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Autobiography, the self and Pressburger-Powell's The Golden Years project

Moor, Andrew (2005) Autobiography, the self and Pressburger-Powell's The Golden Years project. Screen, 46 (1). pp. 15-32. ISSN 0036-9546

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Abstract

In 1952 Emeric Pressburger completed The Golden Years, an ‘autobiographical’ screenplay about Richard Strauss, a formally inventive work written as if the camera were the composer, with the entire film envisaged as a series of point-of-view shots. In the final sequence, genuine home-movie footage of Strauss's 85th birthday celebrations was to be screened within the frame-narrative, finally providing images of the narrator-subject. The film was never produced, but the screenplay shows Powell and Pressburger's ongoing interest in life-writing and in the links between subjectivity and intertextuality. Like literary autobiographies, it demonstrates the impossibility of its ideal aim to encapsulate the truth about its subject. This essay considers the screenplays narrative structure, and its treatment of ballet and opera. Pressburger's idealistic claim that the screenplay allows us to ‘know’ the composer is analysed in the light of modernist concerns about life-writing, truth and knowledge, with comparisons made to Blimp and The Red Shoes. The autobiographical subject is endlessly elusive, inevitably objectified, and the meaning of the ‘contained’ home-movie footage critiques the project's overt aim to ‘present’ him. After arguing that the piece constructs an inter-subjective self, defined through relations with others, the essay relates Pressburger's masqueraded autobiography to his experience of traumatic exile, and links this to Powell's own quasi-fictional autobiography, A Life in Movies.

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