I Know Where I'm Going! [DVD]
Screenplay : Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1945
Stars : Roger Livesey (Torquil MacNeil), Wendy Hiller (Joan Webster), Pamela Brown (Catriona Potts), Nancy Price (Mrs. Crozier), Finlay Currie (Ruairidh Mur), John Laurie (John Campbell)
"I know where I'm going!" declares the headstrong protagonist Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller). And she does. At only 25, she knows exactly where she's going as she heads off to an isolated island off the western coast of Scotland in order to marry an extremely wealthy industrialist. However, as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's charming comedy of love and fate makes clear, just because you know where you're going doesn't mean you're going to end up there.
For the majority of the narrative in I Know Where I'm Going!, Joan is stranded in a small, Scottish coastal town as troublesome weather makes it impossible for her to cross the small stretch of ocean to get the island of Kiloran where her marriage is supposed to take place. At first, the problem is fog, and when Joan prays for winds to blow the fog away, she is answered with gale-force winds that further impede her journey.
Stranded along with her is Torquil MacNeil (Roger Livesey), a British naval officer on week's leave. Joan and Torquil make an unlikely pair, as he is generally polite and reserved, while she is brash and assured. Joan is a complex heroine in that, from the start, it is obvious that she is something of a gold digger. She never seems to act as if she is in love with the much-older man she plans on marrying (in fact, the movie makes sure that we never see them together, and we never see him at all, only hear his voice on a radio). The opening montage shows us Joan's development from infancy, while a comical narrator tells us how, from the time she was born, she knew where she was going (these early scenes have the dizzying rhythm and pace of a screwball comedy). Determination and self-reliance are what fortify her ambition, and Joan is so sure about herself that it takes her several days in Torquil's company to realize that she may be headed down the wrong path.
I Know Where I'm Going was the fifth film Powell and Pressburger wrote, produced, and directed together, and it shows them at the top of their form. Using the simple genre of the romantic comedy, they turn a few conventions on their heads while still filling the story with the requisite warmth and charm. After the first 10 minutes, the entire film is set in the mist-enshrouded Scottish highlands, which would seem an unlikely setting for a romantic comedy. Powell had a special affinity for Scotland, and it shows in the film's careful compositions and elegant photography. Stylistically, the film changes as the narrative progresses, starting off with jokey dissolve shots (such as one where a man's top hat dissolves into the steam-spewing stack of a locomotive) and bizarre dream sequences that gradually give way to the naturalistic splendor of the Scottish moors.
Cinematographer Erwin Hillier (who also shot Powell and Pressburger's A Canterbury Tale) gives I Know Where I'm Going a distinct visual texture that sets it apart. (The film was shot in black and white because Powell and Pressburger were waiting to get access to Technicolor cameras so they could make A Matter of Life and Death). The rough terrain and somber skies play counter to the lighter romantic elements of the story, while simultaneously enhancing the story's more mythical elements, such as an ancient curse that was supposedly put on a local castle that forbids Torquil from entering. The film climaxes in a spectacular action sequence that finds Joan and Torquil trapped on stormy seas and about to be sucked into a giant whirlpool created by the currents between two islands. This climax might feel oddly placed had it not been set up so well earlier in the film and nourished by its mythical undertones.
Like all of Powell and Pressburger's films, I Know Where I'm Going is a technical delight, mixing location photography with studio sets, trick photography, and a skilled use of doubles (although he appears to walk through the Scottish highlands in several scenes, Roger Livesey never shot a single scene outside of a soundstage). They also get great performances from their leads, especially Wendy Hiller (Pygmalion) who maintains Joan's spirited, but obstinate, personality with charm and grace (the role was originally intended for Deborah Kerr). Roger Livesey, who had played the lead role in Powell and Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), proves to be every bit her equal, with a solid performance as Torquil, a role that easily could have been a bore (it's always hard to play a nice guy and keep him interesting).
I Know Where I'm Going is an irresistibly charming film, one that is brimming with sly humor, gentle romance, and that wonderful sense of humanity and decency that was one of the hallmarks of Powell and Pressburger's films. Its deceptive simplicity is perhaps its greatest virtue.
|I Know Where I'm Going!: Criterion Collection DVD|
|Audio||Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural|
|Supplements|| Screen-specific audio commentary by film scholar Ian Christie|
I Know Where I'm Going! Revisited 1994 documentary by Mark Cousins
Behind-the-scenes stills gallery (commentary by Thelma Schoonmaker Powell)
Excerpts from The Edge of the World (1937) and Return to the Edge of the World (1978) (commentary by Ian Christie)
Michael Powell's home movies of a Scottish expedition (commentary by Thelma Schoonmaker Powell)
Locations photo essay by Nancy Franklin
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection / Home Vision|
|The transfer, which appears to be the same as the one used on the 1994 Criterion laser disc, was taken from a 35-mm preservation print that was struck from the original nitrate elements by the British Film Institute. The result is very good, although it is clear that the original elements have been subject to a good deal of wear and tear over the past 55 years. Many scenes in the film have some form of minor damage, whether it be speckling or vertical lines or even an occasion tear. This is par for the course in movies of this age, though, and none of it is terribly distracting. The digital transfer has produced a generally sharp picture, though, with a good level of detail that brings out the rugged beauty of the Scottish highlands. With the a few notable exceptions, the picture seems to have been shot in somewhat low contrast, with grays being much more dominant that solid blacks and white. This is probably partly explained by all of fog, mist, and clouds that are prevalent throughout the film, none of which results in any compression artifacts or pixel break-up.|
|The Dolby Digital 1.0 monaural soundtrack, mastered from the original optical tracks, sounds great. Despite the limited range inherent to a monaural soundtrack, this disc makes the most of it in depicting the impressive noises of gale-force winds and other stormy elements. The climactic whirlpool scene is also well-rendered in terms of sound effects. Allan Gray's musical score sounds clear and crisp, and all the dialogue (with the exception of the heavy Gaelic accents) is always clear and understandable.|
| The Criterion Collection DVD of I Know Where I'm Going! includes a nice set of illuminating extras, all of which were ported over their 1994 laser disc release. |
Film scholar and historian Ian Christie, who has written several books about the world of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, contributes a screen-specific audio commentary in the form of an "audio essay." Christie's essay is scrupulously researched and well delivered. It is much like a scholarly lecture, and those who enjoy the more relaxed, conversational audio commentaries might find it a little heavy-going. However, for those who are fascinated by film history and the nuances of filmmaking, Christie's commentary is a wonderful overview of both I Know Where I'm Going! and the career of Powell and Pressburger.
Also taken from the 1994 laser disc is a 30-minute documentary, I Know Where I'm Going! Revisited by Mark Cousins. Although brief, the documentary gives a good retrospective view of the film, largely framing it around the enthusiasm of Nancy Franklin, an editor and critic for The New Yorker who is an avid fan of the film. Franklin also contributes a nine-and-a-half minute video essay composed of photographs from several trips to the Isle of Mull, where the film was shot. She offers her thoughts and reflections on the commentary track while moving through beautiful color images of the film's various locations circa 1990.
Thelma Schoonmaker Powell, the Oscar-winning editor of Raging Bull (1980) and other modern classics, and Michael Powell's widow (they were married in 1984; he died in 1990), offers audio commentaries on two sections of the disc. The first is a gallery of behind-the-scenes stills from the making of the film. The other is a brief section of silent, color home movies shot by Powell himself while on hiking trips in the Scottish highlands sometime in the mid-1950s. Schoonmaker Powell offers some personal insight into her husband's love of both movies and Scotland, and she reads several portions of his autobiography.
Lastly, the disc includes a substantial excerpt from Michael Powell's 1937 feature The Edge of the World, which is about the evacuation of a small island and was filmed on the isle of Foula in the Shetland Islands. This excerpt is framed by a brief segment from his 1978 documentary, Return to the Edge of the World, in which Powell and many members of the cast and crew returned to the location.
©2001 James Kendrick