VIFF 2015: From Scotland with Love
From Scotland, with Love is a montage of archival footage set to music, mostly of regular Scots working and playing in the mid-twentieth century. It is a visual treasure trove and an ode to regular lives. Unfortunately it is also too long and becomes quite tedious.
From Scotland, with Love has received a number of glowing reviews. It has an appealing concept and the editing is very impressive. However, the structure needs to be a bit more imaginative and experimental. The footage was sorted into short segments of a few minutes each on a variety of topics. A new songs starts, a new image appears and the audience is alerted that, oh, now this is the section on fishing or heavy industry or immigration or nightlife or vacations. It does not need to be so segmented and so literal. If the images and links between them transitioned more freely and the audience was given the opportunity to make some of the creative associations themselves, this film would have been more thought-provoking and would have had more impact. It would have perhaps been more effective as a short film. The first ten minutes were quite engaging and it begins intriguingly, with no explanation, with shots of molten metal.
Director Virginia Heath drafted Scottish musician King Creosote to create the soundtrack, working collaboratively with him while the film was in process. The soundtrack was also released as a separate King Creosote album (to acclaim). While this sounds like an artistic dream come true, for artists to work closely together on such a project, the result is worse than if the director had simply selected tunes to accompany her end product. Heath was actually commissioned to create this documentary to coincide with the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and this promotional aspect was glaringly obvious, even though I was unaware of the film's origins before viewing it. It struck me after about fifteen minutes that the film resembled a tourist board promotional video. The sentimental depiction of Scottish social history was exacerbated by the music - which had very obvious lyrics about what was happening and would swell in intensity when you were expected to have an emotional response. I have seldom seen any film which is as obvious, manipulative and facile.
There is also the trouble that this film aspires to be both specific and universal but doesn't succeed at either. On one hand, these are images of what life was like for many regular people in the Western world in the mid-twentieth century. Most of the footage is from this period and most is black and white although a few later and colour images sneak in. What is essentially Scottish, though, is lost in cliches, as if cutting peat, fishing, working in a factory and immigrating to America (cue shot of the Statue of Liberty) say everything you need to know about the Scottish soul.
There are, however, some images that are just wonderful. They make seeing some of the film worthwhile. I was particularly struck by the well-dressed ladies in heels, sinking in the sand on a beach after their plane has landed there. Minutes earlier, men shooed cows away from the landing strip.
September 27 6:00 pm at International Village #9 and September 29 3:45 pm at Vancouver Playhouse,