Get Your Reps In: “Black Narcissus” Is Peak Powell and Pressburger

What to see at Portland’s repertory theaters.

Black Narcissus (1947)

“There’s something in the atmosphere which makes everything seem exaggerated,” observes British agent Mr. Dean (David Farrar) as he gazes out at the Himalayas in Black Narcissus.

In part, he’s cautioning Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) that this near-celestial plane is unfriendly to the austerity of nuns hoping to establish a convent. The temptation to savor life is too bountiful, what with the constantly howling wind and the nearby villagers’ mysteries and bonds.

He’s also explaining the very nature of Powell and Pressburger films. The directing team’s Academy Award-winning classic plays as part of Clinton Street Theater’s “Color & Sound” series, which is (in part) an ode to Technicolor.

No one employed that technology better than Powell and Pressburger (see also: The Red Shoes), and Black Narcissus certainly heightens all: magenta blooms, ancient murals, beads of sweat on the brow of a covetous sister (Kathleen Byron), Farrar’s revealing shorts.

Black Narcissus netted well-deserved Oscars for cinematography and art direction, thanks to the film’s simulation (using Pinewood Studios sets and breathtaking matte paintings) of the intoxicating push-pull of a would-be cloistral setting 9,000 feet in the heavens. What nunnery vows could survive a film so sensualist? Clinton, Jan. 17 and 20.


Academy: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Jan. 20-26. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), Jan. 20-26. Clinton: Amarcord (1973), Jan. 21-22. Buena Vista Social Club (1999), Jan. 23. Cinema 21: Vertigo (1958), Jan. 21. Hollywood: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990), Jan. 18. Rashomon (1950), Jan. 19. The Trial (1962), Jan. 20-22. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985), Jan. 20. King Kong (1933), Jan. 21-22. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), Jan. 21. Mothra (1961), Jan. 22. Clue (1985), Jan. 23.