especially found myself cursing the mannered school of British theatrical acting , I found myself getting all Truffaut on their arses and bemoaning the British failure to really understand cinema. The narrative seemed fractured and almost pointless, but it was full of wonderful still frames and that kept me going.
But the last twenty minutes or so lifted the film to another place entirely. The hysteria seems to come out of nowhere, somehow rather than this be a narrative fault, which it probably is, it just adds to the film's strange and unique allure. The cutting from the lipstick to the prayer book to the fresco to the candle..it's just bravado stuff. It makes Vertigo seem sober and subdued!
It is an incoherent film but an incredibly brave one. I thought visually it largely avoided falling into a trap of presenting an exotic otherness (which I was expecting actually) in favour of a nothern gothicness- all those billowing shrouds and archways. Certainly I have never seen film as carefully framed as this, really it should be called a Powell/Cardiff film as the script is neither here or there and it is all about the power of image. You can see why cineastes go crazy over it, this is pure cinema. Are we therefore too forgiving of its narrative flaws? Probably.

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Re: Black Narcissus -Film Club

Postby toomanyhatz » 01 Feb 2008, 23:29

I loved it. Some of the imagery is a bit on the clumsy side of course- Welcome to the post-war war!! It's make-up compact vs. bible!!- but it's visually sumptuous, and as I said before I re-watched for the first time in years, mighty psychedelic for 1947.

I'm at work so I'll say more later.
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Re: Black Narcissus -Film Club

Postby Still Baron » 02 Feb 2008, 00:11

"There's something in the atmosphere that makes everything seem exaggerated."
take5_d_shorterer wrote:If John Bonham simply didn't listen to enough Tommy Johnson or Blind Willie Mctell, that's his doing.

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Re: Black Narcissus -Film Club

Postby The Modernist » 02 Feb 2008, 00:20

baron wrote:"There's something in the atmosphere that makes everything seem exaggerated."


Yes :lol: That line jumped out at me too. They must have had their tongues in their cheeks for that one.

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Re: Black Narcissus -Film Club

Postby mentalist (slight return) » 02 Feb 2008, 00:49

"It's this strange place with this strange atmosphere and strange people"

Gothic alright! The way the unsettling environment triggers memory and the flashbacks is brilliantly done cinematically. Everything is on the edge, on the precipice.

India itself functions little more than being the other. Maybe that's one of the reasons why Rumer Godden disliked this film.

Deborah Kerr is just a bit too young and beautiful to be believable but she acts wonderfully with her face and eyes. Those downcast eyes remind me of Ingrid Bergman (which is never a bad thing).
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Re: Black Narcissus -Film Club

Postby toomanyhatz » 02 Feb 2008, 00:55

I've mentioned this before, but James Agee gave it a very negative review in Time magazine when it first came out (I don't remember his objection too well, other than the fact that he found the holy man on the mountain a very obvious and clumsy device. I don't agree.)
The Great Defector wrote:I still stand by if other people are doing as opposition or its just an everyday day thing, doesn't mean you have to or should do. Work away like, I'm just get your problem.


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Re: Black Narcissus -Film Club

Postby Still Baron » 02 Feb 2008, 01:32

The Modernist! wrote:The narrative seemed fractured and almost pointless, but it was full of wonderful still frames and that kept me going.
But the last twenty minutes or so lifted the film to another place entirely. The hysteria seems to come out of nowhere, somehow rather than this be a narrative fault, which it probably is, it just adds to the film's strange and unique allure. The cutting from the lipstick to the prayer book to the fresco to the candle..it's just bravado stuff. It makes Vertigo seem sober and subdued!
It is an incoherent film but an incredibly brave one. I thought visually it largely avoided falling into a trap of presenting an exotic otherness (which I was expecting actually) in favour of a nothern gothicness- all those billowing shrouds and archways. Certainly I have never seen film as carefully framed as this, really it should be called a Powell/Cardiff film as the script is neither here or there and it is all about the power of image. You can see why cineastes go crazy over it, this is pure cinema. Are we therefore too forgiving of its narrative flaws? Probably.


I think I pretty much agree. Narrative flaws - the screenplay doesn't seem like much more than a sketch or an outline, but I like the result. It's almost as bewildering (the narrative) as whatever weird power the air, altitude, and wind has over the nuns. And I'm cool with having it be so sparse when everything else is so done. I like the fact that they pretty much maxed out every tool they had at their disposal, but I found the soundtrack to be a bit much from time to time. And I wouldn't have necessarily thought that if it just didn't sound so dated. Hitchcock's soundtracks are totally over the top, but I guess their modernity or urbanity or some shit like that keep them from being an unpleasant distraction.
take5_d_shorterer wrote:If John Bonham simply didn't listen to enough Tommy Johnson or Blind Willie Mctell, that's his doing.

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Re: Black Narcissus -Film Club

Postby toomanyhatz » 02 Feb 2008, 01:43

baron wrote:Narrative flaws - the screenplay doesn't seem like much more than a sketch or an outline, but I like the result. It's almost as bewildering (the narrative) as whatever weird power the air, altitude, and wind has over the nuns.


But the title scent seems to be a trigger. I also thought it was interesting that the vegetable garden that was supposed to provide sustenance instead provided pretty flowers to look at. Again, not very subtly handled, but the nature/desire vs. intellect/discipline battle is an ongoing theme- as in when one of the nuns (can't remember which- Sister Honey, maybe?) says that you have to either be like the holy man, or like Mr. Dean, to which Sister Clodagh replies that neither will work for them.

I'm still at work and will go on at greater length later, but is it just called Black Narcissus because that's the name of the flower, or is it a reference to the myth of Narcissus? (Which I don't remember too well, except that his ego supposedly killed him- unless I'm obviously missing something, that doesn't seem to be the theme of this movie.)
The Great Defector wrote:I still stand by if other people are doing as opposition or its just an everyday day thing, doesn't mean you have to or should do. Work away like, I'm just get your problem.


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Re: Black Narcissus -Film Club

Postby Still Baron » 02 Feb 2008, 01:50

The young dandy prince (or whatever he was) wore a scent called "Black Narcissus" that he had (if I recall correctly) gotten from the British Isles.
take5_d_shorterer wrote:If John Bonham simply didn't listen to enough Tommy Johnson or Blind Willie Mctell, that's his doing.

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Re: Black Narcissus -Film Club

Postby mentalist (slight return) » 02 Feb 2008, 02:01

if the Young Prince is black narcissus , maybe Ruth is white narcissus!

I expect there's a lot of religious symbolism, most of which goes over my head. The wounds on the hands of Sister Phillipa, tending the garden, seem to echo the wounds on Christ's hands. God knows what else.
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Re: Black Narcissus -Film Club

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 02 Feb 2008, 02:35

I have to say, the movie makes me very curious about Rumer Godden's novel. The entire set-up is so poetic. Nuns moving into "the house of women". The entire thing taking place on the edge of a cliff. All of the nuns having very specific symbolic attributes assigned to them. It makes me wonder if thre might be something deeper in the book that the filmmakers only touched on.

Anyhow - I imagine we can all agree that it sits at or near the top of Sabu's filmmography. ;)
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Re: Black Narcissus -Film Club

Postby The Modernist » 02 Feb 2008, 12:35

What did people make of the way Sister Ruth's madness was handled? I don't think I've seen anything so frantic before. One minute she was in Dean's house, the next in the nunnery and then there was that sudden transformation into this gothic witch (she actually reminded me of the girl from Shakespeare's Sister!). It was exhilerating and all quite nuts.

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Re: Black Narcissus -Film Club

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 02 Feb 2008, 13:21

The Modernist! wrote:What did people make of the way Sister Ruth's madness was handled? I don't think I've seen anything so frantic before. One minute she was in Dean's house, the next in the nunnery and then there was that sudden transformation into this gothic witch (she actually reminded me of the girl from Shakespeare's Sister!). It was exhilerating and all quite nuts.


Well it really isn't all that sudden, is it? They introduce her as troubled and started ratcheting up her scene by scene - pretty much from the beginning. By the time she intercepts that package, I half expected it to be baby flesh for her to feast on.

The whole thing is so very strange. It is like a Corman film about hot-blooded nuns trapped in a David Lean epic with literary pretentions.
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Re: Black Narcissus -Film Club

Postby the masked man » 02 Feb 2008, 19:17

Woo-hoo! I finally found an HMV that had that P&P box set for £30 - bloody good value, as there's 11 films there. Anyway, I'll watch this tomorrow and then post some thoughts.

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Re: Black Narcissus -Film Club

Postby Jeemo » 03 Feb 2008, 12:08

Havent time to post much. Its great, I think the wind is very important as even in the indoor scences it is still blowing.

I bought the P&P £30 box and my copy of this sticks, Moddy, Masky any trouble with yours. Of course they dont have another copy :cry:
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Re: Black Narcissus -Film Club

Postby The Modernist » 03 Feb 2008, 13:09

Jeemo wrote:Havent time to post much. Its great, I think the wind is very important as even in the indoor scences it is still blowing.

I bought the P&P £30 box and my copy of this sticks, Moddy, Masky any trouble with yours. Of course they dont have another copy :cry:


Mine's fine. Surely they can send off for a replacement?

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Re: Black Narcissus -Film Club

Postby the masked man » 03 Feb 2008, 22:55

Wow! I'd forgotten how visually overheated this was! It is a very immediate experience as a movie. It's also interesting to note that, initially, it's visually intoxicating, but cool blues and greens predominate. Of course, it's erotically suggestive from the get-go, but it's not too obvious to start with. The more stereotypical colours suggesting sexual obsession - deep reds and blacks - only become prevalent when Sister Ruth keels over into madness.

I'll write more on this movie tomorrow - I think I'm still digesting it properly at present. Oh, Jeemo, my DVD was fine; clearly you've just got a duff pressing.

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Re: Black Narcissus -Film Club

Postby mentalist (slight return) » 04 Feb 2008, 08:22

Although it is a very sensory & sensual film, I still don't get a sense of India at all. The film could have been set anywhere suitably gothic, melodramatic and strange. The Archers could have made a brilliant film of a Lovecraft story.
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