February 19, 2008

Ultima Thule

If I had to name one of my favourite film directors, a few always come to mind, and they always include Michael Powell. He has made some of the (for me) most fascinating, thrilling, strange, intriguing and often exhilarating movies ever. He has made about 60 films in about 40 years and plenty of them would easily fit into my all time favourite top-10 films: The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Peeping Tom, Gone To Earth, A Canterbury Tale, 49th Parallel, One of Our Aircraft is Missing, A Matter of Life and Death, I Know Where I'm Going, Contraband, A Spy in Black - I can recommend them all as essential viewing if you are interested in English cinema of the 1940s and 1950s.

Now the Arts Channel decided to screen one I hadn't seen before, The Edge of the World, from 1937.
A tragic and powerful tale of an isolated island off the coast of Scotland (in Roman times known as Ultima Thule, the island of Foula standing in for St Kilda) affected by diminishing local resources of fuel and manpower, causing emigration, economic, social and environmental decline. It was fascinating and moving to see the stories of local families intertwined with the larger social and economic issues driving change. A constant recurrence of a cinematic theme throughout the film was gravity, which of course pulls everything down: people and sheep falling off cliffs, the pull of the wider world out there affecting the economic base of the island, fishing, livestock and crofting. The camera angles are fascinating throughout as every scene is filmed either from a upward or downward position, emphasising the will of men to fight for what they want and believe in, or being looked on by the camera acting as mother nature overwhelming the actors by the majestic cliffs, pounding seas and constant winds. You'd wish there could have been another outcome for the people involved but in the end it seems it's not possible to live at the edge of the world: you either choose to leave or die on the island.

No comments: