Last summer I wanted to live in a world designed by Joe Wright or Douglas Sirk. But after this month's adventures in Criterion, I think I've changed my vote. I want to be a doomed redhead in one of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's films.
I'm ashamed to say that I'm new to the works of this dynamic duo, particularly since The Red Shoes has been gaining a fervent appreciation due to its recent restoration. I don't know if it's entirely my fault though. None of their films seem to get a lot of airtime or ink. Black Narcissus didn't even get an airing on TCM's Deborah Kerr day last August, and it should have, as it's one of her finest roles. (To be fair, TCM did choose a Powell and Pressburger film for Kerr Day, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp which I haven't yet seen, though it's on my list. But oh, they should have done a back-to-back!) But I suspect that these two will finally get their day in the digital era, as The Red Shoes makes it clear that their films are made for DVDs and Blu-Ray. Maybe we were dealing with time traveling filmmakers. How else could they have predicted how well their Three-Strip Technicolor would look on our HD-TVs?
And oh, the color. I thought Sirk and his impeccably lit snow and stained glass was eyeball heaven. Nope. It's Powell and Pressburger, and their intense, sexy palettes which have to be seen to be believed. The Himalayas have never seen blues and greens like theirs, and sunsets are rarely such perfect combos of pink and orange. Even their whites are, well, immaculate. I don't think I've ever seen and felt the starch of a nun's habit until Black Narcissus.
But all of that pales in comparison to their reds. It's only natural. You don't spin a movie around Hans Christian Anderson's The Red Shoes unless you can truly flaunt your reds, and Powell and Pressburger do. The shoes of that movie are one thing -- and boy, do I need to find a pair of heels that color -- but their luscious lipsticks, red tresses, and red costumes that are just as stunning. Even a red velvet smoking jacket is pure sensuality and bliss under their direction. And did I mention the hair? I did, but it doesn't matter. Redheads haven't looked this incredible outside of Sirk or comic pages -- and neither one of those forums managed to highlight it alongside vampiric skin and red lipstick without looking clownish:
To be fair, the raven haired also look incredible. I can't find a screen cap of Ludmilla Tcherina but I think the blue shine of her hair is generally only seen in strips were they couldn't print black. Here it just looks the way black was always meant to look. But as I'm not dark haired, I have to give my appreciation to their possible (obvious?) redhead fetish and wish I could have been around in 1940something to be cast as one of their heroines. Sure, I'm destined to be miserable. But my lipstick will never smudge or run no matter what the trauma, and it will always be the right shade for my coloring. My hair will glow the way it never does outside of a salon. My white skin will never go beet-red as it does when I'm aflame with emotion or foreign heat, but will only be faintly and prettily peppered with sweat. I'll possess one of those impeccable prewar English accents which are allegedly extinct. I'll always have crisp costumes that match my surroundings just so. And let's not forget just how exotic those surroundings are! London, Monte Carlo, India and all their fantastic mountains, balconies, palaces, and oceans. It may be a shallow wish in exchange for a life of turmoil or a bone-splintered death, but it will look so fantastic when it hits Criterion that I can't begrudge the wishing.