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Black Narcissus

Posted by admin | Posted in Movies | Posted on 06-09-2010


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This explosive work about the conflict between the spirit and the flesh is the epitome of the sensuous style of filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (I Know Where I’m Going!, The Red Shoes). A group of nuns—played by some of Britain’s best actresses, including Deborah Kerr (From Here to Eternity, An Affair to Remember), Flora Robson (The Rise of Catherine the Great, Wuthering Heights), and Jean Simmons (Great Expectations, Hamlet)—struggles to es… More >>

Black Narcissus

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Comments (5)

I am not sure why the poster believes the film is missing a scene. I have the Criterion edition, and I have just watched the scene. It starts about 43 minutes into the film, and it involves the beggar girl looking at wall art, dancing, and trying to seduce the young General. In the commentary, Michael Powell says, in reference to the girl’s dance: “When Larry Olivier saw this… he couldn’t believe it. His Ophelia [from ‘Hamlet’ in 1948] changed into this…” I’ve posted snapshots from the film of this scene in the Criterion version.

There is one minor error in the Criterion and previous versions of the film that have been released. When Sister Ruth sees red and passes out, the screen goes to blue instead of black. This is most likely the result of some electronic sampler that thought “black” meant “no signal”, and as VCRs will do, switched the screen to blue.

This film is excellent and Jack Cardiff was a genius. It rightly won the Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration in 1947.
Rating: 5 / 5

This stunning and atmospheric film from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, who were the team behind Archer Productions, is an engrossing and moody masterpiece one might term, religious noir. It was shot in lush colors by Jack Cardiff with a score by Brian Easdale performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. It is the story and the atmosphere created by Powell and Pressburger that gives this adaptation of a novel by Rumer Gooden its noirish feel, however, and it would easily be just as good in black and white.

Deborah Kerr is Sister Clodagh, fullfilling her duties at the Servants of Mary in Calcutta. She is assigned to helm St. Faith, high in the Himalayas, and is given the charge of Mother Superior in order to do so. She will be the youngest ever to hold such a position, and it is one her Mother Superior believes she is not ready for. Once she reaches the lonely place over nine thousand feet from the earth, with her small group of Sisters, she will discover that while they may be in closer proximity to the heavens, they will be much further from God.

The isolation, the drums, and the wind, will have an effect on each of the Sisters, including Sister Clodagh. She is strict and demanding, but becomes concious of the danger here when she herself begins to drift and dream of her past in Ireland before joining the Servants of Mary. Kerr has a graceful Irish beauty that is almost stunning in these flashback scenes. She was young and happy, and in love. She was from a small area and did not want to be shamed when the one she had given her love to decided to move on without her. Her decision was born out of her desire to avoid humiliation.

An older Sister will also find herself recalling a past she had thought forgotten, and no amount of hard work can keep her mind from it. It is the outside element of Mr. Dean (David Farrar) that will set in motion the biggest change, however, as the already unstable Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron), young and quite beautiful, is driven by repressed passion and jealousy to utter madness. She becomes jealous of Sister Clodagh, whom she believes wants the attention of Mr. Dean. Sister Clodagh, who originally found Mr. Dean to be objectionable when sober, and an abomination when drunk, begins to finally soften, and even goes so far as to confide in him her fears about what is happening to all of them.

Farrar is excellent as the somewhat irreverent womanizer who knows how to push Sister Clodagh’s buttons. There is one scene where he is drunk and sings of how he cannot be a nun that infuriates Sister Clodagh and worries her at the same time. Sabu is also excellent as the young General who sends the children there to learn and is just as eager to do so himself. Jean Simmons shines as the exotic and sensual Kanchi. She is brought there by Mr. Dean for the Sisters to “tame” but her wild and earthy spirit will seduce the General and he will run off with her for a time. Simmons’ dance sequence may be famous, but it is the scene between Kanchi and the General, where he refuses to beat her for stealing a necklace, which holds the most tension, and is charged with passion.

Kathleen Byron’s performane as the unbalanced Sister Ruth is unforgettable. The elements she is exposed to, from the remote isolation of St. Faith, to the charming scoundrel Mr. Dean, will turn her already precarious mental state into true insanity. She will expand the tiny bit of attention shown her by Mr. Dean into a desire so intense, her fragile grip on reality will slip away. She orders a deep burgandy colored dress and makes the decision to leave the other Sisters. Once spurned she will return, with a fever of madness behind her eyes the viewer can actually see. Byron’s scene in the doorway on the cloister, high on the mountains, as Sister Clodagh rings the bell Ruth had been so fond of, is unsettling.

Sister Clodagh will come to terms with the fact that we are all human, even herself, and will begin to learn humility. She will take a lesser post elsewhere and bid farewell to Mr. Dean, asking only one favor of him as she leaves. It is a request filled with sadness, as it is obvious to her now that they should not have come here, despite the fact it has made her grow personally, and given her a better understanding of human nature, and human weakness.

This is a very unusual film with an exciting and memorable conclusion. It will intoxicate the viewer with its mood, like the scent of the flower after which this film was named. A must see film.
Rating: 5 / 5

One of the best British films ever made is this pioneering effort by independent filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Shot entirely in Scotland with painted matte backgrounds to recreate the Himalayas (and astonishingly well at that), the film is superbly textured and mature, thematically ahead of any movie made in its period. Deborah Kerr heads a superb group of performers as the Mother Superior of a group of nuns who move to a convent in a remote mountain village in India, only to find that their confidence and strength in their religion is no match for the mystic powers of the East. Sexual frustration over local white man David Farrar, weakening faith, harsh climate and the growing fondness for their homeland soon get to the women and they are forced to leave or die. Interestingly enough, Kerr’s flashback scenes of her Scottish youth and teenage sweetheart were cut by American censors upon first release, even though they were completely without sexual content, explicit or implicit; it seems it was too taboo to show a nun who has taken her vows to escape a failed love affair (the scenes have since been restored and are now available on home video). Funny, the nun who throws herself off a mountain because she goes bug-eyed every time she sees Farrar in his shorts didn’t even make the Prude Alert blink.
Rating: 5 / 5

From the same team that gave us THE RED SHOES this film is a must see for those who appreciate a great story fleshed out by terrific performances in lush settings with phenomenal art direction. Made over fifty years ago BLACK NARCISSUS could be considered significantly ahead of its time in its unique use of narration, and subject. (Hint: What happens when a group of British nuns is sent from their cloistered priory to establish an infirmary/school in a palace formerly inhabited by a sultan’s harem located high in the Himalayas? Watch and find out.) Atmospheric and hypnotic (shot in truly glorious technicolor), this is a movie you’ll want to watch many times. Definitely one of a kind. Deborah Kerr is outstanding as Head Sister Clodagh. (With Sabu and a very young Jean Simmons in supporting roles.)
Rating: 5 / 5

Not only is this the most erotic British film ever made… it is one of the most erotic films ever and in terms of understanding what IS erotic, is a pre-eminent example of ‘less is more’. It has been remarked about some famous religious art works that there appears to be a conjunction between the face in a moment of religious ecstasy and the face in a moment of sexual ecstasy. Mr Powell and Mr Pressburger understood that entirely and made a feast of it. Just to consider the use of red: blushing nuns, red flowers, blood on a white habit, cherry lipstick, magenta dress, ruby shoes, a maroon compact… Combine this with the pulsating drums, everpresent wind, the oiled bodies of the “natives” and images of a booted foot hovering near the prostrate body of one of the nuns and you have a film of extraordinary sexual power. Never have the bare legs of a male, from just above the knees down, looked so provocative as they do in this film. But this is just part of this magnificent work. To own.
Rating: 5 / 5

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