Myths of time

After Chasing The Deer; Rob Roy and Braveheart, comes another film relying on the pulling power of the Scottish landscape. David Harris wonders whether what’s good for tourism is good for us.

fthe past is a foreign country, those visiting

the cinema during 1995 would have been

well-advised to take along their passports.

On an average weekend in Glasgow city

centre. where real people with real Scots

accents were chasing the beer and pledging allegiance to the ancient clans of Laudrup and van Hooijdonk. the picture palaces played host to a succession of lrishmen. Americans and Australians dishing out versions of the Jacobite rebellion. Scott’s Rob Roy and the life and times of William Wallace.

lt’s hardly surprising that the tourist industry. which will always profit from heather-clad images. is perfectly happy to surf the wave of publicity generated by the movies. All that beautiful scenery we anaemic urbanites never get around to appreciating is shortbread and butter to the hotel trade. But the traduction of Scottish history and culture on celluloid reveals two things. Firstly. the world outside sees Scotland as a picture postcard with tartan trimming across which pride and passion. romance and mystique are scrawled. Secondly. there are times when that‘s how we also see it.

A commonly perceived problem for American artists is that. in a nation without a past to speak of. it is necessary to invent some national myths against which to define the present. Whatever our reservations about Scotland's portrayal as a series of slides showing bracing vistas and mist glens. our semi-reluctant acceptance of these representations suggests we are a nation with nothing but a past. When the Scottish Tourist Board rubs its itchy palms at the prospect of moviegoers on the location trail. it doesn‘t foresee busloads of eager holidaymakers asking directions to Leith methadone clinics.

So why Scottish history? Why now‘.’ There may be a hidden clue in the recent successes of Dances With Wolves and Unforgiven. While Kevin Costner proved there was still a demand for the epic. the Clint Eastwood movie recognised that we had become too sophisticated an audience to swallow the traditional Western with its good guy versus bad guy showdown. But ifyou transfer the action to an unfamiliar setting. add some period costume and a ‘True Story’ tag . . . hey presto. ()ch High The Noon.

The answer may be simpler. As anyone who's spoken with an American will testify. everybody in the States is Scots or lrish by virtue of some hazy ancestral link (presidents not excepted). And given that Brigadoon is the paradigmatic Hollywood representation of Scotland. there is some hope of box office success for any film

20 The List 9-22 Feb l996

conforming to the souvenir shop image and liberally sugared with sentiment.

The latest addition to the what-a-quaint-little- country-you-have—here canon is Loch .«Vess. written by John Fusco (grandmother: Scottish).

starring Ted [)anson lgreat-grandfather: Scottish) and Joely Richardson (mother:

Vanessa Redgrave). No prizes for guessing the subject matter; a year‘s subscription to anyone who can explain why movie Scots always sound like inquisitive Irish who are unable to close

When the Scottish Tourist Board rubs its itchy palms at the prospect of moviegoers on the location traii, it doesn’t foresee busloads of eager holidaymakers asking directions to Leith methadone clinics.

their mouths. At one point in this sloppy but harmless romantic fantasy. Richardson reassures the bruised and bloodied Danson. ‘Ah thenk ye‘ll lev.‘ Which is to say. his wounds are not mortal.

Though not in the same class as Powell and Pressburger‘s / Know ll’here I'm Going which also celebrates the Scottish landscape and adds an ironic twist to traditional mysticism a few scenes catch something of that film's gentle character-based humour.

Maybe it's no accident that our greatest movie export (apart. of course. from Lassie) has been that other mythical inhabitant. Sean Connery. The wry. self-effacing wit that barely conceals his absolute control of every situation is an ideal


Hoots mon: Ted Danson. Kirsty Graham and Joely Richardson await the inevitable

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of the Scottish character. Unfortunately. sometimes we‘re left with just the self- effacement. In a similar light. Alexander

Mackendrick‘s ll’lnsky (ia/ore.’ and The Maggie show embattled Scots. albeit crooked embattled Scots. facing up to unwanted outsiders. using their overcome against the odds. Sometimes all we have is the insularity.

With Bill liorsyth having followed the Mackendrick path to oblivion via l-lollywood. most other takes on contemporary Scotland are violent ones. The aptly titled Shallow Grave looked like mid-80s l-‘rcnch pop cinema and it remains to be seen whether the same team's 'l'rains/iorling will offer more than a kind of 'l‘artantino aesthetic. There’s also Gillies Mackinnon's forthcoming vision of Glasgow gangland in the late ()(ls. Small l’aees. promising realism without gloss.

Perhaps there‘s no possibility of. or demand for. an unadulterated Scottish cinema. The dilemma is one facing all Western nations as they try to maintain a sense of individuality and distil some essence from a culture saturated with Americanisms. lfthere is a Hollywood ending to this. the money generated by ('hasingRol) BravaVess would help finance Scots filmmakers to make their own versions of Scottish life and make their own mistakes instead of following others. What we don't need is Mad Macs Beyond Bannock/nan.

If the past is a foreign country. we've been living in internal exile far too long.

Loch Ness goes on general release on Friday 9 February.

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