Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Sometimes you can go back

Re-caught the 1983 film Local Hero over the weekend. We'd been faintly interested in it after seeing a short 25th anniversary feature on it which took the director, Bill Forsyth, to a special screening of the film in the small Aberdeenshire town where it was filmed, Pennan.

Revisiting films that you've personally judged "classics" in the past can be a hazardous activity. Inescapably, such judgements were made when lifetime-film-viewings were at a lower base, and frequently before a film's context/influences could reasonably be judged. Furthermore, sometimes a film is remembered fondly because of associations with a particular time rather than on its own merits. For these sorts of reasons, I've still unreasonable attachments to rather dumb films like Love at First Bite that I saw when I was growing up.

However, I can honestly report that Local Hero completely survived a return trip. Despite the passage of years, and imitators, it still stands up perfectly. At the very least, that's testament to the enduring importance of good screen-writing, characterisation and an ensemble cast. That, and successfully combining humour with (a degree of) romance, which, as I've remarked before, isn't easy to pull-off. The film's (extremely) soft sell on environmentalism has also been rewarded by some changes in public attitudes as the years have passed. Similarly, the dissatisfaction experienced by the central character when comparing his life in the city with that in rural Scotland is still resonant, especially given the growth of movements that focus on things like work-life balance and "community".

I particularly (re-)warmed to the film's subversive streak of revealing that the rural residents, far from being "local yokels", are business savvy and have low-key yearnings for the material trappings of modern life. It's this which gives, to me anyway, the film a somewhat more realistic (and humourous) base on which its whimsy is founded. I absolutely hate it when films or books unquestionably present simple country-living as wholesome and rich in wisdom, when the reality is always more complicated and interesting.

Anyhow, it's very pleasing to be able to report Local Hero as remaining firmly in the upper echelons of my favourite films.

As a sidenote, the DVD contained a recent interview with the director in which (among other things) he revealed that the film's final shot (of the village's quayside red telephone booth ringing) was actually only added as a quick fix to placate the US studio that part-funded the film. They felt that the previous ending (the return of the main character to his soulless city home) was too downbeat, and requested some sort of jollying-up. Keen not to do this, the director used some spare footage to quickly create the ending that the film was ultimately released with.

I thought this was interesting because I've always thought that the slightly ambiguous shot, while clearly interpretable in a positive way, was a really great way to finish up. A much more satisfying close for what's essentially a feel-good film than most similar films manage. While they didn't think of it themselves (and would likely have ruined the film if given free rein), the film's backers were, perhaps surprisingly, able to affect an improvement. OK, so sometimes the moneymen aren't completely crazy ...


Deditos said...

Interesting, the Lovefilm robots recommended Local Hero to me a few weeks ago, I think after I'd rented Powell's The Edge of the World. I shall have to add it to my list.

My dumb film attachment is to I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, which I've yet to watch again. Tempting though...

Plumbago said...

Thanks for dropping by!

I can't say that I've seen either of the films that you mention, but I'm always after titles for our DVD rental list! We're with LoveFilm too, but we've clearly not been paying attention to its robots.

Anyway, having now blown the trumpet for Local Hero, I hope that you enjoy it should you wind up renting it! I live in mortal fear of over-praising something lest a recommendee take me up on it and judge it a lemon. How embarrassing! ;-)