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Michael Powell's Stiff Upper Lip

You loved The Red Shoes. Black Narcissus almost made you become a nun. And, if you're like me, Stairway to Heaven is among your all time favorite movies. But have you ever seen a shot of their prodigious co-creator, director Michael Powell? Director Michael Powell

I hadn't until yesterday, when I ventured down to MoMA and caught the four-part documentary series English director and screenwriter Sally Potter cobbled together for UK's Channel 4 TV: Tears, Laughter, Fear, and Rage.

As le tout New York knows, mid-Manhattan's finest cultural shrine (not counting the penthouse bar at the Peninsula Hotel), is doing a Potter retrospective, and this heirloom from the 1986 hope chest is among the valued goods.

In the production, she asks a smattering of male and female types about lacrimal secretions, eruptions of happiness and other emotional stirrings. And while the eight-year-old boy advocating gender equality for cry babies stole my heart, and my laughter reflex tested positive during the Monty Python clips, it's Michael Powell who left the impression that won't easily be deleted. 

Such a measured soul. Such a force of nature. Those red McIntosh cheeks, those avuncular, crinkled eyes, that slo mo metabolism – that stiff upper lip! You haven't seen anything by Emeric Pressburger's creative collaborator until you've seen him rouse himself, after painstaking internal deliberation, indeed after entire glaciers have melted -- during which you could swear you've actually heard the neurotransmitters Morse Code discrete messages in his brain – and answer the question of whether Brits have stiff upper lips.

As the very dictionary illustration of self-restraint, with not so much as a crease in the skin connecting mouth and nose, the great man finally registers that yes, perhaps, and…he's…still thinking about it.

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