One of the most unassumingly solid directors of Britain’s early period (and, with 1960’s astonishing Peeping Tom, its middle period as well), Michael Powell entered the golden age of his career with The Edge of the World. Though he had already made over 20 films, it represented one of his first successfully realized and (perhaps more importantly) self-actualized stabs at what would become one of his chief directorial strengths: the ability to film a very specific and localized environment in a manner that emphasizes its otherworldly fantasias and, paradoxically, remains faithful to the area’s ethnographical features. To watch The Edge of the World is to bear witness to Powell’s unique alchemy, as he infuses his setting—a weather-battered island community off the coast of Scotland on the verge of abandonment—with off-kilter camera angles, dreamily gauzy cinematography and a becalmed detachment that lets the characters and scenario do the work for him. Which is not to say that Powell occasionally indulges in a few melodramatic flourishes that he managed to avoid in later masterpieces like I Know Where I’m Going and Black Narcissus. For instance, he superimposes a montage of mournful reminiscences over a character’s thoughtful close-up not once but twice. And, for all the near documentary-like attitudes Powell the director exercises when filming the island’s close-knit community, Powell the screenwriter too often lapses into overly plotty solutions to various conflicts (he hadn’t yet joined forces with his future compadre in archery Emeric Pressburger). But in general, The Edge of the World is rife with the sort of miraculously unforced moments of enchantment one has always come to expect from the United Kingdom’s most underrated auteur.
- Pax Films
- 75 min
- Michael Powell
- Michael Powell
- John Laurie, Belle Chrystall, Eric Berry, Finlay Currie, Niall MacGinnis, Grant Sutherland, Campbell Robson, Kitty Kirwan
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