Saturday, 5 December 2015

Black Narcissus 1947 Film Review

Fig 1.
Black Narcissus 1947 is a film directed by Michael Powell and Emetic Pressburger. Is based on a group of nuns who get sent to the Himalayas to start a convent in a palace called Mopu. The palace had previously be owned by Kublai Kahn as a harem. The nuns have been sent to this palace to spread their religion to the people in the local area of the palace. This film is based a lot around the limitations that the nuns have to follow. We can see their lusts starting to come out shortly after arriving to the palace. We can see attraction from the nuns to some of the men present at the palace and throughout the film we see this develop within certain characters. We can see this backed up from a review in the Guardian by Peter Bradshaw as he said "the ruler's ruggedly handsome English agent, who triggers a batsqueak of hysteria among the brides of Christ."(Peter Bradshaw 2005)

Fig 2.
One of the features of this film that really stands out is the set design. The film is set in the Himalayas  but was filmed within a studio in England. The way in which Powell and Pressburger conveyed this wonderful setting was by the use of matte paintings. If you look at Fig 2 you can see the use of this. Everything apart from the small stone area in which the nun is standing is matte painting. From using this technique the viewers get drawn into this wonderful setting and give a very realistic feel. We can see this point backed up from Time Out magazines review "those matte-painting vanishing perspectives and cinematographer Jack Cardiff’s harshly exaggerated lighting cues—creates a psychologically charged space in which an ungodly tragedy can unfold." (Keith Uhlich 2012)

Fig 3.
Another aspect of this film that particularly stands out to viewers is the way in which Powell and Pressburger used the lighting and colours to represent the different moods that progressed throughout the film. We can see a lot of light colours, which give almost a cold yet calm feel such as a lot of different shades of blue. This represents the nuns innocence that is present within the nuns while they are still present at their original convent and also once arriving to the Mopu palace. As the story develops and the lust from the nuns starts to build we can see these colours start to change to stronger more vibrant colours that seem to represent the temptations and wrongfulness starting to come through from the nuns. An example of this is in fig 3 as you can see the lighting is predominantly red and orange which gives almost a sinister feel as all of these feelings from the nuns is taboo and against their vows as a nun. We can see this point backed up from Tom Dawson's review in which he stated "This digitally restored print allow us to luxuriate in Black Narcissus's sensual riches, and particularly the way the filmmakers and their Oscar-winning cinematographer Jack Cardiff use colour to convey states of mind."(Tom Dawson 2005)
Overall Black Narcissus is seen as a revolutionary film within the British film industry and has inspired many of todays top directors. For example Scorsese has said before how influential both Powell and Pressburger have been to his work, and have even stated how Powell was the one that gave him the idea for Raging Bull to be in black and white. The use of the different colours to represent moods and emotions would later be used throughout cinema but this was on of the first influential films to do this. 


Bradshaw, P 2005 - The Guardian -

Uhlich, K 2012 - Time Out magazine -
Dawson,T 2005 - BBC -


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Fig 2 -

Fig 3 -

1 comment:

  1. Interesting review Ian :)
    Just remember that all the films names need to be italicised... so 'Raging Bull' too for example.