Martin Scorsese was working in an apartment while Thelma Schoonmaker and Thelma Schonmaker cut “Raging Bull”. This intense process would have consumed most filmmakers’ thoughts. Scorsese asked his editor to take a break. Scorsese had a movie that he wanted to show his editor.
Schoonmaker recalls, “He said, ‘You have to witness this one.’”
Scorsese was already a passionate admirer of the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (the British filmmaking duo known by the Archers). Technicolor films such as “The Red Shoes”, “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” and “A Matter of Life and Death” were considered masterpieces by Scorsese. He had resisted watching the black-and-white Scottish romance “I Know Where I’m Goin!” in 1945, fearing that it might be “a lighter movie.” Powell and Pressburger could have produced so many great masterworks.
Scorsese was compelled to screen it with Jay Cocks, the night before filming began on “Raging Bull.”
Scorsese wrote in an email that “I couldn’t have been more wrong.” It was entertaining, it was thrilling, it truly was mystical, and it was deeply moving. I have seen “I Know Where I am Going!” many times since then. I almost lost track of how many times I saw it. I’m always moved, always amazed, and I keep my eyes open for the final moments.
Scorsese will open a new theater called the Film Foundation Recovery Screening Room on Monday. Scorsese is partnering with the Film Foundation, a film restoration non-profit he founded. For one night only, every month films that have been restored at the Film Foundation will be shown in free online screenings, accompanied by discussion from Scorsese or other filmmakers. Naturally, the screening room opens with “I Know Where I’m Go!”
“I Know Where My Heart Is Going!” was released in the final days of World War II. It has been a special film in the hearts and minds of moviegoers. It’s not the most well-known Powell and Pressburger movie, nor does it appear on any of the all-time lists. It’s more of a movie that is shared from moviegoer to cinemagoer like a treasured family gift or cherished gift. Anyone who has ever seen it will want to share the story with everyone. “You must see this one!” is how the majority of conversations about “I Know Where I’m Going!” start.
Schoonmaker spoke recently via phone, “People had suffered so much at the end of the war,” he said. “And here’s a movie that will lift your heart.
Soon after watching “I Know Where I’m Going”, Powell met Scorsese and encouraged Schoonmaker, to join him for dinner. They fell in love and were married by 1984. Powell died in 1990, and Pressburger in 1988. Schoonmakers and Scorsese have been devoted to their films ever since. They are currently editing “Killers of the Flower Moon,” an extensive crime film for Apple about the murders of 1920s Osage Nation in Oklahoma. Scorsese has recently been asked to tell a documentary about their films. Schoonmaker has searched through Powell’s diaries for years in the hope of publishing them.
Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s long-serving editor, says “I inherited that.” “When Michael died, he left me with a little fire in my heart. I love and try to get others to love his work. That is what keeps me going.”
What is the value of watching old movies? Schoonmaker believes that almost everything can be gained from watching old movies. Schoonmaker was inspired by Scorsese’s love for Archers movies, which led to her finding the love of her life.
She chuckles, “It was Marty’s passion for film history that made this all possible.”
The Film Foundation collaborated with the British Film Institute to restore “I Know Where I’m Going”. It has restored more than 925 films. This preserves significant portions of film history. It also picks up the slack from many film studios today, who are less interested in keeping the pipelines of “content” flowing than they are in cinema’s past.
“At this stage, they are not film companies anymore. They’re vast media conglomerates. Scorsese says that old movies are just one item in a vast array of properties and activities. “The people running them are many generations removed from the question of cinema. The word is only used as a marketing term. They are not interested in making great films but in making their shareholders more wealthy. Restoring a Howard Hawks movie is not on their priority list. It isn’t even considered that it should, for reasons that don’t have to do with profits or losses. The idea of art is not appropriate in this environment. It can throw a wrench into the works.”
“I Know Where I’m Goin!” is a reference to the folly of best-laid plans. It was written by Powell and Pressburger in 1944, while they waited for the Technicolor cameras Lawrence Olivier used to make “Henry V.” Pressburger is said to have written it within a matter of days. It was an anti-materialistic story that they pitched to the Ministry of Information. (Britain was concerned about a rise in consumerism after wartime rationing.
It features Joan Webster, a strong woman who travels to Scotland to marry a rich lord. The film was shot in the beautiful Isle of Mull. Stormy weather stops her from reaching Kiloran (the Island of Colonsay) however. In the midst of waiting for passage, she meets Roger Livesey (a naval officer) from the region. As they become more involved in the local community, we find ourselves enchanted. Joan feels pulled away from her course.
It is difficult, to sum up, the thrilling magic of “I Know Where I’m Going!”. It resonates with a warm, lyrical energy that seems to be at once past and present, legends and reality. You will fall in love with it, just like Joan.
A passionate group of people is the film’s fans. Raymond Chandler, author of “The Big Sleep,” once said, “I’ve never witnessed a picture that smelled like the rain and wind quite this way.” Tilda Swinton, who lives on Colonsay with her family, believes “I Know Where Myself is Going!” should be given to Scottish diplomats as they travel around the world. Swinton describes it as a confessional in a video for the Film Foundation. It’s like a confessional. You return to it every few years.”
“I Know Where I’m Going” is a film about reconnecting with something, with nature and old ways. This makes it an ideal film to launch the Restoration Screening Room. The virtual theater has a different setup than standard streaming. It features scheduled showtimes and lively conversation around the film.
“We have gotten used to watching and listening in our own time. Scorsese says that while some things have been achieved, others have been lost. “We felt it was essential to create a method of viewing movies that would allow for more people to watch and respond.
The lovingly restored “I Know Where I’m Going!” might help to guide film culture in a difficult time. It’s, however, one port of refuge in the storm.
“I have always believed that cinema cannot exist without its past. Scorsese says that the films I have seen, that I’ve re-seen, and studied, that I’ve discovered for myself, or through a friend,… they enrich my life, they inspire, they sustain me.” It’s possible to envision someone making movies and not bothering to view anything before their time. The question is, why? But what’s the point? What’s the point? Every film is in conversation with every film that precedes it and with every film that follows it. This is true for all art. Isn’t it amazing?