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A group of Anglo-Catholic nuns on an isolated missionary assignment in the Himalayas face an assortment of worldly challenges, including sexual temptations, extreme weather, and other intriguing ups and downs. Adapted from the novel by Rumer Godden.
For more about Black Narcissus and the Black Narcissus Blu-ray release, see Black Narcissus Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on July 12, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Writers: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, Rumer Godden
Starring: Deborah Kerr, Sabu, David Farrar, Kathleen Byron, Esmond Knight, Flora Robson
» See full cast & crew
Black Narcissus Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, July 12, 2010
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's "Black Narcissus" (1947) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include an audio commentary with director Michael Powell and Martin Scorsese; short introduction to the film by French director Bertrand Tavernier; a video interview with Bertrand Tavernier; documentary film on the making of "Black Narcissus"; documentary film about cinematographer Jack Cardiff; and trailer. The disc also arrives with a 22-page illustrated booklet. In English, with optional English subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell's Black Narcissus (1947) tells the story of a group of nuns who settle on the top of a picturesque mountain somewhere in Northern India, looking to establish a vital Christian community. Led by Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr, From Here to Eternity), the nuns quickly set up a small school where the locals can learn Christian values. Almost immediately, however, they are faced with a series of awkward events that test their faith and devotion.
Black Narcissus offers an unusual mix of melodrama, erotica and satire in which personalities clash, egos are tested, and desires suppressed. There is also a bit of old-fashioned romance in the film, but it is hardly as enticing as some prominent critics have insisted have insisted during the years.
Similar to Jean Renoir's The River (1951), Black Narcissus is based on a novel by Rumer Godden. Unlike The River, however, upon its release Black Narcissus was given a lot more publicity, as it was Powell and Pressburger's first film in which sound and image were treated equally (after the score was completed, the film was actually shot to playback) - an experiment that proved rather successful, and gave the two directors the confidence to shoot The Red Shoes (1948).
Black Narcissus is an incredibly misleading film. It looks pretty and feels casual, but it is deadly serious in its condemnation of British pan-imperialism. At first, the arrival of the nuns high in the Himalayas with nothing else but noble intentions to spread the words of God is depicted as an admirable act, but after their faith and devotion are tested, and weaknesses exposed, everything becomes a giant farce.
Kerr, who had previously appeared in Powell and Pressburger's Contraband (1940) and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), shines in Black Narcissus, especially when she appears overwhelmed and then tormented by powerful memories of love and forbidden pleasures. Jenny Laird (The Girl of the Canal), Flora Robson (Saratoga Trunk), Jean Simmons (The Happy Ending) and Kathleen Byron (The Gambler and the Lady) are also fantastic, granting their characters terrific substance and depth.
It is David Farrar's (Cage of Gold) character, Mr. Dean, however, that transforms Black Narcissus into a very special experience. He causes great disturbance amongst the nuns, which eventually forces some of them to question their faith – and us to realize the deleterious effects of British pan-imperialism.
Shot in glorious Technicolor, Black Narcissus looks fantastic. With the assistance of production designer Alfred Junge and costume designer Hein Heckroth, legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff managed to recreate the timeless beauty of the Himalayas at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire. In 1948, Cardiff and Junge were awarded Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration.
Black Narcissus also benefits from a very good music soundtrack courtesy of composer Brian Easdale, who was also awarded an Oscar Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture , a year later, for his contribution to Powell and Pressburger's beloved The Red Shoes.
Black Narcissus Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Black Narcissus arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears in the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"Created on a Spirit HD Datacine with the participation of cinematographer Jack Cardiff and Michael Powell's widow, acclaimed editor Thelma Schoonmaker Powell, this new high-definition digital transfer was mastered from a newly manufactured 35mm interpositive.
Telecine supervisor: Mark Stanborough/ITV Global Entertainment Ltd., London.
Telecine colorist: Dave Mason/Technicolor Creative Services, London".
As expected, Criterion's high-definition transfer is solid. Fine object detail is very good, clarity pleasing and contrast levels stable. As it was the case with Criterion's Blu-ray release of Powell and Pressburger's The Red Shoes, however, I was most impressed with the color-scheme. Reds, blues, greens, yellows, browns, blacks and whites look fresh and rich. This being said, occasionally there are some minor color pulsations, but these appear to be inherited. Generally speaking, there are no serious stability issues.
Unlike what some reviewers have claimed, there isn't a sizable gap in quality between the ITV Blu-ray release and Criterion's Blu-ray release of Black Narcissus. Fine object detail and contrast levels are practically identical. I also did not see any major fluctuations when I compared the color-schemes of the two releases. Perhaps there are some extremely small spot corrections Criterion did that enhance clarity during the nighttime footage (as well as elimination of some minor background flicker), which those of you with digital projectors and very large screens will be able to see, but overall I think that the two Blu-ray releases look very similar. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Black Narcissus Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: English LPCM Mono. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature.
The English LPCM track is very good. The dialog is mostly clean, stable, clear and easy to follow. Occasionally there is very light background hiss, but in terms of fluidity this is undoubtedly the best treatment Black Narcissus has ever received.
I tested a couple of scenes from the ITV Blu-ray release of Black Narcissus, which offers only an English Dolby Digital Mono track, and I must say that I prefer the English LPCM track from the Criterion Blu-ray release. I felt that Brian Easdale's music score comes off slightly fuller and richer.
Black Narcissus Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Commentary - this audio commentary, recorded exclusively for Criterion in 1988, features director and co-producer Michael Powell and his longtime friend and admirer Martin Scorsese. This is a lovely commentary that offers an enormous amount of information not only about Black Narcissus, but also about the era during which the film was shot. Mr. Scorsese's comments, in particular, are outstanding. The commentary also appears in Criterion's old SDVD release of Black Narcissus.
Bertrand Tavernier - a short introduction to the film by French director Bertrand Tavernier, an admirer and promoter of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's films. The introduction was recorded for the Institut Lumiere in 2006. In French, with optional English subtitles. (9 min, 1080i).
The Audacious Adventurer - in this video interview, recorded in 2006, Bertrand Tavernier talks about his friendship with Michael Powell. In French, with optional English subtitles. (18 min, 1080i).
Profile of "Black Narcissus" - a documentary on the making of Black Narcissus, produced in London in 2000, featuring interviews with members of the production team, including actress Kathleen Byron and cinematographer Jack Cardiff. In English, not subtitled. (26 min, 1080i).
Painting with Light - a documentary about cinematographer Jack Cardiff and the production history of Black Narcissus, made for Criterion in 2000 by London-based filmmaker Craig McCall. McCall is also the director of Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff. In English, not subtitled. (27 min, 1080i).
Trailer - the original theatrical trailer for the film. In English, not subtitled. (3 min, 1080p).
Booklet - a 22-page illustrated booklet containing renowned critic Kent Jones' essay "Empire of the Senses" (Mr. Jones is the author of "Physical Evidence: Selected Film Criticism", a volume of his writings, and the director of the 2007 documentary "Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows." A film he directed and wrote with Martin Scorsese about Elia Kazan is forthcoming).
Black Narcissus Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I have a good feeling that what we have here will be the definitive presentation of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Black Narcissus for years to come. Unlike the UK Blu-ray release, courtesy of ITV, the Criterion Blu-ray release has some very good supplemental features. This is a classic film you need to have in your libraries, folks. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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Black Narcissus Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Criterion Reveals July Blu-ray Slate - April 15, 2010
The Criterion Collection has announced three films for release on Blu-ray. On July 20, the studio will release two Technicolor classics directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger: Black Narcissus (1947) and The Red Shoes (1948). One week later, it will release ...
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