Million Dollar Movie

Director Michael Powell covered the first half of his life in A LIFE IN MOVIES (1986), breaking off after the release of his most popular film, THE RED SHOES (1948). While the earlier volume described a climb toward a pinnacle, MILLION DOLLAR MOVIE describes an artist in decline. Powell made some good films during this period, including THE SMALL BACK ROOM (1949), THE TALES OF HOFFMAN (1951), and PEEPING TOM (1960). The latter is considered by many to be Powell’s masterpiece, but upon its release, it was reviled by reviewers for its depiction of a psychopath who photographs his victims while murdering them. This hostile reception and the film’s commercial failure made it increasingly difficult for Powell to find financing for his projects.

Powell’s memoirs are based on his journals, and sometimes he seems to be writing about something, his travels in particular, simply because they happened rather than because they reveal anything about his character or work. Most of this posthumously published book, however, is a insightful account of his life, including the breakup of his long partnership with screenwriter-producer Emeric Pressburger, his lengthy affair with actress Pamela Brown, his friendship with director Martin Scorsese, and his delight with being rediscovered and acclaimed by critics in the final decade of his life.

Although MILLION DOLLAR MOVIE says surprisingly little about the actual making of Powell’s films, it offers painstaking details about the often infuriating process of convincing people who are neither artists nor good businessmen to provide the money to create films. Powell’s tale shows how, for film directors, commerce too often interferes with aesthetics.