Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.
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Submitted by Mark Fuller
Films of the Week
By Dilys Powell
From: Sunday Times
18 November 1945
I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING. Directors: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. (Odeon)
OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES. Director Roy Rowland (Empire)
THE WICKED LADY. Director Leslie Arliss (Gaumont, Tuesday)
In the appraisal of the regional film the critic of nondescript provenance is at a grave disadvantage. He cannot say, with the assurance of the native, that this is or is not a fair rendering of the scene. He cannot even, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, claim the remotest acquaintance with the original; for no matter how mobile the journalist, he gets around less than the camera. The best he can do, in fact, is to decide whether or not the film conveys to him personally the strong flavour of earth and water, and leave it at that.
It is, then, not for me to discuss the accuracy of the new Powell-Pressburger piece, "I Know Where I'm Going." This story of the storm-swept Hebrides may or may not speak to the Islander of his home; I can only say that to me it communicated an overpowering sense of place.
Regional films have not been common in our cinema. "The Edge of The World", "Owd Bob"- before the war they were a handful and no more, if we exclude the documentary pieces. The sensuousness of the French regional background, the fervour, in turns romantic and savage, of the Russian rendering of landscape and man in relation to landscape, were almost entirely lacking in our own films. The war, indeed, narrowing the physical horizon, turned the eyes of producers and directors in on the native scene; from this constriction there emerged at last a native subject, obvious enough in all conscience, yet not grasped before; English character. The setting has been slower to find than the theme. Films of English character (I speak again of fiction films) have dwelt chiefly on urban character without a corresponding emphasis on its pictorial background. There has been nothing to compare with the Frenchman's poetic handling of the back street and the scabrous alley, or the American's rendering of the confused movement of subway and pleasure park; only the documentary worker has composed the dramatic lights and shadows of the tenement and the playground. And only within the last year or so have country character and the country scene begun to play a considerable part in the entertainment film.
When last year Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger made "A Canterbury Tale" the justice and beauty of the rural setting were not balanced by any equivalent strength in the narrative, and the film's argument for the traditional ways of life was lost. In "I Know Where I'm Going" the thread of plot is much stronger, and though, reduced to its structure, this is just another story of a girl engaged to a prosaic rich man and deserting him for a poor one, the mood and treatment swell this cinema stock-in-trade to something curious and memorable. The stark sudden hills, the dark waters, the island seen through the veils of spray and mist - landscape and seascape here as if they had personalities of their own; one feels the presence of wind and shore in a manner for which I can think of no English parallel except in Brian Desmond Hurst's early film of Synge's "Riders to the sea". The shots of the furious sea, the sullen curtain of the approaching storm, the whirlpool in whose gulf the little boat which plies between the islands is nearly lost, are as good as anything of their kind I can remember. And over and above the feeling of the physical setting there persists the feeling of a way of life too, remote and self-contained as the life of Jean Epstein's "Mor Vran". No doubt parts of the picture have been romanticised. But whether or not "I Know Where I'm Going" is true to the original, it has an imaginative truth which holds fast in the mind. Not always an agreeable truth; to me, indeed, there is something a little sinister about these people, this landscape, this self-sufficient farawayness. But I shall remember the piece as I do not remember many films, for a power of suggestion which atones for the cheapjack narrative tricks of the last sequence. The acting of Wendy Hiller, Roger Livesey and Pamela Brown strikes no false notes, and many, I am sure, will share my enjoyment of the performances by Captain Knight and his golden eagle as himself, itself and themselves in a style endeared by many an hour's lecture-hall bird-watching.
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