Rescuer Down Under
Before today's great Iranian filmmakers went out to the streets, to shoot with nonprofessional actors; before the Italian neorealists traveled to Sicily to discover a raw, "primitive" condition within their own country, the British director Michael Powell sailed to Scotland's outer islands and made The Edge of the World. Shot in 1936 on Foula, using a dozen actors and all the local residents, the film dramatized the end of a traditional farming, fishing and herding community.
Like Robert Flaherty and F.W. Murnau's Tabu (which was released in 1931, providing Powell with one of his few possible models), The Edge of the World is one part ethnography to two parts romance. A young man (Niall MacGinnis) engages a friend in a reckless rock-climbing competition, loves and temporarily loses the friend's sister (Belle Chrystall) and unwittingly dooms his community to extinction by leaving to find work on the mainland. As drama, the film is thin. (Powell was to do better in the future, once he teamed up with scriptwriter Emeric Pressburger.) But as a poem of looming cliff sides and craggy human faces, of crashing waves and colliding sheep, The Edge of the World is unforgettable.
Unseen for many years in the United States, The Edge of the World is now being re-released by Milestone Film and Video in a restored print (on view in New York at Film Forum, January 14-20). It's a treat. You get a full measure of the visual splendor and directorial daring for which Powell is celebrated--how did he persuade his cameramen and actors to keep risking their necks?--plus a touch of the rustic humor of a later masterpiece, I Know Where I'm Going.
The restoration of The Edge of the World has been carried out by the British Film Institute, and the Milestone re-release is going out under the aegis of one of Michael Powell's greatest admirers, Martin Scorsese. Thanks to all.
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Screening Schedule: There's thick-sliced Jewish film culture in New York City this month at the ninth annual New York Jewish Film Festival. Presented by The Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the festival this year includes local and US premieres of new works (Abraham Ségal's documentary on the apostle Paul; Jean-Jacques Zilberman's in-and-out-of-the-closet French farce, Man Is a Woman) and of historic rediscoveries (the 1933 Yiddish featurette Der Vanderner Yid, featuring Jacob Ben-Ami; the pioneering 1919 gay-rights film Different From the Others). The series is on view at Lincoln Center January 16-27. Information: (212) 875-5600 or www.filmlinc.com.
And for more, there's The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, a cheerful, straightforward documentary by Aviva Kempner, on view at Film Forum January 12-25. For those who have forgotten or never knew, Greenberg was the first Jewish star in major league baseball, winning batting championships and repeatedly leading the Tigers to the pennant during the years when Henry Ford and Father Coughlin had made Detroit the home of American anti-Semitism. For a more critical reflection on Greenberg as a breakthrough figure, you'd probably want to go to Philip Roth's novel American Pastoral. For a pleasant tour through the main points of the story, with fascinating archival footage and a rendition in Yiddish of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," I can recommend Kempner.