The Edge of the World (Michael Powell, 1937)


Lucía and Jun-Dai at home on 4 March 2013.

It’s an age old movie cliché, but the island Hirta, as played by the island Foula, is as much a character in the film as any played by human actors. Foula is a small enough island that by the end of the film it’s easy to get the sense that you’d know your way around if you were to ever go there.

It’s remarkable that Michael Powell would travel all the way to the island to make his film, or that he’d hire so many locals to act in it, all a good half dozen years before Italian neorealism took off, and a decade before La Terra Trema. While the style of the film is much less realist than what Visconti and Rossellini would do later, it’s still a remarkable attempt to really try to capture a sense of life in a place like Hilda within a fictional context. In some ways it’s a shame that Powell never pushed this further. Had he taken entirely different lessons from this film, he could have invented a British realism that would give us a much better sense of life in that time than any of his later films did. I’m not complaining, Powell is very much a great director.

The two films that came on the DVD seem like essential viewing in combination with this film: St Kilda, Britain’s Loneliest Isle (a short film about St. Kilda made a few years before the evacuation) and Return To The Edge Of The World (a short documentary about Michael Powell and John Laurie returning to Foula 42 years after making The Edge of the World). The three films in combination are kind of awe-inspiring.

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