Friday, 13 December 2013

Film Review: Black Narcissus

Black Narcissus
Fig 1

Black Narcissus (1947) is a British film directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Oressburger. The script was adapted from a novel written by Rumer Godden. The use of the paint over technique on glass is extremely impressive and realistic and convince the audience that you are within the scene, even though it was filmed in studio's. When looking at the production design for this scene Michael Howelles had explained how they use the matte painting effect to create realistic sets, ''“The glass painting technique involved hanging a sheet of glass between the camera and the scene, and painting in the view you needed.” (Howells, 2011). Similar techniques had been used in earlier films such as the original King Kong and began to make it's way into this film too. As you can see in figure 2 this technique had created very believable sets that were only paintings on glass. Colour had played a vital role within the film with the colour red becoming more vibrant over the course of the film.
Fig 2

After the half way point of the film it is apparent that the colour red is starting to overcome the scene. This notion of red becoming almost a 'fever' is described by Michael Mirasol in his film review, '' But it is in the second half of the film where Powell's use of Technicolor is stunning. The introduction of the more vibrant hues dominate the film. The use of red is feverish'' (Mirasol,2010). In figure 3, you can see the indian girl is the first to introduce the red into the colour palette representing love and lustre, everything a nun shouldn't be. But later on in the film Sister Ruth finds herself wearing a completely red outfit similar to the picture,after that it seemed as though the nun's were  suffocated with the overpowering red colour palette, with tightly fitting red dresses and red lip stick both classic signs of love and sexuality and a complete opposite of how nun's are.
Fig 3

Although red is a symbol of love, it is also a symbol of danger and this film could categorized as a horror film with it's unearthly sets, howling winds and the sisters slowly losing their sanity.  As Keith Uhlich says in his review; "There's something truly unearthly about this place of howling winds, yawning chasms and atmosphere thick with temptation." (K. Uhlich, 2012) this is what most contemporary audiences recognise with this film. Although it is not structured like most horror films, it is very slow but as the film goes on to when Ruth becomes over powered by lust the film turns a lot more dramatic and then you can feel the tension between the characters.

Overall this film is a great experience and the use of matte paintings can make the audience believe the scene is real without having to shoot the scene in a specific location. You can see the influence the artists had on this film also with the use of red flowing into the scene's to give the sense of love, sexuality and danger towards the characters. 


Illustration List

Fig 1. Black Narcissus Poster (1947) From: Black Narcissus - Directed by: Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger

Figure 2 Behind the Scenes – Matte Painting [Still Image] at (accessed on 13/12/2013)

Fig 3, Black Narcissus [Film Still] from: Black Narcissus - directed by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger. At: (Accessed on 13/12/2013)


Mirasol, M. (2010) Black Narcissus Review

Howells, M. (2011) Production Design in Black Narcissus

K. Uhlich (2012Black Narcissus Film Review (Accessed on 13.12.2013) 

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