Place II

film 1 of 3

The Edge of the World

Draft Review by Dean Duncan Jun 16, 2015

Who are those reedy imperialist English folk?, I ask at the prologue, which is awkward to boot, then whoops, it’s Powell and the Missus, and what follows, though with its share of post-Ingram picture making (and beautiful ones they are, too), creaks and idealized quaintifyings, is so full of love for a people and appreciation for their passing society that any aspersions, any criticisms, even, would be churlish in the extreme; the reason is that the inspiration, the impulse, the dynamic itself is Flaherty, and Man of Aran in particular, RF should be questioned, of course, but this takes what’s sweet and humane from the mix, leaving the longeurs out, as well, I think, as some of the more egregious manipulations, what’s left is a fictional salvage ethnography, transferred from what’sit’s-island to the old man of Hoy, stars and even a love story, but with the participants decorated by, and not decorating the former, part of the thrill of the dazzling cliff-climbing sequence is that those are real people on real heights (cf. Aran’s storm sequence, which this also has a pale stab at), British docs maybe show through in that the causes are elaborated, and Renoir, in fact or in spirit, by the wonderful and effortless portrayal of everyone having their good reasons, thus the glowing moments–the noble Currie’s “behind me,” muttered half-affectionately to his pipe on the sabbath, an illicit pregnancy that finally softens the Calvinist Dad’s heart (situation’s standard, but the revelation is beautifully handled, and the conventions do actually work sometimes), then the illegitimate child most tenderly, poetically and stirringly sung a welcome, the pastor even taking the fiddle part (cf. E. Muir’s autobiography, on the Orkney residents’ tolerance of unexpected events, and how did Powell know that?), the familiar melodramatic stops continue as the child takes ill while the unsuspecting father works for the mainlanders, suspense, anxiety, and then the capitalist whom the boy had previously rebuffed turns out to be kind, indulgent of youthful insults, and the agent of salvation; you can’t miss this and know Flaherty, and I start to think, this late in the game, that you can’t miss Powell and know anything