Monday, 18 November 2013

Mise-en-scène Film Review: Black Narcissus

Black Narcissus is a 1947 film by the British writer-producer-director team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, based on the 1939 novel by Rumer Godden. It is a psychological drama about the emotional tensions within a convent of nuns in an isolated valley in the Himalayas. 

Fig.1 Black Narcissus 1947

The film was shot mostly on British studio sets and the backgrounds and vanishing perspectives were matte-paintings. The grandeur of the palace perched on the mountain side is still managed to look dwarfed in comparison to the snow-capped mountains. This came together beautifully in Technicolor. Thomas. M. Pryor, writing at the time of the film's release praises the excellent use of lighting to compliment the scenery; "...the whole chromatic scheme of the picture is marvellous to behold, and the russet hues of sunset streaking through the dilapidated Palace of Mopu, where once wine flowed and harem ladies cavorted, is a brilliant achievement in color composition." (Pryor, 1947)

Fig.2 Black Narcissus 1947

Not only was the lighting used particularly well for the scenery but also for symbolism. As the film progressed, a red tone will subtly filter in until it's become too late. We can see this happening with Sister Ruth in Fig.2. Keith Uhlich from Time Out describes the atmosphere created by the lighting; "You can fully sense the pervasive loneliness that entraps Sister Clodagh in distracting pangs of lost-love reminiscence, as well as the oppressive, sexually charged ambience that wreaks mental and metaphysical havoc on the frenzied Sister Ruth" (Uhlich, 2012)

Fig.3 Black Narcissus 1947

Review Bibliography:

Pryor, Thomas. M (1947) "The New York Times: Black Narcissus Film Review" 
At: (Accessed on 16.11.13)
Uhlich, Keith (2012) "Time Out Says: Black Narcissus" 
At: (Accessed on 16.11.13)

Illustration List:
Fig.1 Black Narcissus (1947) [Poster] 
(Accessed on 16.11.13)
Fig.2 Black Narcissus (1947) Directed by: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, United Kingdom [Film Still]
Fig.3 Black Narcissus (1947) Directed by: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, United Kingdom [Film Still]
At: (Accessed on 16.11.13)

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