At last, the BFI have given Bill Forsyth’s debut That Sinking Feeling the release it deserves, on DVD and Blu-ray. Previously you had to do with a terrible dubbed version, or play a well worn VHS copy…and own a working video recorder, for that matter.
As you would expect from the BFI, they have treated the film with the utmost respect and haven’t over produced it into oblivion, leaving its rough edges which tell of time, place and budget. From the opening scratchy soundtrack it is obvious that Forsyth was working on a shoestring, and the fact that the majority of his cast came from the Glasgow Youth Theatre Group only goes to highlight this, although their obvious camaraderie is one of the film’s greatest attractions.
The film is set “…in a fictitious town called GLASGOW. Any resemblance to a real town called GLASGOW is purely coincidental”, and is about a group of teenagers who are unemployed and under appreciated, and who decide to change their lives for themselves, although their dreams are charmingly modest. The light-hearted crime caper which unfolds is more Kind Hearts & Coronets than Ken Loach as the gang work together to make their fortune from stolen stainless steel sinks.
The brains of this operation is Ronnie Munro, (a magnificently coiffured Robert Buchanan), a cornflake addicted philosopher who communes with the city’s statues, and who reaches rock bottom when he tries to commit suicide by taking a spoonful of cereal and holding his nose till he drowns. He rallies to organise a disparate and desperate band of brothers; friends who have all just left school to no prospects apart from to join the police, or, if lucky, work for the local bakery.
Forsyth makes good use of the city’s dear green places,and they are a jarring contrast to the visions of the rest of the landscape which reflected a Glasgow which was going through one of its more impoverished periods, with many tenements knocked down, or in the process of being so, with nothing built in their place. If that sounds overly grim, then Forsyth doesn’t film it that way. The city is the backdrop to the boys’ lives, and they neither judge it nor resent it, and neither does the director.
That Sinking Film was the perfect introduction to one of the most influential filmmakers this country has, and was a precursor for the more accomplished Gregory’s Girl and Local Hero in terms of tone and a comedic touch which can be deceptively dark; “There’s got to be more to life than trying to commit suicide”, being just one such moment. When Ronnie asks, “What’s this area famous for?” he gets a variety of answers, “Drunks? Muggers? Multiple social deprivation?”. But Forsyth plays with such stereotypes, and never laughs at them. He is on the side of the boys, fervently, and so are we.
In all of his Scottish films, before Hollywood came calling, Forsyth never hid the fact that some of his characters face difficulties, but he disguises them through often broad comedy which is in the Scottish music hall tradition. There is farce, slapstick, cheesy punchlines, men dressed ludicrously as women, and even a song and dance moment which is a tribute to Laurel and Hardy. This is a clever move in this film in particular as it means that these actors, used to theatre, can keep the acting big and broad and it works. By the time he made Gregory’s Girl, with many of the same cast, there is the complication of romance which requires a bit more subtlety in both acting and direction.
I would be interested if That Sinking Feeling feels as warm and charming for people coming to it for the first time. It’s undoubtedly got some scenes which could have done with a few more takes if money allowed, and as a result some of the best lines are delivered a little out of time, and there is the undeniable feeling that everyone was learning as they went on, but the film has more heart and soul than most movies, perhaps because of this. What shines through is Forsyth’s positivity and love for what he is doing, and who he is doing it with; it is in every shot, and this obviously fired up the cast in turn. On paper, That Sinking Feeling shouldn’t have worked, but luckily the BFI, and you and I, know that not only did it work brilliantly, it has stood the test of time.
Here’s the trailer:
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