It takes a village l Chuck's World
Last updated 8/21/2019 at Noon
I don’t drink and I don’t play golf. They still let me come to Scotland.
I spent the past two weeks in that wee country, although it’s really not that wee. I just like using the word.
It’s a manageable country, though. Two weeks was certainly enough time to get a taste, even if that taste wasn’t whiskey. My wife did her part as far as the single-malt goes, and I developed a fondness for Irn-Bru, the Scottish soft drink.
As for golf, we spent most of a day at St. Andrews, which even I know is a destination for serious golfers with disposable income. I’ve seen Jack Nicklaus walk across that green expanse many times, and a Scottish companion pointed out filming locations for “Chariots of Fire,” which was fun, although another movie was on my mind.
I’ve described this as a sort of quest, although it was really just a joke, a theatrical spin on personal tourism. It turned out to feel a lot like a quest anyway.
I’ve loved “Local Hero” for a long time now, the 1983 movie from Scottish director Bill Forsyth. I looked up some of the filming locations, and mentioned that if things worked out, I wouldn’t mind seeing one of them. Only if things worked out.
“Local Hero” is small but not slight, a quiet, lightly comic film that can surprise you. The plot involves a Houston oil company’s negotiation to buy a small Scottish fishing village in order to build an oil refinery, and the company’s eccentric chief, played by Burt Lancaster, sends one of his young hotshots, “Mac” MacIntyre (Peter Reigert), to seal the deal.
Mac is a fish out of water, despite his surname, baffled by the locals and his assignment. In an era of telexes and non-mobile phones, he’s inundated with cryptic instructions that come over an inconsistent connection, long-distance calls placed and received in a very British red phone box.
There are some fun twists, poking fun at our expectations of a culture clash between this calculating American capitalist and the Scottish villagers. It turns out that fishing for a living is hard work, and these people don’t mind at all the idea of selling their lifestyle and coastline for a more comfortable life.
Mac is eventually charmed and seduced by that lifestyle, and envious of the town accountant (and hotel manager), Gordon Urquhart, played by Denis Lawson. Gordon’s goal is to secure the best deal for everyone, while Mac ends up questioning his own life in the fast lane.
In one scene, after sampling some of that whiskey, Mac, half-drunk, half joking and half not, suggests that he trade lives with Gordon, who refills his glass and listens curiously.
“I’ll make a good Gordon, Gordon,” Mac says, slurring his words a bit, literally contemplating buying happiness, understanding the futility at the same time.
The movie was filmed in many locations around Scotland, although the exterior of the village was shot on the east coast, in Pennan. It turned out to be an easy detour for us, and after driving through lovely countryside we descended down a treacherous road to the village.
I just wanted to see where a favorite movie was filmed. I didn’t expect it to be the same; I really had few expectations, only a small desire to cross something off an imaginary list.
But it was exactly the same, and this is now what I take away from this glorious trip.
Only a dozen people live year-round in Pennan these days, although summers bring workers to handle the occasional tourist. They’re obviously proud of their “Local Hero” connection, and I’m certainly not the first pilgrim to show up, looking for that red phone box.
I found it, too. We parked the car and I jumped out, spinning around in the street, my face aching from the smiles. I can count on the fingers of one hand the times something has met my expectations so completely, but then that was my Scotland experience anyway. We sat in the tiny hotel bar and I had another Irn-Bru, trying to hang onto my happiness.
It felt less like seeing a movie location, and more like stepping into the movie itself. I didn’t spend any time imagining the characters, in other words; they were already there. I was one of them.
“Keep looking at the sky, MacIntyre,” the Lancaster character bellows from across the Atlantic, something to do with the constellation Virgo, not really important. I posed by that red phone box, head turned upwards, a cinematic joke that really was less funny than simply true.
I traveled 7,000 miles to find this spot, I realized, but then this is why we travel in the first place. To experience something different. To find a little magic, maybe.
It feels like I found it, then, wrapped up in a red phone box that just needed a bow to complete the picture.
I watched the North Sea crash against the shore and gazed in the direction of Norway, appreciating how far from home I was, and how it somehow didn’t feel all that far. Eventually, I just looked up.
I had no idea where to look for Virgo, but it was nice to know it’s in the same sky, even in Scotland. This was the magic, you know, the differences and the sameness.
I think I’d make a good Gordon, and I think maybe I already have.