When LOCAL HERO was released in 1983, I remember reading rave reviews for it, but I had no interest in it. A film about a Texas oilman who goes to Scotland? No thanks. Once, after it was first on cable, I flipped by it, saw a few seconds and thought “Why would anyone want to watch this?”
A few years later, after I had grown up a little, I was listening to a tape of movie themes. They had one by Mark Knopfler that I loved. I would listen to it over and over again. The way it began quietly, with guitars and a whistle, before transforming into this jazzy number with horns and everything. I loved it so much, I rented the film that it was from, just to hear how it was used.
That movie was LOCAL HERO.
And the film became one of my favorite of all time. Still today, it is always in my top five, often number one.
I would rent it often, watch the film, rewind it, and watch it again. Then I’d have to take it back to the video store. The next weekend, I would rent it again.
LOCAL HERO was directed by Bill Forsyth. It was his third feature film.
His first film in 1980 was THAT SINKING FEELING, a wonderful low budget Scottish film about a group of unemployed guys who steal sinks. It is a hilarious film that deserves a DVD release.
His follow up the next year is still well known today, and available on DVD, GREGORY’S GIRL. A classic comedy about Gregory (wonderfully played by Gordon John Sinclair) who falls in love with a female member of the school’s soccer team.
Then came LOCAL HERO. Often voted by critics as one of the best films of the 1980’s, Peter Riegert plays a Texas oilman sent (by Burt Lancaster) to buy out a small Scottish village. He falls in love with the place. And so does the audience.
All I can say is if you haven’t see the film, do so. I want to visit Scotland JUST to find the phonebox seen in the film.
COMFORT AND JOY came next, the story is about a DJ getting in the middle of a war between ice cream vendors during Christmastime. Another charming, offbeat film.
In 1987, Forsyth made HOUSEKEEPING. This was his first American film (actually shot in Canada) and, for me, didn’t quite have the feel of his early films. Yet, many critics loved the film.
I often think of it like a great country singer going pop. They may still be a great musician, but there are countless pop singers and not as many great country singers. There are countless filmmakers making Hollywood films and stories about American characters. There are few making small Scottish films like his earlier work.
Next was BREAKING IN, his 1989 film starring Burt Reynolds as a safecracker. The screenplay was by John Sayles. While Reynolds was praised for his performance, I was a bit underwhelmed by the film. But again, it deserves another viewing by me.
In 1993 Forsyth made the film that would make him lose interest in filmmaking, BEING HUMAN. It told multiple stories, all starring Robin Williams. Many critics hated it, yet there are moments that I still remember from seeing only once. One scene, with Williams trying to manufacture happiness with his children by riding a merry go round has always stayed with me. But, after a troubled production and post production, Warner Brothers dumped the film. I had to drive 45 minutes to find the only theatre showing it.
Forsyth has stated how the dealing with the studios soured him on filmmaking. After that, he would only make one more film.
In 1999, he decided to go back to what worked for him, his early Scottish films. He made GREGORY’S TWO GIRLS, a sequel to his 1981 film. This time, Gregory was a teacher. But, the resulting film didn’t have the magic of the first and was a bit overlong. It was fun to see the character again.
GREGORY’S TWO GIRLS has yet to have any sort of release in the US. It never received a theatrical release, or on video in any form.
According to one report, on the audio commentary for the UK DVD of COMFORT AND JOY DVD , Forsyth confirms that he has retired from films. After the hassle with BEING HUMAN, and the fact that GREGORY’S TWO GIRLS wasn’t given the release it deserves, you really can’t blame him.
His early films though stand as some of the decades best.
And LOCAL HERO stands as one of the best films of all time.
Here is Forsyth talking about his early career