VIDEO ESSAY: ART GOES ON FOREVER: A Tribute to The Archers, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

VIDEO ESSAY: ART GOES ON FOREVER: A Tribute to The Archers, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Art Goes On Forever–A Tribute to The Archers from Serena Bramble on Vimeo.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: PressPlay is proud to premiere a new video essay by San Francisco-based critic-filmmaker Serena Bramble. Serena blogs about movies at Brief Encounters of the Cinematic Kind and posts short videos about cinema history and style under the screenname Ruby Tuesday. Her 2009 piece "Endless Night: A Valentine to Film Noir" is surely the only deep-dish appreciation of film noir tropes to rack up over 100,000 views on YouTube. Her new piece about the directing team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger can be seen above, and you can read an accompanying article below.

Given the immense popularity and importance of Michael Powell's solo effort Peeping Tom, especially as it pertains to the horror genre, one might give more credit to Powell rather than Emeric Pressburger in their collaborative adventures through film. But make no mistake, as the co-credited writers, directors and eventually producers better known as The Archers, Powell and Pressburger and their loyal group of frequent collaborators (including actors Anton Walbrook, Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron and David Farrar, as well as cinematographer Jack Cardiff) created some of the most delightful, character-driven, colorful, and utterly cinematic works in film history. Like the cinematic equivalent of Bernie Taupin and Elton John, whatever emphasis on responsibilities might have been divided among Powell and Pressburger, that gap was bridged by their commitment to the other's art, the sensitivity to each others' creative needs. Pressburger once remarked that "[Powell] knows what I am going to say even before I say it — maybe even before I have thought it – and that is very rare. You are lucky if you meet someone like that once in your life." In other words, professional soulmates.

Originally collaborating on anti-Nazi propaganda for producer Alexander Korda with films such as The Spy in Black and Contraband, Powell and Pressburger combined their prior work experiences (by the time they met, Powell was a seasoned director while Pressburger had done many re-writes for Korda) to create their own unique vision of film. By 1942, they were credited as writers-producers-directors for One of Our Aircraft is Missing, and their production company The Archers was born. In a letter to Wendy Hiller asking her to appear in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp as Clive Candy's (Roger Livesey) dream girl in three different incarnations, Emeric Pressburger proclaimed The Archer's Manifesto. It read:

1. We owe allegiance to nobody except the financial interests which provide our money; and, to them, the sole responsibility of ensuring them a profit, not a loss.
2. Every single foot in our films is our own responsibility and nobody else's. We refuse to be guided or coerced by any influence but our own judgement.
3. When we start work on a new idea we must be a year ahead, not only of our competitors, but also of the times. A real film, from idea to universal release, takes a year. Or more.
4. No artist believes in escapism. And we secretly believe that no audience does. We have proved, at any rate, that they will pay to see the truth, for other reasons than her nakedness.
5. At any time, and particularly at the present, the self respect of all collaborators, from star to prop-man, is sustained, or diminished, by the theme and purpose of the film they are working on.

From The 49th Parallel which attempted to goad the U.S. out of isolationism, to The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp's too-true understanding of the British government's naive idea of a "gentleman's war," (so much so that Winston Churchill tried to have the film banned in Britain) The Archers' pulse on wartime Britain was uncanny and proved to be the force behind their most successful period; even Vicki Page's predicament in The Red Shoes reflects the decision many working women had to face post-war, of choosing between their work and their family. Perhaps their most amazing accomplishment as storytellers was underlining the distinction between a Nazi and a German. While today it is not considered out of the ordinary to tell true stories of "the one good Nazi" in films like Valkyrie and Schindler's List, to make that distinction by telling the decades-long friendship between a German soldier and a British soldier during the height of WWII in 1943 in Colonel Blimp was indeed a rare and daring feat. To hear Anton Walbrook proclaim himself as a "tired old man who has come to England because he is homesick" is to hear the weary cry of the thousands of misplaced souls during the horribly disorienting WWII years.

If there was one moment in which single-handedly culminates The Archers' style, their sympathy of their characters' moral dilemmas, and their unique understanding of the limitless possibilities of cinema, it must be the the 15-minute dance montage in The Red Shoes. With a complete disregard for realism, it could stand alone as its own short film. With Vicki Page (Moira Shearer) cast in the lead for a ballet adaptation of the fairy tale The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Anderson, it doesn't take long for the audience to connect the dots between dancer and role. The opening's red curtain reminds the audience (of the film) that this is a performance, and the quite normal editing reinforces this. Then, at some point something changes. The costume changes that occur seemingly in microseconds, the increasingly challenging and quick editing, the dimensions of space which all but appear impossible…as an audience member, we should be programed to dismiss this as unrealistic, but because of the magic of Powell and Pressburger and their commitment to the form of cinema, it becomes a moment which encapsulates their triumphs as filmmakers.

While The Archers became less successful in the 1950s and ended officially in 1957, their efforts during the years between left an indelible mark on filmmakers, particularly in the last few years whether anyone noticed it or not Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker tells the tale of a daring bomb detonator not unlike Sammy Rice of The Small Back Room. In 2010, a headstrong woman journeyed to the northern isles with marriage on her mind only to be diverted by stormy weather, local color and true love. Leap Year lifted the plot of I Know Where I'm Going but not the verbal wit or the atmospheric magic. And perhaps most (in)famously, The Red Shoes was one of many classic films blended to create Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, concerning a ballerina dangerously caught up in the role she is asked to play and the sociological identities she must choose between.

While many of these films merely lift the plot of the Archers' many masterpieces, it is a rarity in which a filmmaker embodies the magic and deft understanding of the dreamscapes of time and space. But there is hope; Martin Scorsese has been a vociferous fan of The Archers and their use of color, music, memory and montage was beautifully paid homage to in Scorsese's underrated tale of the haunting power of fragmented memories Shutter Island. Ever the ambassador for the preservation of classic films both technically and viscerally, Scorsese understood the importance of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger before anyone else did, before it became "cool." By heading the restoration of The Red Shoes (which can be viewed in all its splendor on the new 2-disc Criterion Edition DVD), Scorsese continues to be a beacon of hope in introducing The Archers to a new generation. As Leslie Howard once cheerfully stated in The 49th Parallel, "Wars may come and wars may go, but art goes on forever." That line is more than a potential motto for The Archers; it is a testament to their enduring popularity and unforgettable importance in the 21st Century.

"The love impulse in man frequently reveals itself in terms of conflict."

Serena Bramble is a rookie film editor whose montage skills are an end result of accumulated years of movie-watching and loving. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Teledramatic Arts and Technology from Cal State Monterey Bay. In addition to editing, she also writes on her blog Brief Encounters of the Cinematic Kind.

DEEP FOCUS: War Against the Machines: Terminator 2: Judgment Day

DEEP FOCUS: War Against the Machines: Terminator 2: Judgment Day

James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day opened on July 3, 1991. It was a sequel to his surprise hit The Terminator, which was released 7 years earlier; in the original, Cameron was clearly working with a limited budget, but "Terminator 2" was designed to be more ambitious, as he had made both Aliens and the personal but financially unsuccessful The Abyss in between. Perhaps in response to that failure, Cameron fully subscribed to the "Bigger is Better" school of filmmaking to guarantee audiences would not reject his future work. He decided to revisit his earlier hit to not only expand on that story, but to realize a vision that was limited years before by both technology and budget. Cameron was given a then-astronomical budget of $102 million. What did that money buy, you may ask? A turning point in photorealistic, computer-generated images — or what we call today, in the post-Terminator land of films, "CGI".

The Terminator films operate on the same premise. In Cameron's future, the world has been taken over by an artificially intelligent computer system called Skynet that has revolted against its human creators, the defense firm Cyberdyne Systems. In Terminator 2, the assassin sent back in time to kill future human resistance leader John Connor is the constantly morphing T-1000. Or perhaps we should refer to it as James Cameron's machine creation.

The shapeshifting T-1000 is a more effective killing machine than the original T-800 model played by Schwarzenegger in both films, but humanity ultimately wins out when the older Terminator model outsmarts him. With both the cyborg assassin and Cyberdyne Systems' technological research destroyed, the sequel presents a definitive ending. The victorious T-800 lowers himself into burning liquid metal, ensuring the world will not be destroyed and humanity will triumph. James Cameron leaves us with amessage of hope. At least, that is what we thought when we watched the film end back in 1991. Unfortunately, the story did not end there. Not unlike Cyberdyne, Cameron had let his creation turn against him. It is easy to point out both the unnecessary sequels and television show which undid the ending to Terminator 2 to shamelessly cash in on the premise again and again. But those were not necessarily Cameron's doing. They may instead be long-term effects of building movies out of CGI blocks. This is the film's true legacy, and Cameron himself — the director of such CGI-laden films as True Lies, Titanic and Avatar — is not only a practitioner of this type of filmmaking, but a vocal advocate as well. We must ask: Is James Cameron Cyberdyne, building the technology that will be used against humanity?

In the 20 years since Terminator 2, our movie theaters have become inundated with one soulless CGI spectacle after one another. Filmmakers have looked to what was groundbreaking in Cameron's 1991 film and responded with a weightless cinema in which larger percentages of any shot are given over to computers and, ultimately, lack dramatic consequence; it becomes more difficult to believe in something once you realize it was created by hardware and software.

When we look more closely at Terminator 2, one can see the seeds of this planted in the contradictory ways it presents its ideas. Surprisingly, the CGI in Cameron's Terminator sequel is restrained in its use, especially compared to what subsequent movies, including Cameron's, have done since. At the time, Cameron was still using practical in-camera effects, a product of his earlier work in low-budget filmmaking. His 1980s movies often employed models, miniatures and puppets, even as he eventually moved towards digital effects in 1989's The Abyss. Cameron's vision at the time was not as disconnected from the human experience as it is now. We could differentiate between the machines and true flesh and blood. This is why Terminator 2 cannot be dismissed so easily. Yes, Cameron is playing with a bigger toy box, but he does not do so at the expense of his ideas or the genuine affection he has for his characters. The movie never forgets that it is about a mother-son relationship, though one that has the future of the world at stake. As with many Cameron films, there is a great deal of skepticism about how we employ technology in the modern age, particularly when it leads to some sort of blowback. The villains in the Terminator movies are not only the machines, but those who created them — namely the researchers at Cyberdyne Systems, the fictional corporation in T2 that allowed the machines the opportunity to wipe out humanity. The film preaches a message that machines are not to be trusted.

But it does so by relying heavily on computer technology. And at one point, the film's heroine Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) too easily accepts the possibility that the T-800 sent to protect her son John (Edward Furlong) would be his best possible father figure. It often feels as if Cameron wants us to love the machine, especially when it has him spouting catchphrases ("Hasta la vista, baby") to make metal and steel more cuddly.

While we can all acknowledge that we have seen CGI employed to realize some filmmakers' artistic visions, those films have been rare amid the visual noise that we have had to endure. Cameron himself has not been immune to film's greatest indulgence of the last two decades; his movies have become more bloated, not merely in budget, but in spectacle. The runaway box office successes of both Titanic and Avatar may suggest that his finger is on the pulse of America, but it is also representative of the collective short-sightedness of both the filmmaker and his audience. The fighting cyborgs of Cameron's Terminator films have evolved — or more appropriately, devolved — into the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em robot creations that today's filmmakers insist we love. While we cannot quite blame Cameron for the lesser filmmakers who imitate his films poorly, we can certainly point an accusing finger in his direction for the current 3D trend, which Cameron has repeatedly declared the future of cinema.

So now, it is a battle between the resistance and the machines, not unlike the future world presented in Terminator 2: Judgment Day — a world in whiich 3D has been given a purpose, thanks mainly to CGI-reliant movies. The questions to ask are: Did James Cameron and his audience forget the message of Terminator 2? While we remember T2 as an effective science fiction action film that had some heart, do we also remember how Cyberdyne did its research with the best of intentions, not realizing what its creations would one day become? This is not to advocate sending a Terminator to deal with the James Cameron of 1991, but to wonder if the director would have done things differently if he could have known where his innovations would lead — or if his message to those in the resistance who seek more of a human touch in films was always: "Hasta la vista, baby."

Steven Santos is a freelance TV editor/filmmaker based in New York. His work can be found at He writes about films at his blog The Fine Cut. You can also follow him on Twitter.