BILL FORSYTH FEATURE
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The cuts forced by the studio hurt deeply. The ﬁlm moves on to its next episode before the audience can sympathise with Hector in his latest predicament. Without space for the narrative to breathe. the numerous cameos — from the likes of John Turturro, Hector Elizondo. Vincent D’Onofrio — confuse rather than provide the necessary richly textured backdrop. The voice-over — written by Liz Lochhead — plugs the gaps. but all too often intrudes on the few genuinely touching moments. Throughout, there are glimpses of the ﬁlm that could have been: more downbeat and openly cynical than Forsyth’s earlier work. but more ambitious in its use of the cinematic form.
‘I thought this would be something that people would take to.’ says Forsyth. resigned to the ﬁlm’s fate but unrepentent about its potential. ‘lt was a nice. simple idea with lots of action and things that would make it funny when it had to be funny and poignant when it had to be poignant. Robin’s character is more or less a pair of eyes and ears; he is just watching things happening. being involved in them sometimes or observing them at other times. That suited the movie because it was an existentialist view on things anyway. the idea that things just happen and you go with them or not.
‘Surc. there were huge dangers and gambles with the whole thing. Out of ﬁve stories, people are going to prefer one or the other, and they’re going to be frustrated by one and want another to go on for longer. 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 ofglory in that. the glory of waking up every day and getting on with it. Metaphorically. you go out and confront the world. The studio insisted on the hug thing at the end [with contemporary Hector and his estranged kids]. but in general I wanted the audience to feel that life goes on and we were just leaving these characters at one particular moment.‘
Hollywood’s meddling has certainly altered the tone of Forsyth’s original vision. If the studios and audiences wanted the reassuring sentimentality of Forrest Gump, they were never going to ﬁnd it here. If they expected the manic zest of Robin Williams or a character moving from beginning to end in a traditional dramatic are, they were going to be disappointed. Given the package. the expectations of the market should have been clear for all too see and, one feels. for Forsyth they were. It’s just that he intended to subvert the idea of the big budget star vehicle.
‘This movie was a kind of experiment.’ he admits. ‘because I felt that. at one point in my
Robin Williams and Anna Galiena life. I should take on Hollywood on its own terms and see how we could get on. And it proved the point: there is never going to be a meeting of minds between me and them.’ If this was the case, Being Human was doomed the moment it left the director’s hands and entered the testing system. All the marketing (and re- cutting) of a ﬁlm is determined by the response of these pre-release screenings before an artiﬁcially assembled group who are supposed to reﬂect the ‘average’ cinema-going audience.
‘If it doesn’t sail through that process. then everyone is in trouble,’ reckons Forsyth. ‘All these executives’ jobs are on the line every time a ﬁlm loses money, so what I think they do is insist on the preview thing because it gives them a little cushion, a little excuse if the movie’s a ﬂop. The audiences weren’t prepared for Being Human. If they had been [Old it was Challenging or whatever, they might have sat through it in a different frame of mind. But because they weren’t. they were confounded by it, and the only way they could express that was by saying it was too long - because that was one of the questions already on the cards. It’s not the fact that it’s too long: it’s because something is wrong with the way they’re appreciating it and it makes itfeel Iong.’
‘This movie was a kind of experiment,
because I felt that, at one point in my
life, I should take on Hollywood on its own terms and see how we could get on.’
Forsyth is already looking ahead. and talks of working again with Clive Parsons. producer of Gregor_\"s Girl and Comfort And Joy. on an unspeciﬁed project that would come in around the $8 million mark. One thing is for sure — Being Human: The Director ’s Cut is not lurking around the corner, even though, aside from video, Forsyth knows the ﬁlm ‘might have disappeared off the face of the earth in a few years’. But bitterness is not in Bill Forsyth’s make-up.
‘If the movie had been a raging success.’ he smiles, ‘I would probably just be as you see me now. I wouldn’t have been swinging from the rafters . Every movie goes through this process and is torn apart and put together again. James Cameron, Joel Schumacher — they’ll probably tell you the same stories — “They destroyed my masterpiece. Bastards.” Except their movies go on to make $80 million . . . ’ Cl Being Human plays the Edinburgh Film/rouse from Friday 2/ October.
Producer DAVID PUTTNAM tells Alan Morrison how he followed Being Human with a gentler children’s drama, The War Of The Buttons.
‘Being Human was a logistical nightmare.’ sighs David Puttnam. ‘We shot the ﬁlm in four countries at ﬁve speciﬁc locations, and when you’re involved in that form of picture, producing becomes very mechanistic. it’s like being a travel agent. By the end, I was absolutely determined I wasn’t going to go into another ﬁlm which was a similarly miserable way of spending six months.’
It must have been very appealing, therefore, to know that Puttnam's next production, The War Of The Buttons, could be shot in Ireland. a mere seven miles from his holiday home. The ﬁlm, a remake of little known 1962 French movie La Guerre Des Boutons, chronicles the rivalries between school- children in the neighbouring villages of Ballydowse and Carrickdowse, whose pranks and battles escalate until parents too are drawn into the fray.
Squeezing Irish charm out of every pore, Colin Welland’s script has a decidedly old-fashioned atmosphere that gently satirises the stupidity of dividing lines. The approach is more playful than. say, Lord Of The Flies, but it is still possible to read the ﬁlm as an allegory, particularly given its setting, against sectarianisrn. If there's a downside, it’s that the skirmish - pause - bigger - skimrish structure becomes repetitive without really advancing the issues.
Throughout his career, Puttnam has seen the role of producer more as ‘creative partner' than money- raiser. His hands-on style has worked to good effect with the likes of Hugh Hudson (Chariots Of Fire), Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields) and Alan Parker (Midnight Express), so it should come as no surprise that War Of The Buttons director John Roberts came to the producer’s notice a couple of years back while still a student at the National Film and Television School, where Puttnam is chairman.
A survivor of sixteen tempestuous months as chairman and chief executive of Columbia Pictures in the States, Puttnam should also be better placed than most to bring an American market sensibility to the British ﬁlm industry. ‘My aﬁ’ection for cinema and my belief in cinema as part of the social fabric is very real. It‘s also a 503 and 60s concept,’ he admits. ‘My generation loved the process of making ﬁlms; we were a supply-driven generation. The younger generation, and particularly the American cinema, is a demand-driven industry -— it's driven by the audience, by the market, and the role of the ﬁlmmaker is to supply that demand. We have to make this traumatic move from the creative- led industry to being a demand-led industry which has the creativity to ﬁll it. What we have to learn from America has got much more to do with the head; and, possibly, what we’ve got to teach America has got a little more to do with the heart.’ The War Of The Buttons opens in Scotland on Friday 14 October
The List 7—20 October 1994 11