Thursday, June 12, 2008

Black Narcissus

I borrowed our local library's copy of Black Narcissus so many times,
that I finally decided it was time to let others view it, and bought my
very own copy! It is another beautifully remastered, luminous copy from
The Criterion Collection, by that dynamic duo, director Michael Powell
and screenwriter Emeric Pressburger. An adaptation from Rumor
Godden's 1939 novel, it is the story of five Protestant missionary nuns,
led by Sister Clodagh (the magnificent Deborah Kerr), who establish a
school in the Himalayas. The amazing thing about this film, is that it is
filmed entirely in studio, which lends to the feel of the secluded,
mysterious mountain nunnery. The stunning mountain views are
actually painted backgrounds! This effect paid off, because art director
Alfred Junge and cinematographer Jack Cardiff both won Oscars for
their breathtaking technicolor work. The plot contains a subtle, yet
intense love triangle between Sister Clodagh, Sister Ruth (brilliantly
portrayed by Kathleen Byron) and Mr. Dean (the earthy and hairy
chested David Farrar). The strong eroticism felt here is not necessarily
seen, which in my opinion, makes it even more powerful. And adding
to the tension of the plot, Kerr was director Powell's ex-mistress and
Byron his current one! This elegantly crafted piece, weaving a tale of
the spirit vs. the flesh, is one of my very favorite vintage films.


  1. Willow...this sounds like a movie I would enjoy and each time you refer to the library it occurs to me I hardly ever go there. Today I am placing it on my things to do...
    l. go to library
    2. movie...Black Narcissus
    3. laundry
    4. prepare soup for dinner
    5. blog blog blog blog :)

  2. DeeDee, now this sounds like my kind of day! ;)

  3. Oh Willow, this is a great post! This film is one of my all time favourites... and you have detailed what makes this masterpiece perfectly. Time to pull out my copy and watch it again!

  4. Willow, this movie is among my favourites too. The atmosphere in this film is incredible. One really does get a sense of being at the very roof of the world....and the way there is a constant wind blowing really adds to this effect. Strong emotions, strong characters, superb acting, incredible backdrops, and that wind.....

    Really a remarkable film, and based on a book by one of my favourite authors, Rumer Godden. I'm planning to blog soon on another of her books which was made into a movie.

  5. I am not familiar with this film but it sounds magnificent and I am intrigued. The title is particularly enchanting to me.

  6. I had completely forgotten about that movie--I am tempted to watch it again, now though, because I wasn't aware of the real life triangle that was part of the drama here! Did you hear that on TCM? They always have such interesting tidbits of information like that. Joe and I would probably both enjoy seeing that again. Thanks for the reminder!

  7. I've only seen this movie once --long ago--must try to borrow it again and pay more attention :-)

  8. It's a grand film - good choice!

  9. This will be on my Netflix list, too. I can't believe I've never seen this...I love your movie suggestions...

  10. Willow,
    Where do you come up with these movies anyway? Well just add this one to the pile for me to watch on my next visit!! :) Sounds like a good one. Great pics and write up!
    The Bach

  11. Lavinia, yes, that wind!! It makes it so mysterious and sensual. Since it was filmed in the studio, they must have had to use a lot of powerful fans! ;)

    ABWC, I read that interesting little tidbit about Powell's affairs somewhere. Intriguing, huh?

    Bach, okay, I've added it to your's getting pretty tall! You'll have to come over soon and we've have a moviethon. :)

  12. Oh...I'd love to watch this movie. Deborah Kerr was fab. I love her in the Night of the Iguana.
    I see you're listening to the "Chorists" music...beautiful!
    I saw the movie twice and cried twice..

    Have a wonderful inspired day!

  13. Wow, the backdrops are outstanding!

  14. i haven't watched this movie in forever! i didn't know it was all filmed in studio which makes it so amazing to me. thanks or sharing! o love dee dee's to do list!!!

  15. Another classic I will have to add to my Netflix. I do so love all the recommendations.

    Love the new header too. Is that from a Pissaro or Manet? It is familiar but I can't quite name it.

  16. Yes, sounds a great movie...I love Deborah Kerr...but do you know, I have not heard of this movie! So many good movies out there to try and see.

  17. Wow! I can't believe the sets were painted. If this one shot is anything to go by, no wonder it won an Oscar!

  18. Oh dang! I hate it when my heart races and my knees come up to my chin and me sitting there gasping for each breath, only to learn the scenes were painted on canvas. It ain't funny to be that realistic.

    Still with the wind blowing the hair it looks real enough for me to get wobbly knees.

  19. Willow,
    OH MY GOSH... "THE CHORUS" one of my fav!!! And your header picture..mmmmmm!
    Have a great weekend... lets have a cup of creamed coffee together!
    The Bach

  20. Stevie, I wondered if anyone would ask! ;) It's one of my faves John Singer Sargent. "Paul Helleu Sketching his Wife", 1889.

  21. Abe, with all that cornfield dancing you've been doing lately, I hardly think your knees ever get wobbly.

  22. Willow, I just remembered...a friend once told me that Rumer Godden, the author on whose book this movie was based, was most unhappy with the painted sets, which she considered artificial looking. Hard to believe that!

  23. That is hard to believe! I think knowing that they are painted sets makes them all the more breathtaking, don't you?

  24. If you and Bach are having a moviethon I want to come! :)

  25. This is a favorite of mine also. But I had no idea it was filed all in studio - I never would have guessed it! Rumer Godden is a wonderful writer...I think I've read every book of hers and also her sisters (Jon Godden) that I could find, at least once or twice. As well as her autobiography.

  26. that is one movie I would like to see one day. Fantastic pictures, btw.

    Oh, and I wanted to say I love Renoir. He and Turner are perhaps my favourite two artists ever. Good backdrop to your masthead.


Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)