Scottish director Bill Forsyth has a cult following. Normally, that phrase sort of irritates me because it’s overused to the point of diluting word “cult,” but in this case it’s true. Many people have never heard of him or the few, brilliant movies that make him so beloved. I sat down to watch as many as I could get my hands on--an occasionally difficult task.
Gregory’s Girl 
This was Forsyth’s second movie after a shoestring-budget surprise hit That Sinking Feeling. He used many of the same actors from his first film. It is about Gregory, a teenaged boy who falls in love with the girl who takes his place on the school’s football [soccer, in American] team. The movie features the qualities that make Forsyth’s movies special: it is funny and heartwarming in the same way that the best moments in life are. The interactions feel genuine, and it’s hard not to get swept up in the charm. The most important thing is that it manages to tell a sappy story without being saccharine. My day job is teaching high school, and I often roll my eyes at the way teenagers are portrayed in films, but for the most part this is not the case for Gregory’s Girl. However, I didn’t love the story. Yeah, there’s some neat gender stuff with Gregory’s love interest, Dorothy, pushing her way onto the football team by being a kick-ass player. But all the girls in the film are treated as an “other” and don’t really have personalities. Even Dorothy is pretty bland. I guess it makes sense when you think that most awkward teenaged boys think of teenaged girls as a mysterious, mystical beings, but that’s a cliche cop out. So, to sum up: Gregory’s Girl is a really great film if you can get past the tired storyline.
Local Hero 
This is the film that Forsyth is most known for, and for good reason. I don’t need to go into too much detail about it as it’s been and will be covered in the articles about the film this week, but it’s about an American oil company that sends a representative to scope out a sleepy Scottish town with the intention of buying the entire place. The storyline is unique, the dialogue is genuine, and the characters are richly textured. This is the best of all four Forsyth movies I watched.
Comfort and Joy 
This one, my second favorite of the bunch, was a movie that could have easily been just awful; the only reason it wasn’t was because of Forsyth’s unique, gentle touch. It’s sort of a Christmas movie and while I normally hate Christmas movies, it’s really an appropriate vehicle for Forsyth’s kind of storytelling. It’s a Christmas movie in that it takes place over the Christmas season, but it actually has very little to do with the holiday, other than juxtaposing the holly jolly season with the loneliness the protagonist unexpectedly finds himself suffering. He’s a radio DJ who is surprised one evening to find that his girlfriend is leaving him. As he grapples with a suddenly empty apartment and life, he accidentally finds himself in the middle of a turf war between ice cream truck companies. Apparently, this really happened in Scotland, and was probably a cover up for a drug turf war. But in the movie, it’s just ice cream and our hero finds meaning in life again by helping these two factions [who, in classic storytelling fashion, are actually blood related]. I know I keep using the word charming, but it’s really the best word to describe this movie. The story is wacky but refrains from being ridiculous and does a great job at enveloping the viewer.
Being Human 
Forsyth only did two films in the 10-year span between Comfort and Joy and Being Human, and Being Human was essentially the end of his filmmaking career. In many ways it is starkly different from the rest of his films that I watched in that it doesn’t take place in modern day Scotland. Also, in his previous films he tended to use relatively unknown actors, many of them he featured in his first small-budget movie. Being Human, however, has a large cast of mostly non-Scottish actors such as Robin Williams, John Turturro, Bill Nighy, and William H. Macy. It follows Robin Williams as he spans five time periods and geographic locations starting from a caveman probably in Northern Europe, then a slave in Ancient Rome, a traveling Scottish crusader, a Portuguese shipwreck survivor and, finally, a modern American businessman. The indication is that we are not following a man but rather a soul, and not a very admirable one at that. The concept is ambitious and difficult to capture on film. As I watched it, I thought it felt oddly disjointed and the end felt forced and abrupt. I was right. After test screenings, Forsyth was told to cut a hefty 40 minutes from the film, add narration [I suppose to try to bring it all together?] and add a happy ending. This shows, and it’s not good. So while there is still Forsyth’s signature charm, I felt like I never get to spend enough time with anyone to care about them, despite the film’s slow pace. However, I can’t help but think it would make a fantastic book, and I wish Forsyth would consider penning a novel.