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Black Narcissus

Black Narcissus

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Published by: lucyyelding on Dec 10, 2012
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Black Narcissus 1947 Directed by Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Fig 1. Movie Poster Based on the 1939 novel 'Black Narcissus', a group of 5 Anglican nuns are set to the Himalayas to set up a school and hospital for the locals, but conflicts occurs between the nuns and the locals, and between the nuns them selves. They are confronted with repressed memories and battle to hold back their desires and needs. Though England today is still mostly regarded as a Christian country, it is common to openly question beliefs, who is regulating communities, and their intents behind it. How ever, in 1939, to look at nuns dealing with issues of sexuality and become corrupted by their libidos, was certainly stepping the line of what was acceptable, though, Black Narcissus manages to express troubles of sexuality not only through the obvious screen play we see, but through the lighting, scenery and sets. Fig 2. The Bell When we arrive in the new unknown lands of the Himalayas, the pure scale of the scenery is frightening yet full of wonder, as it all seems so unreal, not in the craftsman ship of scenery, but the large open sky, the exotic flowers, the general atmosphere just seems so taunting. The scenery is amazingly all made in England, with expert photography and flawless matte paintings, to create such a convincing image of a completely unknown land to the British audience and the nuns. Film4 reviewer begins to explain the affect of the scenes, 'The movie feels like the product of another planet rather than a different age. The attention to detail is also remarkable, with the sets and backdrops suggesting that this was a film shot on location, rather than one that was cobbled together at Pinewood Studios.' (Film4, unkown) The scenes created, though of course mind blowingly beautiful, but clash with the simplistic nuns, as the lands are growing, blooming, expressive, bold and beautiful, letting nature grow wild as it needs, not much holding it back, where as the nuns are inhibited by their morals, beliefs, codes, and attitude. Though the nuns try their best to resist being affected by the power of the land, the feeling of growing and blooming, the strange atmosphere the land manages to create, certainly does penetrate the confined exterior of the nuns. Christopher Long notes the visual affect the land has on the nuns, 'The Himalayan vistas and the abyss that beckons just below the bell were created with painted backdrops, designed to evoke a sense of perspective that expresses the disorientation and ineffectuality of the sisters, so tiny and frail compared to the land they try futilely to terraform into their Anglican ideal.' (C.Long,2010) and we also begin to see that not only does the land have an affect on the nuns, but the interiors of the church they are to create also has visual connotations of sexuality, a seductive presence, which manages to chip its way through the nuns strict mind set. Rodney Perkins, film reviewer, comments that 'The exotically and erotically decorated building they occupy was once home to a harem. The lingering spirt of fleshy desire invades the minds of the nuns, clouding their thoughts and causing them to do unpious things like: plant flowers instead of food; dream of past romances; and most importantly, lust after a fancy land owner who rides a miniature pony.' (R. Perkins, 2010) The troubles and conflicts between the nuns is not shown just through what is said, but also the key

attention to lighting.

Fig 3. Woes Black Narcissus features the nuns having flash backs to their lives before they devoted their selves to their order, though we only see one Sister's flash backs on screen. Though the sister does not comment on her flash backs until late in the film, were she seeks comfort from the male character, yet we can see her thoughts of them from the visual queues we're given. In figure 3, we can see the Sister's face after experiencing a flash back of her young failed romance, and her clearly worried, confused face. The light is bright, making her skin glow and appear blushing, but the cross casts a daunting shadow, blocking out the romantic sweet aura created. This shows how she is battling to remember her order, and console her emotions with the help of reminding her self of her duties, but it may also express how she can feel how she is starting to feel that her order is blocking her from achieving happiness, that it is beginning to cast a shadow over her life.

Fig 4. Regret In this scene, we see a sister consoling her self, looking for reason behind what she has done, and guidance from her religion. Before, she had planted all the vegetable crops with flowers. Though

flowers are a sign for passion, love, beauty, and from her actions we can analyse that she has also began to sought after these emotions once again, but this scene in particular shows that perhaps, the flowers are to show that her repressed memories are growing, and blooming, and over whelming the character. From the characters distress, we can begin to understand that she is ashamed she has went against her church, and made such mistake, but the flowers in the foreground suggest that perhaps, she is still thinking about her memories, and that such sad eyes are caused by a feeling of regret, and wanting of love. What makes this film so expressive and emotional despite the toned script is the colour and lighting struck upon the sets. Nev Pierce, film reviewer for empire magazine expresses 'Jack Cardiff ’s Oscarwinning cinematography — an unsurpassed showcase for the possibilities of Technicolor — heightens the very meaning of the story, as a slash of red lipstick clashes with the bleached white of a nun’s habit to say so much about repressed desires. No amount of CGI could ever capture the dramatic splendour of the beautiful matte paintings that push a church bell — and the nuns’ emotions — right to the edge of a deep and deadly ravine.' (N. Piece, 2007) The lighting in Black Narcissus explains emotions of many characters throughout the film, but it shows the development of one character's state ever so powerfully.

Fig. 5 Sister Ruth Sister Ruth is a one of the 5 Sisters set out to create the school, and her battles with self esteem and jealousy become evident with her panicking character and the way she behaves. Though her character is acted well, more of her character is revealed through the lighting which is laid upon her through the film. We see her in many shots with her wide eye gaze, with a look that makes you un easy. She does not say or show her intent, but it is exposed through the lighting. In the figure above, we can see the red light highlighting areas of Sister Ruth, but the majority remains in shadows. This can be read as her emotions becoming to surface, yet not fully risen. The red can suggest many things, anger, passion, lust, and it seems to show just all of that, even though her face and actions to not show that at all. It seems as if she is pulling back these emotions, keeping them in the shadows. Through out , we see these emotions become stronger, and as they do, so does this dwelling of red light strengthen upon her.

Fig 6. Watching At this point, her body is covered in all of the red light, we can no longer see the whiteness of her cloaks, and she almost looks like a swelling lump in comparison to the blue set, as if she is throbbing with anger, jealousy and lust. The fact that all of her body is covered in the light shows that all of her emotions have surfaced, and she is fully aware of her emotions, and her intentions, and there is no longer a sense of restriction from her order. We later watch Ruth fully embrace her lust when she no longer wears her nunnery clothes, and dresses into a provocative dress, and glides red lipstick on her lips. Red on her lips clearly states she is accepting her sexual needs, and is preparing to attend to them.

Fig 7. Eyes Here, before we watch her put on her lipstick, we can see her eyes with a confident, off throwing glare. Her red eyeshadow is striking, and although appears to try an simulate sore eyes from lack of

sleep and her character losing control, but also it shows the intentions of her stare, it makes her look raw and painful to look at somehow, as if her intent is not only sexual, but vigorous and violent. We can also see the slight drops of sweat on her forehead, which shows her ill mental state from such confrontations of emotion. From all of this, we can see how a completely untold story to the characters is told, and how much more powerful the use of lighting and scenery is to aid the story of the characters than script alone. Illustrations: Fig 1 (Film Poster) http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/0e/Blacknar.jpg (accessed 09/12/12) Fig 2 (Film Still) http://www.chicagoreader.com/binary/0b15/1333727011408470453_95c284fe4e.jpg(accessed 09/12/12) Fig 3 (Film Still) http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/films/images/photos/blacknarcissuslrg2.jpg(accessed 09/12/12) Fig 4http://images.static-bluray.com/reviews/478_2.jpg (Film Still) (accessed 09/12/12) Fig 5http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/films/images/photos/blacknarcissuslrg3.jpg (Film Still) (accessed 09/12/12) Fig 6 (Film Still) http://www.avforums.com/movies/images/media/9415/capture5.jpg(accessed 09/12/12) Fig 7 http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_KMqOPeCgoT0/TRDFK2YM2OI/AAAAAAAAJ5c/K5nNwZUllxA/s160 0/Katherine%2BByron%2Bin%2BBlack%2BNarcissus-3.jpg(Film Still) (accessed 09/12/12) Bibliography Unknown (2010) Black Narcissus in Film4 [online] at:http://www.film4.com/reviews/1947/blacknarcissus# (accessed 09/12/12) Christopher Long(2010) Black Narcissus in MovieMet [online] at:http://moviemet.com/review/black-narcissus-criterion-collection-blu (accessed 09/12/12) Rodney Perkins (2010) Black Narcissus in TwitchFilm [online] at: http://twitchfilm.com/2010/07/black-narcissus-blu-ray-review.html (accessed 09/12/12) Nev Pierce (2007) Black Narcissus in EmpireMagazine[online] at: http://www.empireonline.com/reviews/ReviewComplete.asp?FID=11330# (accessed 09/12/12)

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