Page last updated at 08:30 GMT, Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Local Hero's return to Pennan

by Mark Kermode
The Culture Show presenter

Mark Kermode with Bill Forsyth
Mark Kermode with Local Hero creator Bill Forsyth.

A key element of many genuinely timeless films is the perfect marriage of location and soundtrack.

Wander round the streets of Washington DC's Georgetown district after dark, and you'll swear you can hear the tinkling strains of Tubular Bells which served as the spine-tingling theme tune for the supernatural shocker The Exorcist.

Take a jog down Edinburgh's main drag on a busy shopping afternoon, and you'll find yourself drumming along to the tub-thumping strains of Iggy Pop's Lust for Life, which accompanied Renton's memorable opening dash in Trainspotting.

And venture off the beaten track to Pennan in scenic Aberdeenshire, and only the hardest of hearts could not imagine the sounds of Mark Knopfler's haunting theme from Local Hero echoing around the rocks and the waters of this heartbreakingly beautiful fishing village.

'Brigadoon meets Apocalypse Now'

Local Hero joins a trio of movies - along with Silent Running and Love and Death - which habitually jockey for position as my second favourite film of all time.

Since the movie first opened in the early 1980s, I must have watched it around 100 times - which turns out to be about 99 times more than its creator Bill Forsyth.

Inspired by a news story about oil companies buying up land in Orkney, Local Hero tells of a Houston executive who comes to Scotland to purchase an entire village, only to be seduced by this remote place's strange magic.

Forsyth once described the movie as "Brigadoon meets Apocalypse Now".

It's been so long since I've seen it, I keep remembering the script rather than the finished film!
Bill Forsyth

Its success was so universal that tourists still travel to Pennan to seek out the legendary red phone box from which Mac calls his employers in the US to report back on the progress of the sale, and to marvel at the otherworldly wonder of the Northern Lights.

Despite the film's enduring appeal, Forsyth chose to move on once it was completed, and claims not to have watched it in a quarter of a century.

Last month, I persuaded this great film-maker - who also made gems like Gregory's Girl and That Sinking Feeling - to come back to with me to Pennan to celebrate Local Hero's 25th birthday.

It was, according to Bill, an "unexpectedly emotional experience" as the locals turned out en masse to watch a special screening of the film that put Pennan on the movie map.

'Pretty good'

As Local Hero started to play in the recently rebuilt community centre (it was devastated by a mudslide last year), Forsyth leaned over and whispered to me: "This must be some TV version of the film - there's loads of bits missing!"

"Er, no Bill," I replied, "I assure you this is the movie as it's always been. And I should know - I've seen it a lot."

"Yeah, you're probably right," he replied. "But it's been so long since I've seen it, I keep remembering the script rather than the finished film!"

The legendary red phone box
Tourists still travel to Pennan to find the film's red telephone box.

At the end the screening, Forsyth took a bow in front of a clearly enraptured audience, and agreed that, actually, his best-loved movie was, as everyone has been telling him for years, "pretty good".

The evening was rounded off by live music from Inspiration, whose line-up includes two key members of the Ace Tones - the fictional band seen performing in Local Hero - who still sound as toe-tapping as ever.

Then, everyone stumbled out onto the beach to watch a riotous firework display which lit up the sky like the Northern Lights which first dazzled Mac all those years ago.

As the festivities ended, I took the opportunity to fulfil a lifelong, and frankly reckless, ambition.

Throwing caution to the wind I strode out along the seafront proudly blaring that theme from Local Hero on my latest musical acquisition - a set of bagpipes.

Whether my pipe playing has made it into the finished piece which goes out on The Culture Show tonight I'm not sure - perhaps it only sounded lovely in my head.

But the magic and celebration of Bill Forsyth's long overdue cinematic homecoming is there for all to see, a fitting tribute to one of the greatest and most enduring movies ever made.

The Culture Show is on Tuesdays at 2200GMT on BBC Two.

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