Kathleen Byron
Kathleen Byron

UK, 1947; Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger

Superlatives get tossed around a lot when talking movies, but some are worth attending to: for instance, the notion that Black Narcissus might be the Technicolor movie supreme, taking full expressive advantage of—make that exulting in—the process's vibrant, 1940s palette. Among the beneficiaries are two red-haired actresses, respectively former and current lovers of director Michael Powell, Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron. The story, after a novel by Rumer Godden, is set at a wind-spooked nunnery in the Himalayas—an exotic and precipitous environment which Powell, production designer Alfred Junge, and cinematographer Jack Cardiff realized entirely inside a British movie studio. Cardiff had served as camera operator on Powell and Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and graduated to director of photography on A Matter of Life and Death; his work on Black Narcissus brought him the Academy Award—and he should have won another for the next P&P endeavor, The Red Shoes. For years he was indisputably the world's premier Technicolor cameraman; see also, in particular, Hitchcock's Under Capricorn, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, John Huston's The African Queen, The Barefoot Contessa, King Vidor's War and Peace, and The Vikings. And by all means, earlier in the day see...

CAMERAMAN: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (UK, 2010; Craig McCall), an 83-minute documentary portrait featuring the master himself (d. 2009) and testimonials from Martin Scorsese, Thelma Schoonmaker (Michael Powell's widow), Kirk Douglas, fellow cameramen Freddie Francis and Christopher Challis, and others. —RTJ

Black Narcissus 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 21, SIFF Cinema
Cameraman 11 a.m. Saturday, May 21, Harvard Exit