Saturday, August 7, 2010

Day 121: Local Hero

“Mac” Macintyre (Peter Riegert), is at the wheel of his Porsche 910, hitting the freeway into downtown Houston where he works in “acquisitions” for Knox Oil & Gas; what he “acquires” are chunks of the globe, for his company to go and plunder and on this day, he’s given the brief by the company’s owner (Burt Lancaster) to go get a bay on the remote north-west coast of Scotland and to buy-up the small community of Ferness into the bargain.

To toast his impending trip, he uses the phone to call a secretary in the office next door, a young woman he’s oviously ignored a thousand times in the corridor and “rewards” her with an invitation to go out and “celebrate” with him that night; she declines. Mac is not ineterested in this woman per se, he just wants female company to regale with his latest tale of success and to probably have a sexual interlude with, instead, he spends the rest of the evening, alone in his apartment, drinking and dialling his way through his little black book to no avail; eventually hanging up on his ex afterb vinsulting her. Mac’s not exactly big on the charm thing.

Nor is Mac big on Scotland when he arrives there, as writer/director Bill Forsyth’s 1983 film Local Hero gets under way. A true fish-out-of-water story - the big shot, city-slicker fron the oil capital of the Lone Star State now amongst the sleepy, backwaters of a small Scottish village that time forgot - Mac wanders the beaches in his suit and tie, with his electric briefcase that never leaves his hand, after all, Mac is here to buy Ferness and turn the area into the biggest oil refinery in the northern hemisphere, at whatever the cost.

What Mac hadn’t bargained for is the fact that the locals actualloy want to sell, yet still the negotiating process is slow; remember, these are Scots that he’s haggling with....”many a mickle makes a muckle” (nothing to do with harrypotterworld but an archaic Scottish proverb about minding and building money).

Mac stays at the one “hotel/pub” in the village, the landlords of which are Gordon Urquhart and his wife Stella, Gordon is also Mac’s go-between in his dealings with the locals. Forced to cool his heels, Mac gradually loosens his tie and takes his shoes and socks off for a spot of beachcombing. Between sampling the local single malts and being struck by the aurora borealis (northern lights), Mac looks on at Gordon and Stella’s romantic and sexually prolific marriage with envy. By the time it’s time for the young oil man to return to Houston, Mac has been stirred by more than the iconic Mark Knopfler soundtrack to this story.

Even though it’s now twenty-seven years since it’s release, I can remember the deep effect this film had on me. I’m not sure whether Local Hero touches a nerve in men more than it does in women, the way that Field of Dreams and The Shawshank Redemption seem to do, but it set the path for many similar pieces to follow, genteel “sea change” stories (popular with all) that television has been awash with everv since: Monarch of the Glen, Doc Martin, Sea Change; stories always about the professional from the city who seems to have lost their way and needs to re-connect with the “good, decent, values” of down-at-earth folk. Despite the fact that a close friend of mine scoffs at this with “what a load of clichéd bulls**t” (I know what she means), it’s an enduring genre, evidenced by the success of the City Slickers “franchise” ands others like it in the cinema.

Day #121 Tip: Look and Learn
The Education Plot is a “plot of thought” and, to use the words of writing scholar Norman Friedman, turns on “a change in thought for the better in terms of the protagonist’s conceptions, beliefs and attitudes”. This is the case for Mac in Local Hero, for Rita in Educating Rita and for Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) in the baseball film Bull Durham.

As Mr Friedman points out though, for the storyteller (in this case, the screenwriter) “...the problem is how to subject him (the protagonist) to some sort of change in his conceptions toward a more comprehensive view (of life)......”. The opening five to ten minutes of Local Hero clearly, and yet so economically, show us a very pithy and accurate portrait of Mac’s values around money, women, work, material things, truth, deceit, love, loneliness and a host of other things before quickly getting the wagons rolling, launching us poetically and with no-lesser speed into another world where his value system and material objects are of little use, yet still coveted; they’re just not the be-all and end-all to these people.

Author Jack Burden, in the closing pages of ‘All The King’s Men’, says this, which is apropos of the Education Plot “It is the story of a man who lived in the world and to him the world looked one way for a long time and then it looked another and very different way.”

The Education Plot, another archetypal story model in the armory of the seasoned screenwriter, for use as plot or subplot. Tomorrow, I will reveal all about a story type that is of itself, a little more revelatory.

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