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Robin Vlllllalns and Bill Forsyth on location in the Scottish Highlands
10 The List 7—20 October 1994
With a big-name star and a fair- sized budget, Being Human was set to place BILL FORSYTH in the Hollywood A-league. Then disaster struck. The writer-director tells Alan Morrison what went wrong and why.
omewhere in Central Scotland in the early 80s. We’d seen Porky’s on video at a friend’s house; in fact, it was probably on a home-made double bill with National Lampoon '3 Animal House. This, the ﬁlm world seemed to say, was what being young was all about -— raucous parties, beer, sex, something unintelligible about ‘frat houses’. This was the wild life and, Hollywood told us, this was our life. We chanted ‘Toga! Toga! Toga!’ as we waited for our parents’ cars to pick us up.
Then along came Gregozy’s Girl, and the recognition astounded us. School football matches. embarrassing classroom crushes, smartass little sisters — and all in accents from just down the road. Christ, we even recognised the clock outside the chippie where gormless John Gordon Sinclair waited for his date. It was the first time cinema had talked directly to us, and a generation of Scottish teenage boys were left with a life-long Dee Hepburn fixation.
‘At the end of it, I wanted people to think that he was still in a mess and nothing much had changed - but there’s a kind of glory in that, the glory of waking up every day and getting on with it.’
With Gregory’s Girl and its predecessor That Sinking Feeling, writer-director Bill Forsyth had captured the minor dilemmas of youth with indisputable charm. His subsequent work — Comfort And Joy, Local Hero — broadened out his concerns, using offbeat dialogue and warm comedy to make wry observations about life as it is really lived. A period in America followed and, although not screened as often as they deserve, his movies Housekeeping and Breaking In showed that the locale might change, but the filmmaker’s probing of the human condition remained deceptively simple.
And then came Being Human. A comfortable budget of $20 million, one of Hollywood’s top stars, an episodic script that examined the trials of life across the centuries and continents. What could go wrong? Forsth delivered a three-hour cut. The studio panicked. Test screenings were disasterous. The film was hacked around, reassembled with a hastily scripted voice-over narration. The critics booed. The audiences stayed away in droves.
Being Human is undeniably a flawed film. Forsyth’s strength had always been that he spoke to a wide group of people while painting on a small canvas. Here, the scope of the film was huge. but its emotional arrows seemed to be aimed narrowly at the hearts of alienated men suffering mid-life crises. Each segment features a man called Hector, played by Robin Williams. who ﬁnds himself in some way separated from his family — in Bronze Age Scotland, Roman North Africa, medieval Europe, 17th century Morocco and modern day New York.