The Edge of the World (Michael Powell / United Kingdom, 1937):

Michael Powell opens from a distance on Foula by showing what the ancient Romans saw, sea and rock and mist plus a tiny yacht with himself behind the rudder. (The overture evinces a distinct foretaste of L'Avventura, along with a characteristic stance from the auteur-adventurer: "I think we'll risk it.") The evacuated island has a tale to tell, the returning crewman (Niall MacGinnis) tells it. The lass (Belle Chrystall) has a stubborn father (John Laurie) and a practical brother (Eric Berry), both men end up facing the craggy precipice as she tends to new life. Meanwhile, over the community falls "the long shadow of death" or, more specifically, mechanized fishing from the mainland (cf. Hitchcock's The Manxman, Visconti's La Terra Trema). Seizing his breakthrough after the apprenticeship of quota-quickies, Powell imbues it with omens, symbols, a bottomless hunger for unexpected beauty. Flaherty is the clear point of departure, the end of "life as our fathers knew it" is the surface concern—raw landscapes and metaphysical stirrings, two sides of the same coin. The church is cramped but the minister runs a brisk sermon before he picks up a fiddle, a tracking shot through an open-air celebration pauses for a moment so the blocky elder (Finlay Currie) can venture a step or two to the music. Freeze-frames, expressionistic close-ups, superimpositions and disembodied choruses expand documentary spareness, such stylistic luxuries "make me feel awful sinful" or so whispers the heroine with a smile. Literally a majestic bedrock formation for subsequent dreams, Powell's naturally (I Know Where I'm Going!, Gone to Earth) but vide also Alonso's Liverpool seven decades later. Cinematography by Ernest Palmer, Monty Berman, and Skeets Kelly. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home