BOOK REVIEW / The good but not the great

TWO years after his death, Michael Powell's reputation has almost risen to meet his own estimation of his achievement. In this second volume of autobiography, he records his astonishment in the late Seventies at finding himself described, in a borrowed copy of David Thompson's Biographical Dictionary of the Cinema, as the British director with the greatest number of 'worthwhile films to his credit', despite his continuing neglect by the critics. He quotes almost the entire entry, and concludes: 'I had taken myself at the world's valuation for so long that any praise tended to bring tears to my eyes . . . Here was the opinion of a real scholar . . . What he said about me, I knew was true . . . ' Almost penniless at the time, he still hurried out to buy his own copy of the book.

The story is characteristic, candid about his unselfconscious vanity, his faith in his own talents and his eagerness that we should share his emotions. This was the low point of his career. He wrote to Thompson, who replied offering to help him if he would like to become artist-in- residence at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. In the following pages, Powell records the death of his friend and lover Pamela Brown. He flies to Australia to appear for Robert Helpmann on This Is Your Life; directs what was effectively to be his last film, Return to the Edge of the World; basks in an NFT retrospective of his work; and becomes involved in a co- production that would result in his first meeting with his future wife. Some 10 pages later, he sets off for Dartmouth.

'As for life, it didn't seem worth living,' he writes, recording his feelings at Brown's funeral. Whether or not you accept his pretence of total recall as far as the rest is concerned, this statement is the hardest to swallow. Not that you doubt his grief - only that the hunger for life, evident in everything that he writes, should have left him, even at this juncture. The appetite is so great that it leaves virtually no room for bitterness at his undoubted mistreatment or regret at his admitted mistakes. It accounts for his worst shortcomings as an autobiographer - his tendency to ramble, his inability to select, his uncritical superlatives, his cocky self-assurance, the Latin quotations, the first-name dropping, even the lunacy of writing some passages of the book as the first-person memoirs of his dog; and it explains why you feel inclined to read and like him, for all his faults.

The first volume, My Life in Movies, took him to the height of his success, in the collaboration with Emeric Pressburger. This one records the quarrel with Rank and the disaster of Peeping Tom. 'Poor Tom': Powell shows no sign of understanding what the critics in 1960 found so distasteful about the film, quoting their reviews at length, then answering with a cheap jibe: 'We the critics say so. Thank god we are not artists, we are critics.' This tunnel vision may have been part (even an indispensable part) of Powell the film-maker, but it is an intellectual shortcoming in the man.

Occasionally, he hints at the less obvious sides of his character, describing himself as the 'executioner' of his wife Frankie, or remarking intriguingly that he and Moira Shearer had 'the most perfect relationship that can be imagined between two creative artists' - one based on 'suspicion and fear'. There is evidence, too, of his less abrasive traits, notably the love of the English countryside that his work depicts so well. In the main, however, the book reveals little: chatty, anecdotal, inclined to sentimentality, it is the reflection of a man nearing the end of a long and busy career, and

a storyteller confident of his power over

the audience.

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?