“Have you been there?” —————- “Often! In my dreams.”
Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller) knows where she’s going. She wants to marry a man and she marches north to reach him. But the great, unexpected thing about Powell and Pressburger is that she didn’t quite know where she was going. She ended up somewhere else, perfectly happy, driven by her feelings rather than by an abstract figure demanding her from offscreen.
I Know Where I’m Going! comprises one of my earliest film viewing memories. I’m not sure how old I was when I first saw it but I remember almost nothing of it specifically, except for a lady in an ocelot-print hat and, later, her skipping across Caledonian hillsides.
Watching it now, very likely more than fifteen years after my first and only viewing, every single shot is striking me as familiar. There is something remarkable about that, and obviously this film had such an effect on me as to imprint my memory in this way. Why is this? There are certain films which I have seen more recently and have less memory of. Films which I cannot remember having seen until a moment quite far in, when my memory triggers. And even though I can be quite sure I’ve seen something, my cognizance might be limited.
This is what cinema does. It affects the viewer in ways that may not register, definitely, obviously, but bury themselves deeply as part of memory. Stories and cinematic experience can become part of our own experience. It’s as though we lived through something that we experienced through the screen. And these moments can be just as important as those we live through with our bodies. Our bodies are imperative to our viewing of film, to our envelopment in another world, our presence within that world, and our relationship to characters. Daniel Frampton writes:
For Munsterberg the film-world is a complete transfiguration of the real world. Film moves away from reality, and towards the mind. It is the mind that creates this transfiguration, recreating the world in its own form. Film should therefore be seen as its own imagination (even when it initally looks normal and realistic).
And it is its own imagination. In this case, with I Know Where I’m Going!, it had become a separate part of my memory. The film existed distinctly in my mind rather than my reality, and yet, free of temporality, it was able to reinvent itself in my reality. But the thing about the cinema is that it can blend with our reality, through sound, image and sensation. Just like dreams.