Primum non nocere
This is such a delightful show. I first came upon this movie some fifteen years ago, and have enjoyed it every time I've seen it since. Each time I am drawn in to the enchanting, mist-shrouded island of Kiloran and her gaelic speaking islanders. Almost any scene can be taken by itself and enjoyed, and the story as a whole is delightful. I love Roger Livesey in this. His Torquil MacNeil is kind, considerate, self-assured and capable. He is attracted to Joan, her energy and spirit, even though her world views are not those of an islander. It is as though he has a faith that she could come to appreciate all that he loves about life on Kiloran, if she had an opportunity to see it. Joan, who thinks of herself as the soon to be Lady of Kiloran, has no real knowledge or love of it. Their brief conversation at Catriona's, where Joan asks about swimming in a lake there, and he responds "Yes, the loch" was perfect. The gentleness he shows to her, while still speaking up for Kiloran and her islander ways. He is not willing to allow the ways of Kiloran to be brushed aside or thought of as simple or common. I really enjoyed his conversation with the Colonel which came just before, as he contemplates Joan from afar:"That's a queer girl.""What do you young chaps know about girls?""Nothing. Not a thing.""Well, you know as much as I do."It's clear we are in for some fun here.
One of the things that I find so delightful in this is the care taken with the minor characters. It brought great depth and life to the film, and gave you a strong sense of life on Mull to have such characters as boatsman Ruairidh Mhór and Colonel Barnstaple with his eagle. Even the taxi driver and the Scotswoman in the grand house added so much to the feel and enchantment of the place. On the DVD I have been watching there are a number of feature extras which speak of Michael Powell and his lifelong attraction to Scotland and the Western Isles. The land itself is so very rugged. I can see why he wanted so much to capture it in a film. The notion of a curse is a long standing tradition in Scottish tales, and it added a very fine point of interest in the story.The phrases captured were grand as well. I loved the bus ride that Torquil and Joan go on, and the locals in the bus with their running comments on "the rich man on Kiloran" were good fun among them. The story of him building a swimming pool and buying his fish rather than fishing for them himself were all good fun, and I very much enjoyed the phrase they used to describe it:"He has the finest tackle from Glasgow, but the fish ..do not know him""No, no. The fish .. do not know him."
I would so love to visit Mull.Though perhaps not in February:"Western Isles Worst Hit as Scotland is Battered by 90 mph Gales""How long will the gale last?""Ruairidh Mhór will tell you.""How long will the gale last, me lady? Ach, as long as the wind will blow."
Moira Finnie wrote an excelllent piece on Roger Livesey. She had the following to say about 'I Know Where I'm Going'"Set in rural Scotland during the war and beautifully photographed by cinematographer Edward Hillier, this magical film features Wendy Hiller as a brusque, social climbing go-getter, hell-bent on marrying a somewhat sinister, unseen captain of industry who's leased an entire Scottish island, seemingly just for the occasion. Set at a leisurely pace and with little real plot, the movie contrasts the hustling mentality of the modern world with that of nature. This unfolding of the ambling, slow-paced lives of the area's inefficient inhabitants, their seemingly naïve beliefs in arcane superstition laced with a respect for the natural world, and their ability to hear life's deeper rhythms in the mist inevitably draws a viewer in, bewitching us as much as the central characters. The natural world intervenes at almost every turn to throw Livesey as Torquil MacNeil, (the actual Laird of Killoran), and Hiller's character together until Hiller learns to slow down long enough to listen to the beat of her own heart. Roger Livesey's character, despite his appealingly quiet nature, remains quite mysterious throughout this film, prompting one friend to comment that "while he is a gentle, patient man, and at ease with his environment, he too must conquer his own belief in an alleged curse that trails him, as well as his own possible fear of loving Wendy Hiller's character."Read her whole piece here.
Oh, how I love this movie.I love the black-and-white, with light and dark and shadows giving the images richness and depth and a sense of separateness from real life that draws you into the story.And then being transported, along with Joan, even farther from real life, to that remote bit of the world with the beautiful sands and the singing seals.Transported along with that wedding dress, always being pulled out of the suitcase, examined and tweaked and smoothed out. It seems to be a symbol of Joan's efforts to convince herself that she wants what she's pursuing, a tangible representation of the persona she is wearing, even if it slips a bit now and then. (I do love that early scene with her father; his cutting through her pretensions, and giving us a glimpse of the "real" Joan. And that glimpse of her faintest uncertainty in herneed that he be happy about the path she is taking.) In the end, the wind and the sea wrestle the dress away from her, just as they did the printed litany of arrangements when the fog kept her from Killoran her first night on Mull.Mull. I love to think there's still someplace like that, where people sustain respected traditions while making do with the present, and find compromises with nature, saving their energy for things that matter. Where they know how to make good, even beautiful, lives, without every luxury, without every comfort, but with love for their families and friendship for their neighbors.This story is filled with so many beautiful characters. The old colonel, his love for his magnificent birds as real as his affection for Catriona, or Torquil. Catroina herself, gleaning every good in life she can find; natural, and honest, whether she's throwing down a sodden coat to greet Torquil, or silently supporting young Bridie in her moment of defience, or counseling her friends with critical truths told simply. Young Kenny, trying so hard to balance duty and desire. Mrs. Crozier, gracious and practical, but still showing something of the lively young woman she had been. Even little Cheril Robinson, insulating herself from her mother's histrionic affectations.There are so many wonderful moments where we see Joan's confidence in her chosen future shaken, or her interest captured by something about this new world she's discovering. That trip into town with the local men talking about Bellinger"s having set himself up "like a little king" -- and Joan defensive, and embarrassed, over their chuckling at his fishmonger's salmon and his swimming pool. The scene at Achnacroish, when Mrs Crozier speaks of the glorious parties of the past -- the women in jewels, the men even more splendid, and the dancing that went on until the sun shone through the curtains -- her own face glowing with the happy memories, and Joan, rapt, and entranced. And at the ceilidgh, where Torquil won't let Joan retreat, but makes her join in the dancing, and in a quiet moment, recites the lyrics to an old song, flinging his last line, "You're the maid for me," at Joan, a challenge as much as a declaration.(Continued)
(Continued)I liked following the course of Joan's prayers at the end of each day, such a simple technique to show her growing agitation and alarm. She knows she's as attracted to Torquil as he is to her. And she knows that yielding to that attraction would cost her the kind of life she has wanted since she was a child. And so her prayers shift from "Please get me to Killoran," to "Please get me to Killoran before it's too late." And finally, after the terrifying ordeal in the boat, she tells Catriona that she's not going to pray that night; Joan knows it's too late; she doesn't know anymore what to ask for.For Joan to embrace Torquil's world, she must be willing to give up not just the luxuries, or the lifestyle, but her own sense of self, everything she thought she knew about herself. She must be able to give up trying to have everything under control, from the sea she doesn't understand, to the feelings she's trying to ignore. She must come to trust her heart's drawing her to a life in which success is measured in honorable work and loving friendships, rather than secretaries' arrangements and shop girls' adulation. A life she had never imagined, but that she finally believes -- as she believes about fishing for salmon in her own stream -- she will love, if someone - if Torquil --will teach her how.
Hey! Nobody has said anything about the Dream Sequence!
That was very well said, Cathy. I think you most certainly are a lover of the Western Isles, as we all are who love this film.As to the dream sequences, I should say... I loved them! The one on the train was perfect in placing the conflicts of Joan's life in perspective. There is her father, acting as the reverend, reading off the wedding vows:"Do you Joan Webster, take Consolidated Chemical Industries as your lawfully wedded husband?"and there is never an image of Sir Robert Bellenger, just frantic receipt notices and sales people saying "Thank you, madame." And then the frenetic pitch tones way down, and there is the image of rolling hills with Scottish tartans, and a man softly singing "You take the high road and I'll take the low road..." Things were surely going to change. I also loved the one after the ceilidgh, with the dancers all spinning about in her head. Though perhaps that wasn't a dream at all, but was just a representation of what Joan couldn't get out of her head, confusing her and throwing her off her course. Isn't it grand to be thrown off course every now and again?Wonderful!
I don't know if Matt's going to make the scene. Why don't you pick one for us for next week Cathy. Anything you like.
Sorry! Just watched it - I'll report back when I get in tonight!
Thanks for finally making me watch this, James!Loved it, as I always suspected I would. As Cathy pointed out, that opening scene with Hiller and her father is really good, so subtly and effectively written and played. Usually with a set-up like that - girl meets father to tell him she's marrying older man etc etc - you know exactly how it will go once the premise is established. The performances may or may not be good, and you may not be able to predict the dialogue word for word, but you basically know, as it were, where you're going.But here I was instantly hanging on every word because these people were talking to each other in an interesting, convincing, spontaneous kind of a way. There is no cliche, and you really don't know what will happen next.And then, of course, to follow such simple, natural writing and playing with such spectacular artifice, beginning with that amazing dream sequence on the train, and proceeding to the incredibly evocative location photography and that strain of nature mysticism with which Powell imbues his stuff (it all very pleasantly reminded me of The Edge of the World, which is still my favourite of Powell's films). And of course the way he uses the character leaving England as the point of transition between naturalism and artifice, which is the perfect marriage of content and construction.Beautiful photography not only of landscapes but also of faces. Lovely little character cameos as you said, James. The plot is to some extent a vehicle for the effect but still very moving, and quite an unusual sort of a story for a British film of the time. Difficult when you are a director with a strong visual imagination, and a tendency to wallow in imagery, not to let it swallow the drama if the story you are telling is a simple, unaffected one like this. Powell always gets it right, I think, as does Fellini sometimes, and a few others. Many, many more go for the One From The Heart effect, and use an excess of visual style to disguise the fact that they are basically copping out of addressing the need to get that balance right.This is one of those films that you keep thinking about afterwards, and little bits keep returning to your mind as you go about your day. Considering how moving the drama and how magnificent most of the imagery I feel almost ashamed for saying this, but the bit that made the deepest impression on me, and which I still can't shake off - it keeps popping into my head and making me laugh - is that fantastic segue between the man in the top hat and the shot of the steam train moving off, in which smoke suddenly seems to billow out of the top of his hat, before the image cross fades and we see the train's funnel in exactly the position and proportions of the hat. It's funny, it's a strange and wonderful idea in the first place, and it's perfectly realised, and I can't think of any other British film-maker who would have been so inspired, or bothered to get it just right.Sorry for the delay, but thanks again for inviting me!
That moment you mention, the visual play at the train station with the tall gentleman's hat transforming into the smokestack, the first time I watched this film that was the moment where it just hit me that this was kind of fun! That the director felt comfortable and free enough to just have a little fun in an artistic way, and though it wasn't very important, it gave me a certain insight into the person and drew me in to what has become a great favorite of mine. Excellent. I am very glad you could join us with this one. It is a forgotten little gem of a film.
Yes, absolutely. It's like you can say: Okay, I'm in safe hands; this man is on the right kind of level; I'm ready to enjoy this...and then he knocks you for six with the most magical filmmaking.
Oh, I've only just realised that you've done this one already, way back when you started! Thanks again for allowing me to catch up v e r y s l o w l y . . .
Well, that's what we like to do here. Share well loved movies with friends that haven't seen them yet. And I am certain sure Cathy was pleased to visit it again. I know I was.Now if I can just get a hint from her what she has been thinking about for next!
Wee wee coos! I saw the wee wee coos!
Wee wee coos or no, I quite enjoyed the Encore Presentation. I think we should do it once a year, unless we need it sooner.
Oh -- sorry I'm holding up progress! Would you guys be up for something a little newer? (Joke) I've had a hankering for Witness for the Prosecution -- 1957, Agatha Christie by way of Billy Wilder, Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power, etc.
AND it's on Hulu. :)
If you thought it was good I'd be happy to give it a try.
Well, I thought it was great, but I was young and impressionable.;)
Sounds good to me. Couple of days.
April denizens should recognize the "wee wee coos"remark. And it's a good thing. I enjoyed seeing this little treasure again after more than forty years. I also got to remember the bit about seeinga young Petula Clark because Downtown was on the Silver Dollar Survey last time I saw it.