Black Narcissus + Short Film + Intro from Artist Michelle Williams Gamaker
POWELL AND PRESSBURGER
Thu 23 Nov 2023
£8* Standard | £5* Student / Under 25s
2pm & 7.30pm
Dir. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
1947 | 101 mins | UK
Deborah Kerr, David Farrar, Flora Robson
Considered one of Powell and Pressburger’s greatest achievements, which embodies the sensuous style and transformative cinematography of these visionary filmmakers Black Narcissus is an explosive film about conflict, sanctity and sin.
A group of Anglican nuns, led by Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr), are sent to a mountain in the Himalayas. The climate in the region is hostile and the nuns are housed in an odd old palace. They work to establish a school and a hospital, but slowly their focus shifts. Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) falls for a government worker, Mr. Dean (David Farrar), and begins to question her vow of celibacy. As Sister Ruth obsesses over Mr. Dean, Sister Clodagh becomes immersed in her own memories of love.
The screening will be introduced by artist Michelle Williams-Gamaker who will also share her film HOUSE OF WOMEN (2017) a short video which draws on tension between construction and illusion.
About House of Women
2017 | 16mm to HDV | Colour | Sound | English
In 1946, auditions were held for the character of the silent dancing girl Kanchi in Black Narcissus (1947), the upcoming film by venerated British directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. In a nationwide search close to 1000 hopefuls applied, with over 200 girls tested and interviewed. The coveted role finally went to seventeen-year-old Jean Simmons, who had recently won worldwide acclaim for her performance as Estella in David Lean’s Great Expectations. To fulfil the role, the white English actor had to wear dark Panstick make-up and a jewel in her nose to become the “exotic temptress” of Rumer Godden’s novel of the same name.
House of Women recasts the role, auditioning only Indian ex-pat or first-generation British Asian women and non-binary individuals living in London. Unlike in the original role, for House of Women the re-cast Kanchi of the 21st Century speaks. Shot on 16mm film, the four candidates, Jasdeep Kandola, Arunima Rajkumar, Tina Mander and Krishna Istha, introduce themselves to an anonymous reader (voiced by Kelly Hunter) and recite a personalised alphabet including references to the history of photography and gender politics.
Candidates are asked to read lines from a script while both seated and standing in order to experience the somewhat unnatural and staged conditions of the audition. And just as those auditioning for House of Women feel the glare of the studio lights, the space of the audition and the violence of the camera’s gaze are brought into question, while the film plays with the inherent voyeurism of the director – and by inference the viewer – in watching young hopefuls competing for a role.
Drawing on tension between construction and illusion, House of Women explores the gaps in representation and the spaces opened up by the “fiction machine” of the 1940s British studio system, which presented a very controlled colonial vision of the British Raj and its people, often replacing Indian actors with British actors.
About Michelle Williams Gamaker
Michelle Williams Gamaker is an artist working in moving image. She interrogates cinematic artifice, deploying characters as fictional activists to critique the imperialist storytelling in 20th-century British/Hollywood studio films. She is joint-winner of Film London’s Jarman Award 2020 and is the recipient of FLAMIN’s Production Award for Thieves (2023), her first film in Fictional Revenge, premieres at her exhibition Our Mountains Are Painted on Glass at South London Gallery. Its prequel The Bang Straws (2021) premiered at BFI LFF Experimenta, winning best experimental film at Aestehtica’s Short Film Festival (2021). Williams Gamaker is a British Academy Wolfson Fellow, researching Fictional Activism, Revenge and Healing.
Dir. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
1948 | 135 mins | UK
Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring, Moira Shearer