A LIFE IN THE MOVIES: An Autobiography by Michael Powell

A LIFE IN THE MOVIES: An Autobiography

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A colossal tub of caviar for film lovers, British octogenarian Powell's 700-page autobiography covers only the first half of his career, up to his directing The Red Shoes at age 43. Admittedly, the first 95 pages of youthful reminiscence will be hard rowing for American readers eager for the ""life in movies"" to begin, but the wait is well rewarded by the sheer density of Powell's detail about moviemaking. His hymn to the silents, the first third of the book, shows us indeed what we lost by the coming of sound and the watering of image-making with dialogue. Rarely has silent film been so richly weighed and found so overflowingly intense. Powell got into films in his early 20s, working with superdirector Rex Ingram's crew, first as a still photographer, and within three years he had tried his hand at every facet of the new art. After working for Ingram, he fell in with Alfred Hitchcock and helped make some of Hitchcock's early masterpieces. According to Powell, he gave Hitchcock the idea for ending his films with outrageously scenic chases. When sound finally arrived, Powell was diverted from art into making ""quota quickies,"" hour long British movies the government demanded must be shown as the bottom half of double bills featuring films from the American monopolies. At last, he was sucked into the orbit of the three Korda brothers' London Films and began the major period of his career, along with screenwriter Emeric Pressburger, a Hungarian who knew just how to deal with the Hungarian Kordas. Or did he? After 12 strong films, most of them box-office winners, the writer-director team found that it had a great body of work and no capital, so Powell and Pressburger put together their own production company. Meanwhile, we have watched the day-by-day filming of the Technicolor The Thief of Bagdad, of Stair-way to Heaven, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes. The book ends on the apparent financial failure of The Red Shoes and its dismissal by the money-minded Kordas as a thing they don't understand, hate, and wish they had never backed since it may sink their company. It later became one of the top-grossing pictures of all time--but the Kordas still bated it. Glorious gossip, but mostly you-are-there at the storm center, directing. On to volume two!

Pub Date: March 18th, 1987
Publisher: Knopf