Michael Powell's "The Edge of the World"

Michael Powell's The Edge of the World (1937) is about an island called Hirta (actually Foula doubling as Hirta) off the coast of Scotland, and as beautifully bleak and lonely and windswept a place as any on earth (an introduction tells us that when the Romans sailed around Britain they saw this cloud-enshrouded isle in the distance and called it 'The Edge of the World'). The islanders are a closed, tight-knit community, and as a result they're dying out--all the young ones are leaving, and the remainder are old and few.

The foreground drama--about a pair of lovers cursed with bad luck because, as the legend puts it, they saw the coast of Scotland through the cloud covering--seems to be so much salad dressing to hold together what Powell was really interested in: that is, all the dramatic shots of rock and sea and sky, and any combination of the three, he can find on that island. You can see Powell's influences--late Eisenstein, Robert Flaherty, and Dozhenko come to mind. I'd almost consider it a silent film, as what feels like more than half of the picture is devoted to gazing at men struggling wordlessly against nature in this barbaric landscape. Wonderful little film.

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