Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Powell & Press Button A

‘I Know Where I’m Going’ (1945) is classic Powell and Pressburger.  I have seen it many times before but when it last had an airing on television I sat down with the deliberate intention of finding a new post for this blog.  It didn’t come easily.  As I tweeted at the time in frustration, Powell and Pressburger are so otherworldly that the history of the everyday is elusive in their hands.  I put it to the back of my mind, admitting defeat at the hands of the masters, feeling disappointed at not being able to voice my appreciation of the film.  Then I saw a documentary about telephone boxes and it clicked.  I thought back to the scene in the film where Roger Livesey and Wendy Hiller’s characters (Torquil and Joan) attempt to use a telephone box that has been unfortunately placed next to a waterfall.  This scene seems almost inconsequential, just a small part of the plot.  Yet I remembered it clearly.  I wondered if it had more to say than met the eye.

Wendy Hillier by @aitchteee

Powell and Pressburger are not shy of metaphor, and I began to think that this scene had a deeper point.   Joan is on a journey.  She is desperate to move forwards to a wonderful future that is almost within her grasp.  Like the express train that she has travelled on to Scotland, she aims straight and fast with the minimum of stops. Nothing will stand in her way – she will not listen to others or stop to take on board those who do not have a part to play.  The unfortunately placed telephone box emphasises the point by holding up her journey.  All that she hears is the gushing of money coming her way. We see that it will ultimately run through her fingers and wash away any trace of herself, and it destroys her ability to hear the information that she needs to give sustenance to her being.   

Telephone boxes are in danger of disappearing from our landscape – hence the documentary.  It is a shame that these iconic pieces of mini architecture must go.  I wondered how Joan would be portrayed in a modern day film and concluded that she would be a businesswoman, trying to get to an island to meet a recluse and close a deal with them.  She would be continually clamped to a mobile phone and lap top and this time the scene would be her trying in vain to find a signal – except near the waterfall.  Powell and Pressburger might take a shot at the over-communication that exists in our society.  I often think that in some ways it was better when we had to put more effort into communication.  We had to walk to the (thoughtfully placed) telephone box or handwrite a letter, buy a stamp and put it in the post box.  We had to squeeze everything onto a sheet of paper or get our message across before the pips went.  More thought went into it. True communication is about putting an effort into what you say and how you say it.

It is a measure of Powell and Pressburger’s genius that their films still provoke such thoughts 70 years on.

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