It is exceedingly difficult to prevent oneselfbecoming wildly partisan in any consideration of Bill Forsyth; the man or his movies. In the face of. albeit modest. competition he is Scotland‘s foremost filmmaker; dispensing universal truths and illuminating all recesses ofthe human condition with Celtic insight comprising measures ofgallows
It is a blend that travels well. earning him glittering prizes from the New York Film Critics to the Tokyo Film Festival. One suspects that he could make a film set inside an Irn Bru bottle and still win the hearts and minds of international audiences.
It is also difficult in approaching any interview to prevent oneself from pigeon-holing the subject matter in convenient journalistic suppositions. A couple ofyears back Forsyth described himself as becoming a ‘less and less commercial filmmaker’. Not the claim of someone intent on impressing his personal identity even further on his work it transpires but the temporary despondency of a practical filmmaker frustrated by his inability to raise the necessary cash for his latest venture. Similarly. he once expressed a desire to make an all-female film. Not the burning
Ills craft was acquired In the active areas of Scottish film production - documentaries, industrial films and sponsored shorts. In 1971 he was a first-year drop-out from the National Film School and later returned to Scotland to establish his own production company Tree Films. Sustained by mutual hopes of what might be, Forsyth and his colleagues persisted in their notion that Scotland could sustain an indigenous lilm culture. By the late 1970s ‘we'd talked about it so much, and dreamed about it so much, that there was no point in not doing it.’
In 1977 he became involved with the Glasgow Youth Theatre with a view towards utlising its members for his ‘Irofhy, light, romantic’ script Gregory’s Girl. Sensing the need to provide them with material that more accurately reflected the everyday lives of these teenagers he wrote another script and, In 1979, with a lot of help from his friends and a meagre Iinancial base, That Sinking Feeling was made. Basically ‘a comedy and a comment on
humour and melancholy rumination.
Bill Forsyth was born in Glasgow In 1946 and did not grow up with a burning desire to be the next Hitchcock. The one childhood ambition he admits to is wanting to become a pilot. Leaving school at the age of 16, he entered the film industry by the modest effort of replying to a newspaper advert for a job that looked interesting. ‘That was in the old days of the one-man documentary film companies. One man and a boy, and l was the
ambition of a sensitive male director because Forsyth already knew that he was going to make just such a film. One can always rely on him to deflate one’s incipient pretentiousness with a shaft of characteristic candour or some sheer common sense. He dispelled any further misapprehensions recently over a hearty breakfast in the fortress-like penthouse suite of the St James‘s Club in London.
The reason for our meeting was the imminent release ofHousekeeping. his first film after an absence of more than three years. Set in smalltown Canada in the 1950s it recounts the story of two orphaned girls and their complicated relationships with sets ofolder relatives and their disturbingly eccentric aunt Sylvie. A surface appraisal ofthe film might mark it out as a radical departure for Forsyth; it is the first full feature he has directed outwith his native land. the first film he has constructed from someone else‘s original material. his first period piece and his first attempt to explore an exclusively feminine domain. However, reﬂection on Housekeeping confirms it as a further advancement and crystallisation of themes predominant in other Forsyth films; sadness, loss, individuality and the
Bill Forsyth, Scotland’s foremost film-maker has not lost his quiet humility. He tells Allan Hunter about the background to his new film Housekeeping.
THE MAN AND THE MOVIES.
the unemployment situation: ilyou like, a'lairytale for the workless’, the film was a popular hit on the , Festival circuit of that year and eventually provided I
Forsyth with the opportunity to make Gregory’s Girl. Gregory’s Girl won him the British Academy Award for Best Screenplay and firmly established both his credentials as a filmmaker and Scotland’s potential as a lilmmaking nation In 1981 he filmed George Mackay Brown’s Andrina for the BBC and returned to feature films with Local Hero (1983) and Comfort and Joy (1984). ‘Bofh about how empty a life can be without that person even noticing - and about how little you can get by on and the moment of clarity when that realization comes.’ Local Hero won Forsyth the New York Film Critics Award for Best Screenplay and a British Academy Award for
very bad job of it.’ (Allan Hunter)
universality ofpersonal idiosyncrasy.
Rather than consciously seeking the challenge of fresh horizons. Forsyth chose to film Housekeeping because of his deep affection for the book. an acclaimed first novel by
.. Widely cheered for his charm and humour, Forsth has been required to struggle for recognition as a serious artist and has claimed, ‘There's always something you want to say. I would not want to make a film that didn’t say anything. I'm not interested in getting Into something that is just a piece of entertainment.’ Based once more In Glasgow with his wife Adrienne and a two year-old son Sam, he has, over the years, voiced one ambition: ‘I think one day I’d like to make a real funny film that was just funny one hundred per cent. Mind you, I’d probably make a
‘Sadness attracted me’
Marilynne Robinson that was published in 1981. ‘In a funnyway. I thought she had created a book which was more like the kind of films that I wanted to make than the films were. The feel ofit. the combination of fact and emotion and the atmosphere they created seemed to have a lot to do with what I thought I was trying to do with movies. Maybe it was a bit of a check to just take her novel and make a movie of it. maybe I should just have used that as inspiration and gone on to something else. Certain situations and images in the book were so attractive to me that I wanted to possess them and put them in a film. I liked the girls‘ relationship. just the kind ofsoulful image of these little girls alone. walking around this half-baked town and the bridge and the train wreck. Also. I think the fact that it dealt with sadness attracted me.‘
Forsyth purchased an option on the
book and first laid plans for a film in 1983. before Com for! and Joy went into production. The intervening period has been chipped away by a prolonged and frequently fruitless
6 The List 27 Nov - 10 Dec 1987