Born as Michael Latham Powell in Bekesbourne, Kent (UK) on 30 September 1905, Michael Powell entered the film industry in 1925 through working with director Rex Ingram at the Victorine Studios in Nice, France. He started out as a general studio hand: sweeping the floor, making coffee, fetching and carrying. Soon he progressed to other work such as stills photography, writing titles (for the silent films) and many other jobs including a few acting roles, usually as comic characters.
Returning to England in 1928, Powell worked at a diverse series of jobs for various filmmakers including as a stills photographer on Alfred Hitchcock’s silent film ‘Champagne’ (1928). After scriptwriting on two productions, Powell entered into a partnership with American producer Jerry Jackson in 1931 to make short films to satisfy a legal requirement that British cinemas screen a certain quota of British films. During this period, he developed his directing skills, sometimes making up to seven films a year.
His first truly personal project was the 1937 film ‘The Edge of the World’. In 1939, he first met Hungarian emigre Emeric Pressburger. Under the joint name The Archers, the pair cowrote, coproduced, and codirected a landmark series of films, including ‘One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing’, ‘The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp’, ‘A Canterbury Tale’, ‘I Know Where I’m Going’, ‘A Matter Of Life And Death’, ‘Black Narcissus’, and ‘The Red Shoes’. His later controversial 1960 film ‘Peeping Tom’, while today considered a classic, and the first ‘slasher’, was so vilified on first release that his career was seriously damaged.
Many film-makers such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and George A. Romero have cited Powell as an influence. In 1981, he received the BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award along with his partner Pressburger, the highest honour the British Film Academy can give a filmmaker.
Kate Bush, an avid film buff and admirer of his work, met Powell in New York City shortly before his death due to cancer on 19 February 1990; the song Moments Of Pleasure is in part a remembrance of that encounter.