Monday, 11 March 2013

I Know Where I'm Going (1945)

*The following review will contain spoilers. However, there are surprises in the film. It is very predictable and conventional like many films of its time*

At this point, in 1945, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger had risen to fame around the World War II time period. They had created such successful films as 49th Parallel, One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. They knew that the end of World War II was approaching so they decided to make more personal films, such as A Matter of Life and Death. However, in 1944 there was no available Technicolor stock to shoot with. This left Powell and Pressburger in a mind-boggoling situation. They desperately need to create a film in black and white, very quickly. Pressburger proposed the idea for a film about a young woman who tries to get to an island, but by the time she can, she doesn’t want to. Powell raised an eyebrow and asked “Why can’t she go?” Pressburger shrugged and responded with “Let’s make it to find out.”

After that began the production of one of Powell and Pressburger’s simpler films. The script was written in practically no time. When they arrived to shoot on location in Scotland, everything seemed perfect. It was in Scotland where they met up with the major actress of the time, Wendy Hiller. They thought she was perfect for the lead role of Joan Webster. In fact, it was in Scotland where Michael Powell fell in love with supporting actress in I Know Where I’m Going, Pamela Brown.

I Know Where I’m Going is an important film in the chronicles of The Archers (the nickname for Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger). It was a film that represented the transition from World War II dramas to surrealist expressionist films such as The Red Shoes and The Tales of Hoffman. Where does I Know Where I’m Going currently stand? Well, it’s certainly far from being The Archers’ most discussed film, however it did survive the thunderstorm known as ‘time’, unlike some other films such as Oh, Rosalinda!!. I Know Where I’m Going currently holds a very high rating of 7.7 on IMDb. The best way to view the film would be on the Criterion Collection.

For all of her life, Joan Webster has known where she was going. She has always demonstrated exceptionally mature and intelligent behavior.  We meet up with her when she is in her early twenties. She meets with her father and divulges the news of her engagement to a rich Scottish lord. Her father tries to convince her to back down, but she is too self-reliant to listen to him.

After embarking on an expedition to Scotland she finds herself on a small isolated island across from that off her fiancé’s castle. It is then a problem arises. She seems to be trapped on the island due to extremely poor weather preventing her from sailing across to her fiancé’s castle. She somewhat-reluctantly surrenders to the isolated island across from her fiancé’s castle. It is there she meets a young naval officer named Torquil MacNeil. Much to her surprise, she finds herself falling in love with Torquil. This sudden romance that arises puts quite the wrench in Joan’s plans.

When I say this I don’t mean it just for the pun… that’s just a benefit, but I Know Where I’m Going simply has no idea where it is going. There, I said. But the comment is truthful. We begin as a Lubitsch-ish. We then fade into a Preston Sturges-ish film. I have no problem with Sturges’ films, but I must admit it is a fair bit of a step down form Lubitsch. Then…  I Know Where I’m Going fades into a realm of utter clichés, conventional plot points and predictability. Allow me to elaborate. At the very end of the film, Joan is supposed to have left for the other island. Torquil is a state of mourning enters the gloomy premises of a cave he earlier stated he was opposed to entering. Suddenly Joan runs in, they embrace and walk off into the sunset. What I am attempting to explain is that I Know Where I’m Going goes from being a unique film about a headstrong woman, to a film about being as cliché as possible.

I Know Where I’m Going does to the Scottish as 49th Parallel does to the Canadians. Both films compliment their specific culture while honestly, being very offensive in their usage of stereotypes. In 49th Parallel, we see the Canadians riding bears, sitting around in what looks like Antarctica, speaking with ridiculous accents and having everyone have occupations such as ‘fishers’ and ‘hunters’. I Know Where I’m Going does not use stereotypes as poorly as 49th Parallel, but it is wrong to imagine I Know Where I’m Going is being respectfully to the Scottish. They dwell on hairy men in kilts, beautiful rivers and simply the worst accents I’ve ever heard. I believe The Archers had no intentions of offending anyone, but the definitely screwed up in demonstrating cultures.

I enjoyed Wendy Hiller’s performance as Joan Webster in I Know Where I’m Going. She demonstrated perhaps the only special aspect of the film. Yes, we have seen the “strong woman” type character in several of these films, but it is a little different in I Know Where I’m Going. In other films this type of character is always perfect, as if the entire of the film is “women are better than men”. In I Know Where I’m Going we dwell on people and do not zoom in on a specific gender. The idea of the film is perfection is non-existent. I guess the greatest thing says is “you never know where you’re going”. Life is not a plain road that you just drive down. You need to take several side streets in order to get to the your final destination. And sometimes, your destination may change. 

I Know Where I'm Going,
Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger,
Starring: Wendy Hiller, Roger Livesey and Finlay Currie
6/10 (C-)

1. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
2. Tales of Hoffman
3. I Know Where I'm Going

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