In a 2008 More Intelligent Life piece about Bill Forstyh‘s Local Hero (’83), star Peter Riegert is quoted by Jasper Rees as follows: “Bill [Forsyth] understood that moviegoers are not interested in what the actors are feeling. They’re interested in what they’re feeling.”
Precisely! This is a perfect distillation of the entire Hollywood Elsewhere approach to reviewing movies and performances. This is the sine qua non, the emerald, the whole magillah, the words in passing from Peter Reigert, speaking six and a half years ago, that give the game away.
I’m always perfectly aware of the feelings that an actor is attempting to generate with his or her personality or application of technique or whatever, but all I care about is what I’m feeling as I sit slumped in my seat, tripping happily on the film or the performance or trying to make heads or tails of either one. I might “respect” what a filmmaker has tried to accomplish with this or that approach, but all I care about and all I’m going to write about at the end of the day is if this approach works for me. For I am King Solomon…the ultimate arbiter, the one-man jury, inspector of the final product, giver or denier of the FDA seal of approval.
A performance or a movie, in other words, is not about the idea or theme or cultural undercurrent propelling the filmmakers, but about how I fucking feel as I contemplate the finality of it
It’s not about the movie or about the performances or about the cinematography or the editing. Well, it is but it’s finally about me, me and me…me and what I’m thinking and feeling as the credits roll. Not that I’m all that special or anything, but I’m the one behind the wheel as it were. And that, as Riegert acknowledged, is pretty much how everyone in the world processes a film or a performance. Amy Taubin or Richard Brody can write “this is how I, a foo-foo critic, see this brilliant, deceptively layered and super-referenced film which has has been curated by the Film Society of Lincoln Center” and blah blah, but all anyone cares about is how that film is going to make them react deep down.
And by the way, here’s a repost of 10.15.11 piece about Local Hero called “I Miss Being Happy”:
This is one of the saddest lonely-guy endings ever. It gets me every time. But I always felt that director Bill Forsyth didn’t quite mix the sound at just the right levels for the final shot of the village. The framing should have been a little tighter on the red phone booth, and the ring-ring should have been a bit louder with Mark Knopfler‘s music turned down just a tad. If you’re not listening carefully (or watching on your 1998 TV with the sound too low) the ring-ring is almost inaudible.
David Bordwell wrote the following three years ago:
“The original cut ended with Peter Reigert‘s Mac returning to his Houston apartment and staring out at the dark urban landscape — beautiful in its own way, but very different from the majesty of the Scottish shore,. There the original film ended, but the Warners executives, although liking the film, wanted a more upbeat ending. Couldn’t the hero go back to Scotland and find happiness, you know, like in Brigadoon? They even offered money for a reshoot to provide a happy wrapup.
“Forsyth didn’t want that, of course, but he had less than a day to find an ending.
“The movie makes a running gag of the red phone booth through which Mac communicates with Houston. Forsyth remembered that he had a tail-end of a long shot of the town, with the booth standing out sharply. He had just enough footage for a fairly lengthy shot. So he decided to end the film with that image, and he simply added the sound of the phone ringing.
“With this ending, the audience gets to be smart and hopeful. We realize that our displaced local hero is phoning the town he loves, and perhaps he will announce his return. This final grace note provides a lilt that the grim ending would not. Sometimes, you want to thank the suits — not for their bloody-mindedness, but for the occasions when their formulaic demands give the filmmaker a chance to rediscover fresh and felicitous possibilities in the material.”