BFI announces details of major celebration of Powell and Pressburger
The BFI today announces the full programme for CINEMA UNBOUND: THE CREATIVE WORLDS OF POWELL AND PRESSBURGER, a major BFI UK-wide film celebration of one of the greatest and most enduring filmmaking partnerships in the history of cinema: Michael Powell(1905-1990) and Emeric Pressburger (1902-1988), best known for iconic films including THE RED SHOES (1948), A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946) and BLACK NARCISSUS (1947), the latter of which premiered on Wednesday night at Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore as part of Il Cinema Ritrovato, screening from a brand new 35mm print made by the BFI. From Martin Scorsese to Matthew Bourne, Kate Bush to Tilda Swinton, Powell and Pressburger have influenced creatives for decades and this is the largest and most wide-ranging exploration ever undertaken about the work of the legendary writer-producer-director team. The celebration will kick off this Autumn with the BFI Distribution re-release of I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING! (1945), recently restored by the BFI National Archive and The Film Foundation, and back in cinemas UK-wide from 20 October.
Arike Oke, Executive Director of Knowledge and Collections, said: “Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s bold, original and beautiful films changed cinema, and the potency of their vision still resonates today across the creative worlds of art, design, theatre and dance brought together so sublimely in their productions. Martin Scorsese, Derek Jarman, Kate Bush, Matthew Bourne, Sally Potter, Wes Anderson, Manolo Blahnik – just some of the great artists whose work owes a debt to The Archers’ films. Headily romantic, but also daringly political, the partnership that produced such passionate British productions as A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes was rooted in a fusion of the English with the European, of the conservative with the progressive, that demonstrates that the best British film always has diversity at its heart. Theirs was a cinema unbound, which BFI are thrilled to present in as complete a form as possible for audiences across the UK to enjoy today, and to help inspire the next generation of fearless creators.”
Thelma Schoonmaker, film editor and widow of Michael Powell, said: “It is my honour to be, alongside Martin Scorsese, the keeper of the legacy of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. And I am indebted to the BFI National Archive, and their expert conservation, preservation and curation teams, who have worked tirelessly for years to restore many of their films and bring this vast project to audiences around the UK. Along with The Film Foundation, the BFI have long championed Powell and Pressburger’s work, and it is a joy that audiences now have the opportunity to immerse themselves fully in their creative universes – from rarely seen early works to their unrivalled masterpieces – and I look forward to joining audiences in the UK during the season.”
Filmmakers Kevin and Andrew Macdonald, grandsons of Emeric Pressburger, said: “We couldn’t be more thrilled that the BFI is honouring Michael and Emeric with a full retrospective at UK cinemas. When one remembers that the Powell/Pressburger canon was almost entirely ignored, even reviled, during the 1960s and 70s it’s almost miraculous that their reputation and influence is now so wide reaching and continues to grow year by year. Thank you to everyone at the BFI who has made this retrospective possible – and to the public who continue to make BFI Southbank the beating heart of cinephile culture in Britain. We can’t wait to see you all at the screenings!”
The season will mark the 75th anniversary of the iconic dance film THE RED SHOES (1948), with a dazzling free exhibition at BFI Southbank THE RED SHOES: BEYOND THE MIRROR, running from 10 November – 7 January. For the first time the exhibition will open up public access to a wealth of material related to the film, preserved by the BFI National Archive, including around 100 unseen costume and production designs, treatments, scripts, behind the scenes photographs and posters. These items will be presented alongside key loans including the iconic red ballet shoes featured in the film, loaned to the BFI by the Martin Scorsese Collection; personal items from Moira Shearer’s family estate; and costumes and props from Matthew Bourne’s recent ballet adaptation. THE RED SHOES will also be re-released in cinemas UK-wide from 8 December, while Bloomsbury will publish a new BFI Film Classic about the film by Pamela Hutchinson on 5 October.
The big screen celebration will also feature a UK-wide cinema programme presented in partnership with the BFI Film Audience Network and a major retrospective of Powell’s and Pressburger’s work – together and separately – at BFI Southbank, which will premiere new restorations by the BFI National Archive and The Film Foundation of THE SMALL BACK ROOM (1949) and PEEPING TOM (1960). CINEMA UNBOUND will also present a number of 4K remasters made by the BFI National Archive, including rarities, early films made by Powell before he met Pressburger, and a selection of Powell’s and Pressburger’s home movies.
Following the huge success of the inaugural BFI Film on Film Festival, the season will offer audiences a chance to experience the magic of seeing films projected on film, with new 35mm prints of BLACK NARCISSUS (1947), which premieres tonight at Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore as part of Il Cinema Ritrovato, THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (1943), THE TALES OF HOFFMANN (1951) and THE RED SHOES (1948) all made with funding from the National Lottery and the additional support of donors to the BFI’s Keep Film on Film campaign.
BFI Distribution will also release a Blu-ray of Powell’s bold realisation of Bartok’s only opera BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE (1964), newly restored by the BFI National Archive and The Film Foundation, unavailable for many years. The film’s pristine restoration will also screen in cinemas during the season. There will be a new book published in partnership with Bloomsbury on October 5 – The Cinema of Powell and Pressburger will be a lavishly illustrated collection of essays with contributions from Thelma Schoonmaker, Tilda Swinton, Sandy Powell, Tim Walker, Michelle Williams Gamaker and many more, bringing a series of fresh perspectives on the filmmaking duo and spotlighting previously unpublished material from the BFI National Archive. A selection of titles will also be available to watch nationwide on BFI Player, from beloved classics to early rarities.
The BFI will also reveal, through online content, the projects that could have been – using the wealth of material from the Powell and Pressburger paper collections preserved by the BFI National Archive. The BFI will tell the story of films that Powell and Pressburger wanted to make, and the talent they wanted to work with, although sadly these projects weren’t to be. They ranged from The Tempest, starring James Mason and Mia Farrow, and the Broadway adaptation of Ondine, intended for Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer, to Thirteen Ways to Kill a Poet, an ambitious series conceived for television, to have focused on different poets, and to have involved a wide range of contributors, from Martin Scorsese to Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Schrader to David Bowie, and Kenneth Anger to David Cronenberg, as well as a proposed film of Ursula Le Guin’s classic fantasy trilogy The Tales from Earthsea.
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger created a bold, subversive and iconoclastic cinema. Their artistic collaboration spanned 24 films together between 1939 and 1972, including classic titles such as THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (1943), I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING! (1945), A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946), BLACK NARCISSUS (1947), THE RED SHOES (1948) and THE TALES OF HOFFMANN (1951). Their masterpieces were so numerous that in 2022 six of their films appeared in the Sight and Sound Greatest Films of All Time Poll (a feat only matched by Hitchcock). True cinematic visionaries, Powell and Pressburger worked with an exceptionally talented creative team of long-term collaborators as The Archers. This included Alfred Junge (production designer), Hein Heckroth (production designer and costume designer), Jack Cardiff (cinematographer), Ivor Beddoes (sketch artist), Arthur Lawson (art director) and Brian Easdale (composer) as well as actors including Roger Livesey, Anton Walbrook, Moira Shearer, Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron and Sabu. Together they created some of the richest and most memorable films in the story of cinema, the influence and impact of which continues to be felt today by international audiences and creators as diverse as Martin Scorsese, Kate Bush (whose iconic album inspired by THE RED SHOES, as well as her self-directed tie in featurette THE LINE, THE CROSS AND THE CURVE (1993), both mark their 30th anniversary this year), Tim Walker, Sandy Powell, Manolo Blahnik, Matthew Bourne, Greta Gerwig, Guillermo Del Toro, Joanna Hogg, Michelle Williams Gamaker and Derek Jarman.
CINEMA UNBOUND is conceived by lead season programmer Robin Baker (BFI National Archive Head Curator), James Bell (BFI National Archive Senior Curator of Fiction Film) and Claire Smith (BFI National Archive Senior Curator of Special Collections), featuring work by expert teams from across the BFI, with a major focus on BFI National Archive restoration and conservation work. Hear more from the curators in a special launch video about the season.
FULL PROGRAMME INFORMATION:
RESTORATIONS, REMASTERING AND NEW 35MM PRINTS
The BFI is uniquely placed to tell the most complete story of this influential filmmaking duo; central to this narrative is the extraordinary wealth of material preserved by the BFI National Archive. Restoring, preserving and conserving Powell and Pressburger’s films and paper collections has been a massive undertaking for conservation experts, archivists and curators at the BFI National Archive.
The BFI National Archive and The Film Foundation have worked together to newly restore several Powell and Pressburger titles which will be screened during the season:
- Newly restored by the BFI National Archive and The Film Foundation in association with ITV and Park Circus, I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING! (1945) premiered at Cannes Classics in 2021. Funding for the restoration was provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation with additional support provided by Matt Spick. The new restoration will be licensed from Park Circus/ITV and released in cinemas UK-wide by BFI Distribution on 20 October.
- Newly restored by the BFI National Archive and The Film Foundation in association with The Ashbrittle Film Foundation, BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE (1964) premiered at the New York Film Festival in 2021. Funding for the restoration, which has been completely transformative, was provided by the BFI National Archive, The Louis B. Mayer Foundation and The Film Foundation. The sublime new restoration of BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE (1964) will be released by the BFI in a Dual format edition (DVD & Blu-ray) in November, as well as screening in cinemas during the season.
- The BFI National Archive and The Film Foundation are currently completing the restorations of THE SMALL BACK ROOM (1948) and Michael Powell’s PEEPING TOM (1960) in association with STUDIOCANAL. Restoration funding for both films has been provided by The Film Foundation and the restorations will premiere during the season.
Further films that have been restored in recent years by the BFI National Archive and The Film Foundation will screen in the season, including:
- THE RED SHOES (1948) was restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive in association with the BFI, The Film Foundation, ITV Global Entertainment Ltd., and Janus Films. Restoration funding for the film was provided by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, The Film Foundation, and the Louis B. Mayer Foundation. This restoration will be licensed from Park Circus/ITV and released in cinemas UK-wide by BFI Distribution on 8 December.
- THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (1943) was restored by Academy Film Archive in association with the BFI National Archive, The Film Foundation and ITV Studios Global Entertainment Ltd. Restoration funding provided by The Material World Foundation, the Louis B. Mayer Foundation, Cinema per Roma Foundation, and The Film Foundation.
- THE TALES OF HOFFMANN (1951) was restored by the BFI National Archive and The Film Foundation, in association with STUDIOCANAL. Restoration funding provided by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the Franco-American Cultural Fund, a unique partnership between the Directors Guild of America (DGA); the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA); the Société des Auteurs, Compositeurs et Editeurs de Musique (SACEM); and the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW), The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the Louis B. Mayer Foundation and The Film Foundation.
The BFI National Archive are also restoring Powell’s ballet short THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE (1955) and remastering all the surviving early Powell films (see POWELL BEFORE PRESSBURGER section for further details), which are premiering this week at Il Cinema Ritrovato; plus the silent RIVIERA REVELS (1927), featuring a young Michael Powell as actor, and a selection of Powell’s and Pressburger’s Home Movies. Remastering for the project has been supported by Matt Spick and the Charles Skey Charitable Trust.
Following the huge appetite from audiences to watch celluloid being projected at the recent inaugural BFI Film on Film Festival, we are delighted to be able to offer for audiences a chance to see most of Powell and Pressburger’s feature films on 35mm. Funding from the National Lottery and the additional support of donors to the BFI’s Keep Film on Film campaign has enabled the BFI to invest in the creation of new 35mm projection prints that will be screened during the season, including BLACK NARCISSUS (1947), THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (1943), THE TALES OF HOFFMANN (1951) and THE RED SHOES (1948). In addition, the BFI National Archive has created new 35mm prints of CONTRABAND (1940) and BATTLE OF THE RIVER PLATE (1956), both of which will screen in the season.
THE RED SHOES: BEYOND THE MIRROR (BFI SOUTHBANK, 10 NOVEMBER – 7 JANUARY)
A major new free exhibition at BFI Southbank dedicated to the 75th anniversary of THE RED SHOES (1948) will open up public access to the wealth of material cared for by the BFI National Archive, most of which has not have been seen by the public before. THE RED SHOES: BEYOND THE MIRROR, curated by Claire Smith and Sue Prichard and designed by Simon Costin, will run from 10 November 2023 to 7 January 2024. Set in a theatrical space that evokes the visual language of Powell and Pressburger’s cinema, the exhibit will invite audiences behind the scenes on this enduring and beloved film. Taking as its starting point the collections of the BFI National Archive, supplemented with key international loans, this is the first exhibition to tell the story of THE RED SHOES from the perspective of lead actor, Moira Shearer. At 21 years old, Shearer was a successful and ambitious principal ballet dancer with Sadler’s Wells, but completely new to the world of film. The exhibition follows her personal journey as she discovers the beautiful yet troubling, seductive yet dangerous world of film for the first time.
The exhibition will include around 100 unseen costume and production designs, treatments, scripts, behind the scenes photographs, posters, and other items from the collections of writer-director-producers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger; production and costume designer Hein Heckroth; and sketch artist Ivor Beddoes; all preserved by the BFI National Archive. Together, these materials offer an insight into the critical role that design and performance played within the production, within an immersive scheme that brings THE RED SHOES spellbindingly to life. Loans will include the iconic red ballet shoes worn by Moira Shearer; personal items from Shearer’s family estate; and costumes and props from Matthew Bourne’s recent ballet adaptation. The exhibition also embeds contemporary responses into Powell and Pressburger’s bold and imaginative fairytale, to illustrate the enduring influence THE RED SHOES continues to exert within the worlds of dance, music, fashion, and photography.
The exhibition has been made possible due to the generous support and funds from Old Possum’s Practical Trust and from research funded by Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the Thriplow Charitable Trust, and conservation work funded by Idlewild Charitable Trust.
BFI SOUTHBANK SEASON
The season at BFI Southbank is programmed around six main thematic strands, beginning in October-November with “Starved for Technicolor”: Fantasy and Spectacle, featuring titles like THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940), A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946), the new 35mm print of BLACK NARCISSUS (1947) and THE ELUSIVE PIMPERNEL (1950). Secondly an examination of nationalism and conflict, the “War starts at midnight!” strand will screen Powell and Pressburger’s wartime and post-wartime narratives such as THE SPY IN BLACK (1939), 49th PARALLEL (1941), …ONE OF OUR AIRCRAFT IS MISSING (1942) and ILL MET AT MOONLIGHT (1957). This thematic strand will also include screenings of new 35mm prints of THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (1943), which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, CONTRABAND (1940) and THE BATTLE OF THE RIVER PLATE (1956). The season will also explore Powell and Pressburger’s work through the prism of Myth and landscape: “Breathing the air, smelling the earth” will feature THE EDGE OF THE WORLD (1937), A CANTERBURY TALE (1944), the BFI Distribution UK-wide re-release of the newly restored I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING! (1945) and GONE TO EARTH (1950).
December focuses on Powell and Pressburger’s more subversive cinema, firstly exploring the darker side of creative passions with Ballet and Opera: “Why do you want to dance?” “Why do you want to live?”; this thematic programme kicks off with BFI Distribution’s UK-wide 75thanniversary re-release of THE RED SHOES (1948) and features a tie-in strand of ballet-themed films and events providing context to Powell and Pressburger’s masterpiece. These will include the filmed performance of Matthew Bourne’s stage adaptation of THE RED SHOES (2020), Ben Hecht’s SPECTER OF THE ROSE (1946), Marie Epstein and Jean-Benoît Lévy’s LA MORT DU CYGNE (1937), plus Kate Bush’s THE RED SHOES inspired featurette THE LINE, THE CROSS AND THE CURVE (1993). Other titles in the ballet and opera themed programme include THE TALES OF HOFFMANN (1951), a pristine 35mm Technicolor archive print of OH, ROSALINDA!! (1955), HONEYMOON (1959), and new BFI restorations of Michael Powell’s BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE (1964) and THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE (1955). The final theme will examine obsessives and outsiders: “All this filming isn’t healthy” will include new BFI restorations of Michael Powell’s PEEPING TOM (1960) and THE SMALL BACK ROOM (1948) plus THEY’RE A WEIRD MOB (1966) and AGE OF CONSENT (1969), starring Helen Mirren in her first leading feature film role.
POWELL BEFORE PRESSBURGER AND PRESSBURGER WITHOUT POWELL
The retrospective also provides an opportunity to take a closer look at Powell and Pressburger’s work separately, discovering rarities and early work that give a valuable insight into the concerns, interests and artistry which would shape their future creative vision as a collaborative team. POWELL BEFORE PRESSBURGER is a BFI remastered programme of early films made between 1931 and 1936, before Alexander Korda teamed him with Emeric Pressburger for THE SPY IN BLACK (1939). Michael Powell returned to England from his apprenticeship with his mentor Rex Ingram in the south of France, to work on a series of films that were cheaply made but proved invaluable as a film school for a rising generation of directors, like Powell, who would blossom in the 1940s. Powell used to joke that his reputation couldn’t survive any more of his first twenty three films being found. But with his reputation secure, these extremely rare early titles including, RYNOX (1931), THE FIRE RAISERS (1933), RED ENSIGN (1934), THE LOVE TEST (1935), SOMETHING ALWAYS HAPPENS (1934), THE PHANTOM LIGHT (1935), HER LAST AFFAIRE (1936) and CROWN V STEVENS (1936) reveal the origins of Powell’s irreverent humour, an eye for topical issues, and growing skill with actors. A selection of these remastered early films will screen at BFI Southbank with further titles also being made available nationwide on BFI Player.
Meanwhile, in the early 1930s Emeric Pressburger was working as a screenwriter in Germany, before fleeing the Nazis to move to Paris, then emigrating to Britain in 1935, where he met a small community of Hungarian filmmakers who found themselves in a similar situation. This included Alexander Korda who went on to employ Pressburger as a screenwriter at London Films, where he met Powell. Pressburger without Powell brings together a number of titles, including early work made with Robert Siodmak like FAREWELL (1930) and LA VIE PARISIENNE (1936) and later films made independently of Powell including Pressburger’s only solo directorial credit, the rarely seen TWICE UPON A TIME (1953), MIRACLE IN SOHO (Julian Amyes, 1957), which was based on a story he first wrote in 1932, and Fred Zinnemann’s adaptation of his first novel BEHOLD A PALE HORSE (1964). In addition, a selection of Powell’s and Pressburger’s home movies, preserved in the collection of the BFI National Archive, have been remastered, and will be screened as part of these separate Powell and Pressburger programmes, and made available on BFI Player.
In addition to the main retrospective, Powell and Pressburger will also inform other regular BFI Southbank strands; these include Rex Ingram’s THE MAGICIAN (1926) in the Silent Cinema strand, featuring an acting role for a young Powell, a family screening of Powell and Pressburger’s last film together THE BOY WHO TURNED YELLOW (1972), and more. BFI Southbank’s ongoing BIG SCREEN CLASSICS strand, which screen classic films every day for the special price of £9, will give audiences a chance to look at Powell and Pressburger’s influence in the round, with a programme of films that reside in the same creative universe. Whether this is titles which share a direct linkage with Powell and Pressburger (including those they worked with) such as BLACKMAIL (Alfred Hitchcock, 1929), THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII (Alexander Korda, 1933) and LA RONDE (Max Ophüls, 1950) as well as films featuring some of their regular collaborators, including THE QUEEN OF SPADES (Thorold Dickinson, 1949), PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN (Albert Lewin, 1951), CASABLANCA (Michael Curtiz, 1942). BIG SCREEN CLASSICS will also take a look at the filmmakers who they influenced, and whose work thematically or visually resonates with or references Powell and Pressburger, with screenings of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (Stanley Donen, 1951), BLACK ORPHEUS (Marcel Camus, 1959), THE TEMPEST (Derek Jarman, 1979), DO THE RIGHT THING (Spike Lee, 1989), ORLANDO (Sally Potter, 1992), THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (Martin Scorsese, 1993), THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (Wes Anderson, 2014) and more.
Special guests from the world of film and television, and wider arts and culture, including those who knew Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger first hand, will take part in events throughout the season. Details of the special events programme will be announced soon.
In association with Bloomsbury, BFI are publishing two new books, both on 5 October, that will offer unique insights into Powell and Pressburger’s creative worlds. The Cinema of Powell and Pressburger (BFI), edited by Nathalie Morris and Claire Smith, is a lavishly-illustrated anthology that uses the collections of the BFI National Archive to present fresh perspectives on the filmmaking duo and their talented team of collaborators. Through treatments, scripts, designs and unseen photographs, we bring their magical and obsessive worlds to life. Their widespread impact on creatives working today is revealed by high profile contributors including Thelma Schoonmaker, Tilda Swinton, Sandy Powell, Tim Walker, Sarah Greenwood, Joanna Hogg, Stephen Jones and Michelle Williams Gamaker amongst others.
Also publishing in celebration of its 75th anniversary is a new volume in the BFI Film Classics series on THE RED SHOES by Pamela Hutchinson, who will take part in a discussion about THE RED SHOES in the BFI Reuben Library on 13 November to mark the publication. In addition, Bloomsbury Academic are publishing Powell and Pressburger’s War: The Art of Propaganda, 1939-1946 by Greg M. Colón Semenza and Garrett A. Sullivan Jr on 7 September, a focused study on Powell and Pressburger’s cinematic contributions to the war effort. These books will be available in the BFI Shop.
UK-WIDE CINEMA PROGRAMME
The season will also feature a UK-wide cinema programme of special events and screenings presented in partnership with the BFI Film Audience Network (BFI FAN), further details will be announced later in the summer.
BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE BFI DUAL FORMAT DVD/BLU-RAY RELEASE AND POWELL AND PRESSBURGER ON BFI DVD
BFI Distribution will release BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE (1964), newly restored by the BFI National Archive and The Film Foundation, on Blu-ray in November. This new release of Michael Powell’s film adaptation of Béla Bartók’s 1911 opera, which has been unavailable for many years, will accompany other Powell and Pressburger titles already available in on BFI DVD and Blu-ray, including THE EDGE OF THE WORLD (1937), …ONE OF OUR AIRCRAFT IS MISSING (1942) and THE BOY WHO TURNED YELLOW (1972), which features on the CHILDREN’S FILM FOUNDATION COLLECTION: WEIRD ADVENTURES.
The magic of Powell and Pressburger will not just be confined to cinemas, but available nationwide on BFI Player spanning free, rental and subscription VOD. From the majesty of the duo’s celebrated masterworks, including BLACK NARCISSUS (1947), I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING! (1945), A CANTERBURY TALE (1944) and THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (1943) to a selection of the works they have influenced and remastered rarities. This includes Michael Powell’s early films and a selection of home movies from the lives of the Powell and Pressburger families, many of which have been unable to see in any home video format before now. Full details of the BFI Player collection will be announced soon.