Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Black Narcissus.

Tom Benson and Jane Murray Flutter.
This weeks Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre Film Club had a slightly different format, instead of one of the members hosting the evenings entertainment we were fortunate to have the daughter of British authoress Rumer Godden, Jane Murray Flutter, to give us an introduction to one of her mothers most famous film adaptations, Black Narcissus (1947) followed by a question and answer session led by our new Film Officer Tom Benson.

The Old Palace.
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger psychological drama, from what has been termed the emotionally frozen forties, was based very closely on Godden’s 1939 novel. It tells the story of a small group of nuns whose religious order had been gifted a ‘palace’ high in the Himalayas by the Old General to turn into a school, a chapel and a basic hospital for the local population. The drama arises from the stress and tension that envelops the five nuns attempting to make a go of running this cultural centre. Their situation is not helped by sexual frustration’s brought on by the offhanded presence of the local British agent Mr Dean (David Farrar) and a very unsavoury pair of kaki shorts. Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr), the Sister Superior, and the unstable Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) have a problem holding in check their sexual urges towards our the pipe smoking retainer. Obviously it all ends in tears when Sister Ruth’s mail order package arrives revealing a red lipstick and a dress to match. Now you know while Michael Powell said this was the most erotic film he had ever made! The cast also features Sabu (Mowgli in Jungle Book 1942) as the Young General and an eighteen-year-old Jean Simmons as his love interest Kanchi, a lower-cast dancing girl.

Deborah Kerr as Sister Clodagh.

Jane Murray Flutter informed an attentive audience that the film was made at Pinewood Studios with only the odd excursion to the home of an Indian army retiree at Leonardslee in West Sussex to film some of the garden scenes as the property had some authentic plants and trees. The look of the film was down to the cinematography of Jack Cardiff, whose was acknowledged by an Academy Award and a Golden Globe, it was also the first Technicolor film after the second World War.  Ms Murray Flutter went on to tell us that her mother was born in Sussex in 1907 and in 1908 she was taken with her three sisters to live and grow up in a part of India that is now Bangladesh. When Rumer Godden and her sisters were old enough they were sent back to England for their education, eventually Rumer trained as a dancer and returned to her beloved India setting up a mixed race dance school that was certainly not popular with the British Raj.

Kathleen Byron as Sister Ruth.

The idea for Black Narcissus came to the authoress when she was trekking in the Himalayas and she came across a simple wooden cross with the inscription ‘Sister RIP’ an incident from which came a best selling novel that is still in print some 74 years later.  Our speaker told us that her mother did not like Power and Pressburger’s adaptation of her work because in her opinion the film was too gimmicky and did not ring true to its source. But it was not the case with other novels that had been adapted including The River (1949), which was the first major film to be made on location when it was shoot entirely in India with the rushes being sent back to Pinewood to be developed. Jean Renoir directed it with Godden writing the scene play. Another feature film for which she wrote the screenplay was The Greengage Summer (1956) starring Susannah York and Kenneth More, filmed in the Marne region of France.

A very young Jean Simmons.

Another memorable evening for the RBC with Jane Flutter Murray rounding off by agreeing with Alec Barclay’s comment that this new digital print of Black Narcissus was extremely clear with very little faded colour tone and she pointed out that it was the first time she had had the pleasure of seeing the new copy. Thanks to Ms Flutter Murray for a very interesting evening and thanks to Tom Benson for hosting the proceedings. The new season of RBC Film Club starts on the 19th November 2012.

Another successful evening at the RBC as captured by Alec Barclay.

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