‘Technicolor Dreams and Transcendent Reality: The Films of Powell & Pressburger’ brings together the twenty collaborations of two of Britain’s foremost filmmakers. Presented with the support of the British Film Institute in London, this program includes rare archival prints, digital restorations and new 35mm prints of some of the duo’s most renowned works.
The credits “Written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger” not only refers to an unprecedented creative partnership in the history of cinema; the works of these two audacious filmmakers also represent a special entity that cherished filmmaking as a collaborative work that transcends borders, disciplines, and boundaries – in all senses of the words.
The English Powell and Hungarian émigré Pressburger worked with long-term artistic allies from various nations across Europe, and at the very core of their output was a wondrous convergence of diverse personalities, cultures, and ideologies – an enthusiastic coalescence of mutual respect and celebration of difference.
War, identity, friendship, romance, desire: the cinema of Powell and Pressburger is firmly grounded in reality, and yet distinguished in the way they render, imagine, and transcend reality. Whether a miraculous dissolve from glowing monochrome to splendid Technicolour (as in A Matter of Life and Death 1946), an entrancing ballet sequence uniting the theatricality of stage and the expressive power of cinema (The Red Shoes 1948), or a lyrical shot of lovers waltzing down an impossible two-dimensional spiral staircase (The Tales of Hoffmann 1951), their cinema yearns to (re)invigorate, and bring endless joy through experimentation. Together they conceived some of cinema’s most original and inventive narratives.
Refreshingly modernist in the way it reflects on cinema itself, subversive in its takes on conventional elements, and daring in defying expectations and production norms, theirs is a cinema that is fascinated with the form, whilst uniquely bending genres, emotions, and moods.
The partnership was consolidated with The Archers, the production company they set up together. With the support of J Arthur Rank, the success of The Archers during their prime across the 1940s is also emblematic of a time when independent cinema flourished with creative freedom. Resolvedly independent in spirit, and proudly non-conformist, Powell and Pressburger also never lost the impulse for popular appeal. As Martin Scorsese said, “they were the only independent filmmakers who managed to work within the system and still get away with making truly experimental films.”
This full retrospective showcases all twenty films on which Powell and Pressburger collaborated. Looking back from a time of ubiquitous digital filmmaking and VFX, their precious beauty represents the very heritage of cinema, and their faith and confidence in it.
Curated and text by Kiki Fung. Curatorial liaising by Robert Hughes, Australian Cinémathèque.
Technicolor Dreams and Transcendent Reality: The Films of Powell & Pressburger
3 February – 27 April 2024
Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane