Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Mise-en-scène Film Programme: Black Narcissus (1947)

Figure 1: Movie Poster
Black Narcissus (1947) is a British masterpiece owing to the collaboration of two directors, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The script was adapted from a novel written by Rumer Godden.

The story is about a group of nuns who was ordered to establish a school and dispensary in the Himalayas. Despite being doubtful about her capability to fill in the leadership role in a foreign place, Mother Dorothea still appointed Sister Clodagh who was one of the youngest nuns in the convent as the superior for this project and wished her well. There were five sisters who were appointed to accompany her in this new mission of hers. They were Sister Briony who was excellent at supervision, Sister Phillipa a nun with green fingers to help manage the vegetation plantation, Sister Honey, who has good interpersonal social skills that will be an asset as they interacted with the people from the community who were known to be very stubborn, and lastly, Sister Ruth, a temperamental nun who falls sick easily.

Black Narcissus had different elements added to the storyline that it made a movie about a group of nuns visually captivating. It started of with how nuns should typically act- praying in the chapel and doing noble activities such as gardening and teaching the children. As the film progresses, it showed the darker side of a nun. They are constantly struggling to overcome inner demons, desires and unforgettable memories because after all, they are only human. To sum up and in an agreement to a point made by Mirasol in his review, he wrote “It has all of the three central conflicts every story should have, man against the world, man against man, and man against himself.” (Mirasol, 2010)
Figure 2 : Nuns praying in the Chapel [Still Image]
Apart from the storyline, the uses of matte paintings in some shots were incredible. The mountain range and the environment was captured perfectly in the matte paintings that it looked realistic and believable. Audiences who have not been to this place have been successfully tricked as this was shot mostly in the studio. Empire Online is accurate when it stated “No amount of CGI could ever capture the dramatic splendour of the beautiful matte paintings that push a church bell — and the nuns’ emotions — right to the edge of a deep and deadly ravine." (Empire Online, S.D)
Figure 3: Behind the scenes- Matte Painting [Still Image]
The use of vibrant colours was another reason why this film was a masterpiece. Red played a vital role in this production. The colour itself is a representation of love, lust, passion and heat. It was not prominent in its earlier scenes but when it came to Sister Ruth feeling sexually attracted to Mr Dean, the colour in that particular scene became more vibrant and visible. It was one of the way to tell the audience how the nun was feeling apart from the acting.

Figure 4: Sister Ruth [Still Image]
In addition to that, Pryor elaborated on the colours of the film that was accurate in his review by stating “Indeed, the whole chromatic scheme of the picture is marvelous to behold, and the russet hues of sunset streaking through the dilapidated Palace of Mopu, where once wine flowed and harem ladies cavorted, is a brilliant achievement in color composition.” (Pryor, 1947)

Figure 5: Sunset at Palace of Mopu [Still Image]
In their review on this film, The Daily Opinion summarises it perfectly when they said “The 65 years that have passed since the film’s release hasn’t diminished its impact. The haunting beauty of the painted landscapes and backdrops and the film’s vivid colour simply adds to its lasting appeal. To see it once, is to never forget it.” (The Daily Opinion, 2012)

List of Illustrations:

Figure 1 Black Narcissus (1947) [Poster] at http://store.walterfilm.com/images/BlackNarcissusLC.jpg accessed on 12 November 2013

Figure 2 Nuns Praying in The Chapel [Still Image] at http://trekkerscrapbook.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/pdvd_183.jpg accessed on 12 November 2013

Figure 3 Behind the Scenes – Matte Painting [Still Image] at http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-POQQriBHS-I/Th5lb9ec0aI/AAAAAAAAFTU/0qmNqqwv1Zs/s640/black+narc1.jpg accessed on 12 November 2013

Figure 4 Sister Ruth [Still Image] at http://www.seraphicpress.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/sister-ruth.jpg accessed on 12 November 2013

Figure 5 Sunset at Palace of Mopu [Still Image] at http://s3.amazonaws.com/criterion-production/stills/130649-e19d5bf2a7de578348700be2beccbdb5/Film_93w_BlackNarcissusC_original.jpg  accessed on 12 November 2013

List of Bibliography:

Mirasol, Michael
Black Narcissus
Accessed on 12 November 2013

Pryor, Thomas
Black Narcissus
Accessed on 12 November 2013

Empire Online
No Year
Black Narcissus
Accessed on 12 November 2013

The Daily Opinion
Black Narcissus
Accessed on 12 November 2013


  1. “Indeed, the whole chromatic scheme of the picture is marvelous to behold, and the russet hues of sunset streaking through the dilapidated Palace of Mopu, where once wine flowed and harem ladies cavorted, is a brilliant achievement in color composition"

    Great quote! Really expresses how it could be argued that the palace's past is sort of creeping back into the environment - Black Narcissus is indeed a film filled with ghosts of one sort or the other!

    1. It is indeed and I am taking my inspiration of using those kind of colours for my lair :)

    2. Yes, a lovely review Ayunie :)
      Just a couple of technical issues - make sure your font is consistent throughout... you seem to have switched in the centre, and then switched back again! Also, if the date is unknown, you can put (s.d) - likewise if the author is unknown, it is (s.n) and if the location is unknown it is (s.l). Just little things to make your work look more professional :)

    3. Thanks Jackie. Will be mindful of the technical issues in my next review :)

  2. http://ucarochester-cgartsandanimation.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/fao-cgaa-year-1-secret-lairs-ogr-2.html