As Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker were locked in a cutting-edge “Raging Bull” apartment — an intense process that would have consumed the thoughts of most filmmakers — Scorsese told his editor to take a break. He had a movie he needed to show her.
“He said, ‘You gotta see this one,'” Schoonmaker recalled.
Scorsese was already an avid fan of the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the British filmmaking duo known as the Archers. He considered Technicolor films like “The Red Shoes”, “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp”, and “A Matter of Life and Death” to be masterpieces. But he had held back watching their 1945 black-and-white Scottish romance, “I Know Where I’m Going!” fearing it was “a clearer picture”. Something about this title. And besides, how many masterpieces could Powell and Pressburger have made?
Still, Scorsese was persuaded to screen it with his friend Jay Cocks the day before filming for “Raging Bull” began.
“I couldn’t have been more wrong,” Scorsese recalled in an email. “It was funny, it was exciting, it was really mystical and it was deeply moving. I’ve seen ‘I know where I’m going!’ so many times since – so many times, in fact, that I I almost lost count of it – and I’m still moved and still surprised each time, and I’m held in suspense until those incredible final moments.
On Monday, Scorsese and the film restoration association he founded, the Film Foundation, will launch a new virtual theater, the Film Foundation Restoration Screening Room. Each month, for one night only, films restored by the Film Foundation will be shown in free online screenings accompanied by discussions from Scorsese and other filmmakers. The screening room begins, naturally, with the restoration of “I know where I’m going!”
Since its release in the final days of World War II, “I Know Where I’m Going!” played a unique role in the hearts of moviegoers. It’s not the most famous Powell and Pressburger film, nor is it consistently listed on all-time lists. Instead, it’s a movie that tends to be shared cinephile to cinephile, like a cherished gift or a family treasure. It’s a buried gem that anyone who’s ever seen it wants to tell everyone about. “You gotta see this one” is how most “I know where I’m going!” begin.
“By the end of the war, people had suffered so much,” Schoonmaker said, speaking recently by phone. “And here is this movie that lifts your heart.”
Shortly after seeing “I Know Where I’m Going”, Powell visited Scorsese, who encouraged Schoonmaker to come over for dinner. They got on well and in 1984 they got married. Powell died in 1990; Pressburger in 1988. Since then, Schoonmaker and Scorsese have dedicated themselves — when not making movies (they’re currently finishing editing “Killers of the Flower Moon,” an expansive detective film for Apple about the 1920s murders in the ‘Oklahoma). Osage Nation) – to restore Powell and Pressburger films. Scorsese recently signed on to narrate a documentary about their movies. For years, Schoonmaker combed through Powell’s journals in hopes of getting them published.
“I inherited that,” says Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s famed editor. “Michael, when he died, left a little furnace burning inside of me. What keeps me going is loving and trying to get others to love his work.
How many can come from liking an old movie? For Schoonmaker, the answer is almost everything. Scorsese’s passion for Archers films inspired Schoonmaker’s and in turn led to the love of his life.
“It was Marty’s passion for film history that made it all possible,” she laughs.
The Film Foundation, which worked with the British Film Institute on the ‘I Know Where I’m Going’ restoration, has restored more than 925 films, preserving large swathes of film history and taking over many studios from cinema of today, who have shown less interest in preserving the past of cinema than in circulating new “content”.
“At this point, they are no longer film companies, but vast media conglomerates. For them, old movies are just one small element in a wide range of properties and activities,” says Scorsese. “The people who run them are several generations away from the very question of cinema: the word only has meaning as a marketing term. Their interest is not to make good films, but to enrich their shareholders. So, no, restoring an image of Howard Hawks is not high on their priority list. The idea that it should be, for reasons that have nothing to do with profit and loss, is not even entertained. In this atmosphere, the idea of art has no place. This throws a spanner in the works.
“I know where I’m going!”, however, represents the recklessness of the best plans. Powell and Pressburger made it in 1944 while waiting for the Technicolor cameras that Lawrence Olivier used to make “Henry V”. We think Pressburger wrote it in a few days. They pitched it to the Ministry of Information, which controlled wartime filmmaking, as an anti-materialist tale. (Britain feared a wave of consumption would follow wartime rationing.)
In it, a headstrong woman, Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller) travels to the Scottish Herbrides (the film was shot on the picturesque Isle of Mull) to marry a wealthy lord. But stormy weather prevents him from crossing to Kiloran (the island of Colonsay). While waiting for her to pass, she meets a naval officer (Roger Livesey) from the region. They quickly become entangled in local life, as we become enchanted with them. Joan feels increasingly confused.
But to sum up the exhilarating magic of “I know where I’m going!” never quite does it justice. It resonates with a warm, lyrical spirit that feels balanced between past and present, legend and reality. This is a movie that you, as helpless as Joan, can’t help but fall for.
Film enthusiasts are a passionate tribe. “The Big Sleep” author Raymond Chandler once wrote, “I’ve never seen a picture that smelled like wind and rain.” Tilda Swinton, who has a family home in Colonsay, thinks “I know where I’m going!” should be handed out by Scottish diplomats when traveling the world. “It’s like a confessional,” Swinton explains in a video made for the Film Foundation. “You come back to it every few years.”
Part of “I Know Where I’m Going” is about reconnecting with something — with nature and old ways — that makes it a particularly fitting film to kick off the restoration screening room. With designated times and sustained conversation around the film, the virtual theater is set up in a way that clearly differs from the standard streaming experience.
“We got used to watching and listening in our free time. Something was gained, but something was also lost,” Scorsese says. “We felt it was important to create a way of watching movies that ensured there was a larger audience watching and responding at the same time.”
At a time when film culture may be uncertain of its direction, the lovingly restored film “I Know Where I’m Going!” can help light the way. It is, in any case, an inspiring port in a storm.
“I have always thought that there is no present or future of cinema without its past. The films that I have seen, that I have reviewed and studied, that I have discovered on my own or through a friend… they enrich me, they inspire me, they support me”, says Scorsese. “I suppose it’s possible to imagine someone making movies and not caring about seeing anything made before their time. But the question is why? What’s the point? Why not see what you get out of “Each film is in conversation with all the films that precede it and all that follow it. That’s true of all art. Isn’t that amazing?”