Buy it on Amazon.
“Perfect” is a useless word. Nothing is. Shunryu Suzuki, the great Zen master, made that point in a joke; he told his students, “I think you’re perfect, and I think you can improve.” And yet there are movies that please me so much I think they’re close to perfect. “Casablanca.” “The Godfather.” The Conformist. L’Atalante.
Near the top of the list is “Local Hero,” a modest Scottish comedy made by a director who is not known to you. It’s a dream story: capitalism vs. humanity and nature. In our country, capitalism crushes all opposition most of the time. In Scotland, magic and mystery are still alive. Go there, see what life is like there, dream it can be your life — isn’t that what we so often do when we travel? Happily, armchair travel is possible. Take a dram of whiskey. Turn off your phone. Wallow in near-perfection.
The very good news is that the Criterion College has just given “Local Hero” the New Classic treatment. You get:
– a new 2K digital restoration of the DVD, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray- udio commentary from 2018 featuring director Bill Forsyth and film critic Mark Kermode
– a conversation between Forsyth and film critic David Cairns
– “Shooting from the Heart,” a 1985 documentary about the work of cinematographer Chris Menges
– an episode of The South Bank Show from 1983 about the production of the film
– “The Making of ‘Local Hero,’” a documentary made during the film’s production, featuring interviews with actors Peter Riegert and Burt Lancaster
– an essay by film scholar Jonathan Murray
[To buy the Criterion collection of “Local Hero” from Amazon, click here. To stream the movie from Amazon, click here. To buy Mark Knopfler’s soundtrack — one of the greatest in modern movies — click here.]
The plot of “Local Hero,” made in long-ago 1983, doesn’t begin to convey its charm. An oil executive in Houston (Peter Riegert) is sent to a small town on the Scottish coast by his eccentric boss (Burt Lancaster) to buy up everything in sight. Then the oil company will build a giant refinery. Riches are soon on everyone’s mind — in Houston and in Scotland.
Bill Forsyth, the director of “Local Hero,” is a Scot, smart and wily. And so subtle he doesn’t even give much away in the preview:
But the plot — Riegert’s efforts to negotiate a deal — really isn’t very important. The characters are. And with characters as appealing as the people in “Local Hero,” a film doesn’t need more. As Bill Forsyth explains:
I saw it along the lines of a Scottish ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ — what would happen to a small community when it suddenly became immensely rich. That was the germ of the idea and the story built itself from there. It seemed to contain a similar theme to ‘Brigadoon’ (1954), which also involved some Americans coming over to Scotland, becoming part of a small community, being changed by the experience and affecting the place in their own way.
So “Local Hero” is, first and foremost, a study in character: direct, straight-ahead American and some Scots whose humor is as dry as a 30-year-old single malt. The joke’s on the American. And it takes him the entire movie to get it.
Forsyth again: “I think we’re basically all odd. I think we all have a tension between what we think we are and what other people think we are. Everyone is like that and I just tend to highlight it. I think I could make a detective story, or something conventional like that, and end up having odd characters in it too. Strangeness is in everyone, it’s just a matter of whether you choose to reveal it or not.”
In “Local Hero,” all is revealed — in good time. Along the way, we are treated to a tour of the splendid town of Pennan, a village on the northern coast of Scotland. [Great trivial fact: The beach you see is not in Pennan. It’s 147 miles away.] And about the soundtrack — you don’t hear the whole theme until the end of the movie.
And the great theme song:
Something to think about: the red phone booth. At the end, we see/hear it ringing. Ask yourself: Who’s calling? What’s going to happen next? And isn’t this the happiest ending you’ve seen in a long time?
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