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Michael Powell (1905–1990) is one of the tragic geniuses of film: a genius because he is one of the most visually dazzling directors in the history of cinema, tragic because he too often he wasted his talents on inferior scripts, most of them provided by his longtime collaborator, Emeric Pressburger, a Hungarian-Jewish refugee to whom Powell often gave co-director credit.

Powell worked his way up from a studio gofer to a leading director. Many of his journeyman efforts are lost. His career as a mature director begins in 1937 with The Edge of the World. With the exception of The Edge of the World and I Know Where I’m Going (1945), Powell spent his first ten years churning out anti-German, pro-cosmopolitan war propaganda, visually and technically dazzling but often quite silly: The Spy in Black (1939), Contraband (1940), 49th Parallel (1941), One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Canterbury Tale (1944), and A Matter of Life and Death (1946). Powell also directed a number of short propaganda films for the British government with titles like The Lion Has Wings (1939), An Airman’s Letter to His Mother (1941), and The Volunteer (1943).

Powell’s genius only flourished fully after the war, in such apolitical works as Black Narcissus (1947) and The Red Shoes (1948), which is one of my favorite films. Aside from The Tales of Hoffmann (1951), an adaptation of Jacques Offenbach’s opera of the same name, most of Powell’s films in the 1950s were mediocre. Then he produced one last masterpiece, Peeping Tom (1960), the story of a serial killer which was so shocking and distasteful that it pretty much destroyed his career.

Black Narcissus is based on the 1939 novel of the same name by [Margaret] Rumer Godden about a small group of Anglican nuns who set up a convent and school in Mopu, a princely state in the Himalayas. The local potentate, General Toda Rai, gives the sisters an abandoned palace, a former harem decorated with erotic art, perched on the edge of a dizzying precipice with a magnificent view of the Himalayas. Near them is a Hindu holy man, who turns out to be the former owner of the palace. Below them is a bewilderingly complex, violent, and superstitious society. Their only guide is Mr. Dean, an Englishman who manages a tea plantation for the General.

Black Narcissus seems, in part, to be about what can be called “the spirit of place,” understood in terms of landscape, culture, and even human structures. The nuns are all European women, and even though they have already spent some time in India, they seemed to have been relatively cloistered, whereas in Mopu, they are on their own, founding a new convent. Beyond that, the atmosphere in Mopu is particularly potent, bringing each member of the order to a crisis.

Sister Briony, known for her strength, becomes sick due to the high altitude. Sister Philippa, who was brought to tend the vegetable gardens, is overwhelmed by the beauty of the place and plants flowers instead. Sister Honey’s soft-heartedness leads her to give medicine to a fatally ill baby, against the advice of Mr. Dean, who knows that the locals will blame the sisters for the child’s death, which will endanger their mission and perhaps their lives.

The most dramatic crises, however, are those of Sister Clodagh, the young Sister Superior, and Sister Ruth, who is both highly neurotic and affected by the high altitude. Both Clodagh and Ruth are prideful women, which pits them against one another from the start. Beyond that, both women are stirred by the palace’s erotic history and décor, as well as the presence of a highly attractive bachelor, Mr. Dean, into an increasingly conscious sexual rivalry. Dean too, for his part, is clearly attracted to Sister Clodagh, although at first they both seem to hate each other. Dean is also dismissive of the Sisters’ Christian faith and mission. Toss in a budding romance between the General’s son, who is being tutored by the Sisters, and a nubile vixen of the lowest caste who lives at the convent, and you have a simmering cauldron of sexual tension that soon boils over, with disastrous results.

The story’s combination of aestheticism, eroticism, and riveting dramatic conflicts inspired some of Powell’s best work. From start to finish, Black Narcissus is visually ravishing, with tension and suspense mounting until the viewer feels, like Sister Ruth, that he is losing his mind. As the story unfolds, the production becomes increasingly stylized, from the stark simplicity and Vermeer-like light of the scenes before the nuns depart for Mopu, to the voluptuous colors and décor of the palace, to pure German Expressionist horror at the end. The music by Brian Easdale, who also composed the music for The Red Shoes, is some of his finest work. The cast is excellent, with outstanding performances by Deborah Kerr as Sister Clodagh, David Farrar as Mr. Dean, and Kathleen Byron as Sister Ruth.

Black Narcissus was filmed in Technicolor entirely on soundstages, except for some scenes in a London botanical garden, because of Powell’s desire to meticulously control light, color, and atmosphere. Some of the matte paintings look fake, but one is more forgiving when one realizes that practically everything else you took for real is fake as well.

Black Narcissus was released in 1947, when the British Empire was pulling out of India. In that context, a story about British nuns going mad because they are “out of place” in India was taken as anti-colonialist, anti-Imperialist propaganda. That may well have been Pressburger’s intent. As an ethnonationalist, I don’t have any problem with an anti-imperialist message. But I doubt it occurred to Powell, or to the original novelist, that Black Narcissus was about much more than sex.

The Legion of Decency in the US regarded Black Narcissus as anti-Christian and demanded a flashback to Sister Clodagh’s life before becoming a nun be removed. Clodagh came from a wealthy Anglo-Irish family. From childhood, she thought she would marry her sweetheart Con. When she discovered that he planned to go to America and leave her behind, she decided to take her destruction into her own hands and become a nun. She engineered an honorable defeat for herself.

I don’t see anything anti-Christian about acknowledging the fact that some people join religious orders out of disappointment with the world. Nor does it strike me as anti-Christian to acknowledge that celibacy often leaves a lot to be desired.

The deeper message of Black Narcissus is not about sex but about race. Mr. Dean did not lack opportunities for sex in Mopu. Nor were Sister Clodagh and Sister Ruth shut away entirely from men before coming to Mopu. They were constantly surrounded by the natives, after all. What upset the plans of all three was not the presence of a member of the opposite sex, but of a member of the opposite sex of the same race.

Each time I watch Black Narcissus, I prize it more highly. I have avoided spoilers, because I want you to watch it too. But be sure to seek out Michael Powell’s Black Narcissus, because there is now a pretender to the title. In 2020, a three-part British miniseries of Black Narcissus was run on BBC One and FX.

Frankly, I dreaded watching it, wondering how it would be spoiled by political correctness. Fortunately, the production is marred in only one place. When Mother Dorothea (Diana Rigg in her last role) dispatches the nuns to Mopu, she tells Sister Clodagh to take Sister Philippa with her, to depend on for her skill as a gardener—and for her wisdom. This time, however, the wise Sister Philippa is played by a black woman.

The rest of the production is pretty much by the book and helps one appreciate Pressburger’s script, which removed only inessential clutter. The cast, sets, and music are all first rate. Gemma Arterton plays Sister Clodagh, and Alessandro Nivola plays Mr. Dean, with real chemistry between them.

The only improvements are a lack of fake-looking effects and Aisling Franciosi’s portrayal of Sister Ruth. In Powell’s film, you know that Kathleen Byron’s Sister Ruth is trouble right from the start. Franciosi’s Sister Ruth seems sweet and vulnerable at first and only slowly goes mad. It is interesting to see her character develop.

Most importantly, the underlying racial dynamic and message remain unaltered. White people have explored the whole planet, running toward wealth, knowledge, and adventure—or merely running away from trouble and heartache. But no matter the forces that drive us apart, Black Narcissus shows that nature is stronger, that blood is thicker than water—even holy water—and that like seeks like in the end.

 
• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: Hollywood, Movies 
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  1. I wish people would get it straight, There is no such thing as a Hungarian Jew, Just because they speak Hungarian does not make them a Hungarian !

  2. Michelle says:
    @Anti Zionest

    Meany! What makes a Hungarian, Hungarian?

    • Replies: @Marcali
  3. Angharad says:

    I adore Kathleen Byron.as Sister Ruth I’m a huge fan of character actors, in general. Everyone always pays attention to the star actors, for obvious reasons. The stars are the focal points of the story. But the character/secondary actors are just as important, and often give more interesting performances. Byron’s performance in this film is just wonderful! She’s a sort-of early version of a Goth Emo, and is a marvelously mad antidote to Kerr’s starchy, buttoned up Sister Superior. “Ruth” is so wild she frightens the cynical, haughty Mr. Dean. SO much fun. He could have charity-boinked her, but that’s the type you never get rid of if ya do.

    • Thanks: Marshal Marlow
    • Replies: @Mr. Anon
  4. syonredux says:

    I wouldn’t mind seeing a Trevor Lynch series on Powell . The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and A Canterbury Tale are full of Powell’s “High Tory” notions and are certainly worth discussing.

    • Agree: Marshal Marlow
  5. @Anti Zionest

    Just because they speak Hungarian does not make them a Hungarian

    But then, what is ‘Hungarian’?

    • Replies: @D. K.
  6. Never liked Powell. This is a fine film, though.

    COLONEL BLIMP is excellent except for the obvious anti-Germanism.
    MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH is just silly. What might have been light tragedy with comic touch becomes an overly elaborate and heavy-handed, a STATEMENT. Don’t care for its gaudy special effects either though impressive in a way.

    Never finished RED SHOES, indeed never watched beyond 15 min. I’ll take on faith that it’s a great work, a real classic. So many love it, but I prefer a light musical like SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN to something so arty and conceptual.

    Powell, along with Carol Reed and David Lean, was a very visual director big on style and spectacle. Why was this? Were the British trying to over-compensate for their overly literary culture? Still, their methodology didn’t so much transcend literary conventions as expand on them.

    Interesting that British music took off and gained dominance only with Rock.
    At the very least, Lean, Reed, and Powell had the discipline and skill to realize their visions. But Ken Russell was a disaster, and it got no better with Terry Gilliam, American gone Anglo.

  7. Pre-Code movie. Remarkably wicked.

    A worthy precursor to THE BIRDS, THE EXORCIST, CARRIE, THE WITCH, and BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER.

    • Replies: @dfordoom
    , @Angharad
  8. Marcali says:
    @Michelle

    Oh dear! What makes an Albanian an Albanian? What makes an Estonian an Estonian? What makes a Chechen a Chechen? Shall I go on?

    Besides:
    “The English (or French or American, etc.) patriotism of the Jew is only a fancy-dress which he puts on to please the people of the country.” – The Jewish World, December 8, 1911.

  9. @Priss Factor

    COLONEL BLIMP is excellent except for the obvious anti-Germanism.

    I like the part where he is a young man (about the first half) before the anti-Germanism starts.

  10. dfordoom says: • Website
    @Priss Factor

    Rain is a great little movie. Possibly Joan Crawford’s best-ever performance. And yes, delightfully wicked.

    • Replies: @Priss Factor
  11. dfordoom says: • Website
    @Priss Factor

    MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH is just silly. What might have been light tragedy with comic touch becomes an overly elaborate and heavy-handed, a STATEMENT.

    A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH is a complete trainwreck. A truly awful movie.

    Never finished RED SHOES, indeed never watched beyond 15 min. I’ll take on faith that it’s a great work, a real classic. So many love it, but I prefer a light musical like SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN to something so arty and conceptual.

    I struggled to get through SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN but I loved RED SHOES.

    But Ken Russell was a disaster

    Ken Russell could be fun. THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM is ridiculously entertaining.

  12. Dumbo says:

    I never liked very much his style, but I don’t know why. I watched only The Red Shoes, and something else I forgot. Perhaps I’ll watch this one.

    tragic because he too often he wasted his talents on inferior scripts, most of them provided by his longtime collaborator, Emeric Pressburger, a Hungarian-Jewish refugee to whom Powell often gave co-director credit.

    I don’t think that that’s the problem. This sounds like a typical “WN”, blaming the failures of an “Aryan” film, on the “Jewish” scriptwriter. Why didn’t he find somebody else then, or wrote his own scripts? Pressburger was Jewish… So what? Newsflash, almost all screenwriters are Jewish. Even Lorenzo Dal Ponte, Mozart’s most famous librettists, was Jewish.

    Now, I don’t like Jewish subversion more than anyone here, and they tend to be awful at a few arts like painting or architecture, but some Jewish writers are talented.

    • Agree: Mustapha Mond
  13. The power, the power..

  14. Angharad says:
    @Priss Factor

    “Rain” is one of my FAVORITE films EVER. The cinematography, pacing, lighting, and editing is BRILLIANT . I consider this film to be a masterpiece. And it’s not wicked at all. It’s truly moral.

    • Replies: @dfordoom
    , @Priss Factor
  15. dfordoom says: • Website
    @Angharad

    “Rain” is one of my FAVORITE films EVER. The cinematography, pacing, lighting, and editing is BRILLIANT . I consider this film to be a masterpiece. And it’s not wicked at all. It’s truly moral.

    You could see it as a moral film, although a lot of Christians would see it as being very immoral. I can’t explain too much about the reasons for that without revealing spoilers, other than to say it’s a battle of wills between a very unlikeable preacher and a rather likeable prostitute.

    Insofar as it explores what it means to be moral then yes, it’s a moral movie.

    Either way it is a great movie.

    • Replies: @Priss Factor
  16. Dumbo says:

    I watched it now (it’s available for free in good quality on JewTube!). A good movie, actually!

    Although I felt the ending was a bit of a downer (although predictably, and couldn’t end any other way, I suppose).

    It takes a little bit getting used to the painted backgrounds and studio feel of it (I guess it’s what initially turned me off of Powell, although the colours can be quite beautiful) and the occasional overacting (i.e. Sister Ruth – but perhaps it’s not really overacting, everything is purposefully stylized, she becomes like a demonic figure and the red/purple light and colour associated with her is not a coincidence).

    The deeper message of Black Narcissus is not about sex but about race.

    No, it isn’t. What I hate about “white nationalist” film critics like “Trevor Lynch”, is that they seem absolutely incapable of seeing things through another prism. It’s like a prison of the mind. This makes them very limited, mentally, intellectually.

    It’s like with Steve Sailer, every movie review by him is never about the movie, but about his obsessions with race and status and statistics and HBD.

    Anyway, although the movie obviously deals with cultural differences, and the impossibility of living or transforming an alien place into something else, the film is not about race at all. It might be a slightly bit anti-colonialist, although I don’t think that was the intention.

    Also, comparing the old film with the new version is ludicrous. Well, I haven’t watched the new one (except for a trailer), but it is obviously so artistically inferior to the original that it surprises me that Lynch would even say anything positive about it.

    You can watch the original below:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrZf7lZHNjU

  17. D. K. says:
    @Priss Factor

    The priest in “F.I.S.T.” (1978) was played by an actual Hungarian refugee:

    https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0804071/?ref_=ttfc_fc_cl_t29

    He was the assistant pastor at my own parish in Gary, from 1956 until 1959, and belatedly retired, just a few years ago:

    https://dioceseofgary.org/senior-priests

  18. Dumbo says:

    As an aside, I thought at one point it was implied that the General’s (Rajah’s) son was a homosexual, but, well, it doesn’t seem to be the case in the end. Although perhaps it would make sense.

  19. @Dumbo

    Sorry Dumbo, but I gave a very tight argument for why race is quite central to what happens in the plot. You just brushed it aside because you don’t like it.

  20. @Dumbo

    Also, comparing the old film with the new version is ludicrous. Well, I haven’t watched the new one (except for a trailer), but it is obviously so artistically inferior to the original that it surprises me that Lynch would even say anything positive about it.

    You haven’t watched it, and I have, yet you assert that comparisons are ludicrous based on a trailer. Wow, what a self-own.

    Pro tip: Don’t think out loud. Just share your conclusions. And if they aren’t worth sharing, as in this case, then don’t say anything at all.

    • Replies: @Dumbo
  21. @dfordoom

    You could see it as a moral film, although a lot of Christians would see it as being very immoral.

    It is supremely Beavisy.

    • Replies: @Angharad
  22. @Angharad

    It’s truly moral.

    Amoral.

    • Replies: @Angharad
  23. dfordoom says: • Website
    @Dumbo

    The deeper message of Black Narcissus is not about sex but about race.

    No, it isn’t. What I hate about “white nationalist” film critics like “Trevor Lynch”, is that they seem absolutely incapable of seeing things through another prism. It’s like a prison of the mind. This makes them very limited, mentally, intellectually.

    I agree.

    They’re actually a lot like homosexual film critics who see homoerotic subtexts in absolutely every film ever made.

  24. Dumbo says:
    @Trevor Lynch

    Well, sometimes you can see if a wine is good or bad just by the label…

    I really doubt that the new BBC series is very good, much less that it has any of the grace and artistry of the original. But true, I didn’t watch it. Nor will I. I don’t like remakes.

  25. The Reviewer says: “Black Narcissus is visually ravishing, with tension and suspense mounting until the viewer feels, like Sister Ruth, that he is losing his mind… but one is more forgiving when one realizes that practically everything else you took for real is fake as well.” Does the Reviewer hear himself? How fake does it have to be before it is too fake? Or too absurd?

    • Replies: @Trevor Lynch
  26. Mr. Dean did not lack opportunities for sex in Mopu. Nor were Sister Clodagh and Sister Ruth shut away entirely from men before coming to Mopu. They were constantly surrounded by the natives, after all. What upset the plans of all three was not the presence of a member of the opposite sex, but of a member of the opposite sex of the same race.

    An insightful comment.

    In over two decades living in Asia, the most common complaint I’ve heard from single white women living here is about the lack of available men for marriage (it’s probably the most common reason for a single woman in her twenties moving back to her home country).

    As Mr. Lynch notes, there is no lack of men in Asia. What they mean is a lack of available white men.

    • Agree: Angharad
    • Replies: @Commentator Mike
  27. Angharad says:
    @Priss Factor

    Moral. The Christian minister Davidson looked down on all the degenerates around from from the vantage point of the VERY High Moral Horse he built for himself. Davidson considered himself to be far, far superior to the Humans he interacted with. His main motivation was power. Not genuinely helping “his flock” – but judging, controlling and condemning them. He focused on Sadie because she was the focal point of the “degenerates” on the island, because she was very very attractive in every way, albeit with a tacky demeanor. She was beautiful, lively, and fun. A total threat to Davidson’s desire to RULE.

    He honed in on her and subjected her to a relentless psy opps campaign. He got Sadie to be willing to pay for her crimes, with the penalty of years and years of imprisonment. The night before she was to return to the States, he raped her. He betrayed her, and betrayed her utterly She BELIEVED in him – and he literally SCREWED her. He ALSO betrayed his wife and his parishioners. His Puritanical FALSE moral rectitude crippled him in his ability to deal with a very natural sexual desires. His FALSE morality made him utterly incapable of dealing with innate Human drives and instincts. He couldn’t allow for the fact that even the best of Humans, let alone the worst, often make very stupid mistakes, and are going to continue to do so. Human beings will never ever ever be “perfect”. We are flesh and blood, after all. Davidson even betrayed his Christian credo be committing suicide. He was such a wannabe tinpot dictator that he couldn’t even follow the demands of his own ALLEGED faith.

    Sadie paid for her crimes with her betrayal by Davidson. I’m glad she decided to become herself again – and be redeemed. After all the film ends with Sadie going off to marry her Sergeant O’Hara – and O’Hara knew very well that Sadie was a prostitute. His choice. Davidson’s tragic fate is serves a a cautionary example of how NOT to think and BE.

    The film is profoundly moral.

    • Replies: @Priss Factor
  28. @ivegotrythm

    Sorry, I don’t see anything outrageous here.

  29. @Change that Matters

    It’s tough for white women in Asia as there are so many available Asian women competing with them. I’ve known many married white professional expats who abandoned their well educated decent wives for maids, bar girls, prostitutes. And some of these white women were good looking, hard working and I couldn’t understand why the white guys divorced them and sent them back but then how would I know what goes on behind closed doors. Many a long term white marriage was broken by a move to Asia.

  30. Angharad says:
    @Priss Factor

    I have no idea what that means – but please don’t tell me. Thanks.

  31. Liza says:

    I don’t see anything anti-Christian about acknowledging the fact that some people join religious orders out of disappointment with the world. Nor does it strike me as anti-Christian to acknowledge that celibacy often leaves a lot to be desired.

    I did see the original version quite recently. Yes, it was interesting to look at. Quite high quality visually.

    Yes, celibacy may leave a lot to be desired. So do romance and sex, judging by the gross unhappiness, lack of fulfillment, and instability in so many of these kinds of relationships.

    I don’t see this film being about race because interracial (white with nonwhite) relationships between men and women were not, at that time and in that place, even an issue – at least as far as I know. Part of this film is a silly attack on nonsexual persons. There are endless jokes about nuns who just can’t, you know, devote their lives to Christ, and are secretly aching, day and night, for a good you-know-what with a man, any man. Or even a woman if a man isn’t available. Well, maybe some nuns are running away from romance, sex and marriage out of disappointment or some other motivation, but when that is the major theme, how else can you interpret this other than anti-celibacy and anti Christian.

    • Replies: @lydia
  32. Dumbo says:

    The film is very nice, I liked it. Thanks. I will watch The Red Shoes now.

    And Rain, that some commenter mentioned. Thanks.

  33. @Angharad

    Moral.

    A case of yammy-dammis.

    The Christian minister Davidson looked down on all the degenerates around from from the vantage point of the VERY High Moral Horse he built for himself. Davidson considered himself to be far, far superior to the Humans he interacted with. His main motivation was power. Not genuinely helping “his flock” – but judging, controlling and condemning them.

    By our standards, he’s pretty insufferable. But that is the nature of religion. To judge. Serving God means to see and judge humans from a higher perch. It’s about being humble before God but high-and-mighty with the sinners.

    Religion is, to an extent, about helping people, but there’s more. If religion is only about helping people, the welfare department or any social work would be like religion. But they are not. Welfare office helps without judgement. Social worker does good work for the less fortunate but doesn’t try to change their ways. Religion is ultimately about saving souls. Christianity, as Jesus formulated it, is not about saving people’s bodies from poverty but saving their souls from the temptations of the body. Jesus thought poverty was the path to purity. Not that poverty itself was good. But it was the first step in the abnegation of worldly desires. To be poor and not minding being poor, that was the start. (Today, many have this silly idea that Jesus was a social-democrat who was about helping the poor. No, he told the haves to give away their stuff to the have-nots and become have-nots themselves.)
    So, in a way, the preacher is on solid ground. He focuses on Sadie’s soul. It’s not about her behaving better or going off to Australia and leaving him and his family alone. It’s about her soul. It must be judged and cleansed. Change of behavior isn’t enough. Change of heart is what counts. She must be judged. Also, the whole point of being a preacher is to be above the flock. The idea is that he has studied more, prayed more, and cleansed his own soul more. So, he has earned the right to judge the flock. It’s like professors, having learned more, earned the right to teach and grade papers of students. They get to judge.
    The preacher is right that Sadie’s initial concessions are the product of fear, not genuine contrition.
    He is among two kinds of people. Soldiers who are trained to kill and conquer. The US has control over that island because of military might. The natives live under fear of US power and in dependence of its largesse. It’s all about materialism. And such places attract floozies like Sadie. Men with guns, and ho with a hole. The preacher, in contrast, wants to win over people spiritually. He is outmuscled by the soldiers and Sadie can shout back, decibel for decibel. But he’s caught between the sex ritual between soldiers and whores.

    He focused on Sadie because she was the focal point of the “degenerates” on the island, because she was very very attractive in every way, albeit with a tacky demeanor. She was beautiful, lively, and fun. A total threat to Davidson’s desire to RULE.

    The problem wasn’t that she was only attractive, lively, and fun. In a way, tacky like you said, she too is a preacher of sorts. A ho preacher. She’s so into her lifestyle that she flaunts her way wherever she goes. Indeed, the whole mess could have been avoided IF she didn’t play the music so loud, act inconsiderate & insulting, and make the preacher lose face.
    In a way, the conflict between them is personal because the preacher’s manhood has been besmirched. She attracts the men of muscle who push him out. His spirituality amounts to little against guns and muscle. So, he becomes even more desperate to win spiritually.
    Also, even though he’s a man of big ego, it’s not just about HIS rule but about the rule of civilization, i.e. all social orders rely on well-regulated norms between men and women based on morality(and perhaps spirituality). Sadie tramples all over such things. It’s like the conversation in LAST DAYS OF DISCO where the ‘loon’ talks about how LADY AND THE TRAMP is a bad example for young girls; it teaches them to go for jerks who are more flashy.
    Of course, the needs of civilization can be square, boring, and dull compared to the temptations of boogie-oogie, and there is no simple formula. Puritanism is a pain in the ass, but today’s puerile-tariaism is utterly degrading. Anyway, the conflict between the preacher and the ho represents something much larger than them. Also, the fact that both characters are deeply flawed, dishonest, and compromised also represents how (self)deception is part and parcel of the human condition.

    [MORE]

    He honed in on her and subjected her to a relentless psy opps campaign. He got Sadie to be willing to pay for her crimes, with the penalty of years and years of imprisonment.

    What’s truly detestable is he resorts to ‘political’ means to bring about his spiritual victory. He talks a good sermon about the heart, but when push comes to shove, he’s not above calling on the local authority and threatening it with damning public opinion. He acts like Toohey in THE FOUNTAINHEAD.
    And of course, we have Jews acting like that today. Jews talk big about ‘equality’ and ‘justice’, but it pretty much comes down to their use of money and power over law to get what they want, by hook and by crook. The preacher sees himself as a spiritual warrior against the power of guns, muscle, and boobs, but he is very much an agent of US imperialism, and he’s not averse to falling back on ‘political’ means to get what he wants. Thus, the preacher’s victory isn’t really spiritual. He resorted too much to worldly power and dirty tricks, though he’s too full of himself to realize this. (To be sure, at the very end, he tells her that she, having been saved, need not return to the US and face prison. It was really a test to see if she was really redeemed, and she tells him that she will return and do her time. It is THIS moment that makes him feel that he won spiritually for sure.)

    Now, speaking of psy-op, it is what she ultimately does to him. His method is too crude and blustery for psy-op. It’s more god-cop. When it comes to the art of psychology, she proves to be the master. The ho knows.

    The night before she was to return to the States, he raped her. He betrayed her, and betrayed her utterly She BELIEVED in him – and he literally SCREWED her.

    This is where the psy-op comes in. It’s not so much that he ‘raped’ her but that she seduced him. Her intuition understood him better than he understood himself. She sensed that her sexuality did arouse in some way; however, he could lord over her as tart and floozy. He could resist that and condemn it as sinfulness and wantonness and etc. As a tart, she was sexy but not beautiful. She looked cheap and a bit grotesque, a country hick’s idea of an urban chick.

    So, she decides to do a number on him. She pretends to be won over. She pretends to be converted and baptized. She has an advantage over him because she knows both cultures. She probably grew up in some rural town and heard the preachers and their talk. She knows the mindset of such people. But she’s also seen the lurid side of life. And she comes to look into his heart.
    His spirituality is hardy enough to push down against the tart, floozy, hussy, and ho but not powerful enough to say no to an angel. In other words, he can resist Mary Magdalene but not Mama Mary. (In HAROLD AND MAUDE, the psychiatrist says, “…what puzzles me Harold is you want to sleep with your grandmother.” It could be said of the priest “What puzzles me, Richardson, is you don’t want to sleep with Mary Magdalene but with Virgin Mary.” It’s like Joe Buck + Luis Bunuel.)
    She sensed this in him. So, she pretends to transform from a sinful tart to an radiant angel. Indeed, she grows truly beautiful only with this shift in her demeanor. Some part of her really feels this ‘transcendence'(but then all actors do fall into the roles they are playing), but it is really a game. And she proves right. He helped create this new woman, this saved woman. Pygmalion-like, he changed her from a sinful ho to a redemptive angel… and by golly, she is the hottest thing he ever done seen. He has his personal renaissance moment, the fusion of Christian spirituality and pagan beauty, or pagan beauty sanctified. And this is where things get beavisy. Indeed, his countenance at the moment of total victory is so beavis-like. Paradoxically, his biggest victory is his biggest defeat because he is sexually most drawn to the saved woman who is beautiful beyond anything a tart can show. Sadie goes from booty to beauty. And Joan Crawford was really good at playing both sides of the female aisle, the sultry and the saintly, and she does both in RAIN.

    Look at the beavisy look on his face at the 1:25 mark of the movie. The rain is falling, the native drums are beating, and he’s going boi-oi-oi-oi-oing.

    His Puritanical FALSE moral rectitude crippled him in his ability to deal with a very natural sexual desires. His FALSE morality made him utterly incapable of dealing with innate Human drives and instincts. He couldn’t allow for the fact that even the best of Humans, let alone the worst, often make very stupid mistakes, and are going to continue to do so. Human beings will never ever ever be “perfect”.

    No, the problem isn’t that his morality is false. It’s that morality, even if true and normal, is problematic because (1) human nature is animal, thus amoral and (2) modernity & democracy allow this animal-anarchic side to emerge and indulge far more than in the past.
    We’ve long ago done away with priggish puritanism, but the problems of sexuality hasn’t gotten better. In pre-modern times, the pressures from communal norms, fatal sexual diseases, endless toil, power of church, and patriarchy kept things under control.
    Modernity promised more freedom, and we like freedom. And modernity lead to surplus and more leisure, which we like too. The negative side-effects have been that people began to indulge more in themselves. Worse, they stopped taking responsibility for their actions. Today, the likes of Sadie will sleep around, use abortion to kill kibblers, or shunt off their kids to other people so they can jump in the sack again. Sadie isn’t merely a flawed character like everyone else. She brazenly goes about raising ruckus wherever she goes to strut her stuff as a form of whore-evangelicalism. Of course, this turns on the young soldiers raging with hormones, but she is trouble.

    Also, the preacher isn’t looking for perfection. He would have had no trouble with Sadie if she were just another flawed person, which is everyone. The thing is she won’t keep her ways to herself. She has to strut it all around and violate others’ public space. It’s like homos today aren’t content to be homo and bugger each other indoors. They gotta take over public spaces and turn it into a spectacle. Worse, they must now enter churches and turn sodomy into the new holiness. It went from wholesome to hole-some. And in the case of Sadie, it’s a kind of whore-some-ness. She proselytizes her prostitute-ways.

    So, it becomes a spiritual war between the preacher and the ho. They aren’t merely two individuals but one is an emissary of God and the other is an agent of the Devil. It’s like the priest isn’t really fighting the girl in THE EXORCIST. He is fighting the Devil inside her.
    At any rate, the truly wicked thing is the Devil comes out in him just when she seems to given over to the Lord. That’s what’s truly perverse and funny.. and yet, in some way, plausible.

    No wonder that the young priest in THE EXORCIST, upon taking in the Devil inside his body, jumps out the window and kills himself along with the darkness. The preacher ends up killing himself too but not before he gets all beavisy.

    Sadie paid for her crimes with her betrayal by Davidson. I’m glad she decided to become herself again – and be redeemed.

    No, she was always herself. It was an act she played to seduce and destroy him.
    It’s like what Edward Norton’s character says, “there never was an Aaron”.
    There’s saying in boxing, “Never hook with a hooker”. That’s what the preacher did and got KO’ed.

  34. Mr. Anon says:
    @Angharad

    I thought Kathleen Byron was a knockout – a real stunner (Anne Heche looked much like her). And that’s on screen together with Deborah Kerr, who was a great beauty herself. She retained her good looks for a long time too.

    Byron was in “Saving Private Ryan” in the bookend scenes, as the wife of the aged Ryan.

    • Agree: Angharad
    • Replies: @Angharad
  35. I saw the title of this review and thought it was going to be a review of a Blaxploitation film. But in all due seriousness, I did once see a movie called “Black Orpheus” which was the Orpheus and Eurydice tale from the Greek myths set in the modern favelas of Rio during Carnivale. More art house than Blaxploitation. But yeah – Narcissus, Orpheus – both tragic figures from Greek mythology. That’s probably what made me think of it.

  36. Excal says:
    @Priss Factor

    COLONEL BLIMP is excellent except for the obvious anti-Germanism.

    I agree — it is excellent. Considering that it was made while the country was actually at war with the Germans, I found it surprisingly easy on them. I found it much more anti-Nazi, than anti-German.

    Interesting that British music took off and gained dominance only with Rock.

    Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Holst, Britten, Purcell, Tallis, Byrd, and quite a number of others would like to have a word with you.

    • Replies: @Trevor Lynch
  37. @Excal

    I agree — it is excellent. Considering that it was made while the country was actually at war with the Germans, I found it surprisingly easy on them. I found it much more anti-Nazi, than anti-German.

    Colonel Blimp is an explicit argument for committing warcrimes against the Germans — as if the quellers of the Indian Mutiny and creators of the concentration camp in the Boer wars were terribly scrupulous about such things to begin with.

    • Replies: @Excal
  38. Excal says:
    @Trevor Lynch

    The concept of “war crimes” is an interesting artefact of nineteenth-century romanticism. War has always been hell.

    Many English consciously consider themselves to be a kind of German. Both of the great wars against Germany (which really were wars with Prussia) had more than a whiff of family quarrel — with a wayward and possibly schizophrenic cousin. I think Colonel Blimp captures that very effectively.

  39. @Anti Zionest

    How would you distinguish a Hungarian Jew from a Yemenite Jew? Or must we all be bound to see only in primary colours so as to protect your sensitivities?

  40. Angharad says:
    @Mr. Anon

    I thought Byron was stunning myself, and she was such an original artist!

  41. lydia says:
    @Liza

    Rumer Godden wrote another book about nuns called In This House of Brede – she lived in the carriage house of enclosed nuns in the UK for 3 years and became a Catholic. The movie with Diana Rigg is terrible and they changed quite a bit of it. I highly recommend In This House of Brede novel It is excellent and based on true feelings of nuns Much much richer and deeper than the sensationalistic Black Narcissus.

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