Late Night Shopping (The Scottish Connection #2)

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Directed by Saul Metzstein in 2001, Late Night Shopping tells the tale of four unfulfilled twentysomethings trapped in tedious jobs and working night shifts, their work hours dictating that their social lives barely extend beyond meeting up at an open all hours cafe for a coffee and chat.

Don’t expect a Ken Loach bleakfest though about alienation and the evils of globalisation. Late Night Shopping is a comedy and a rather sharp comedy at that.

Late Night Shopping cover

So, what are these tedious jobs you may be wondering – and even maybe wondering too whether you might share the same job description?

Well, Jody (Kate Ashfield) works on a micro-electronics assembly line, Sean (Luke de Woolfson) is a hospital porter – which doesn’t strike me as that bad a job; Lenny (Enzo Cilenti) earns his crust as a call centre enquiries operator while Vincent (James Lance) stacks shelves in a supermarket.

As Vincent’s workmate Joe puts cheerily puts it: ‘Lovers leave. Parties end. Bad jobs go on forever.’ This wasn’t actually true back then in Britain anyway but recent governments seem to reckon it’s the way to go. Watch that retirement age continue to grow, folks.

The main premise of Late Night Shopping, it would have to be admitted, doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. But before going into that, a word on our quartet of slackers.

Lenny is hopeless with women. Asked by Jody whether he finds her attractive, he can’t answer. The correct answer being ‘highly’. He also suffers from porno reactions but I won’t go into that here. Womanising Vincent strives to be shallow as possible; Jody is feisty or at least tries to present herself as feisty and Sean’s more than a little hopeless.

Okay, the premise. Sean lives – or at least thinks he lives – with Madeline (Heike Makatsch). The couple haven’t though spoken in three weeks. After a row, Sean began trying to avoid her and this proved easy due to their conflicting shift patterns. Now he’s not even sure if she’s moved out or not so checks items like soap and towels for any signs of life.

I doubt very much Miss Marple would be required to solve this particular mystery but remember, this isn’t social realism, this is a comedy with the humour ranging from the wry – like Jody wearing an ‘On the Road’ T-shirt for the gang’s visit to the seaside – to the belly laugh funny. You might remember in a recent post I mentioned a hellish situation where, much to the annoyance of the passengers, a car radio gets jammed on an AOR station. Cue the likes of Kayleigh by Marillion, Foreigner’s I Want to Know What Love Is and China In Your Hands by T’Pau.


And now a word on the locations. Late Night Shopping is set mostly in a nocturnal neon-lit city that could be just about anywhere in Europe but is mainly Glasgow with some shots of London thrown in too. The cafe where the group of pals chew the fat is the Variety Bar on Sauchiehall Street, well the exterior anyway but other than that there’s no attempt to utilise any iconic Glasgow landmarks and this is exactly what the filmmaking team wanted.

Seeing Shallow Grave was a huge influence on writer Jack Lothian. ‘A Scottish film which is modern and contemporary and it’s not about being Scottish, it’s just actually a story, it just happens to be set in Scotland.’

Glasgow is never named in his film and none of the four leads are Scottish.

A good idea? Here I’m screwing up my face a little as I type. At least it would never be deemed necessary to subtitle the dialogue in the English speaking world outside Scotland which might help out at the box office and yeah, big cities are becoming more and more homogenised but I hate the homogenization of our towns and cities and would consequently rather see somewhere with a very individual character onscreen.

Not that the entire film is set within the boundary of a city as I hinted at earlier.

In cinema’s illustrious history many great films have made use of fantastic locations across the planet and even outer space for their climaxes.

Here Sean, Lenny, Jody and Vincent pile into a car and drive down to Light Haven (which is mainly Saltcoats), a little coastal town whose main attraction appears to be a crazy golf course adjacent to two giant King Kong inflatables. Sadly, these were built by the film’s art department especially for the shoot.

Saltcoats

Late Night Shopping is a bit like an old friend. I watch it every three or four years and always enjoy it and always laugh at the AOR tracks, although it must have been an expensive gag with a reasonably significant chunk of the budget being spent securing the rights to all that musical dross.

I should mention here that there’s an amusing commentary too as an extra which makes a change from the usual praising every single person that stepped on to the set bollocks that is guaranteed to bore me rigid. The director even has a gentle jibe at a minor cast member Nigel Buckland, the ex-presenter of Vids and the Welsh Barry Norman – well if Barry had been a potty mouthed, madcap peroxide blond, prone to sarcastically slaughtering films while wearing only Y-fronts or being pushed around in a shopping trolley.

Buckland plays Vincent’s boss and Jack Lothian himself also puts in a few blink and you’ll miss him appearances in the background as one of Vincent’s co-workers.

He was probably an ideal choice as he used to work in my local Safeway – a fact that generated some incredulous local press at the time, along the lines of ‘how amazing that someone who’d had a crap job could be capable of writing a film script let alone one that might be worth watching’.

Which Late Night Shopping definitely is.

Lenny and Vincent - Late Night Shopping

Trivia:

Saul Metzstein worked on Trainspotting, part of his job entailing him helping to find the Diane character. This task called for him to walk up to girls in Glasgow streets asking any potential Diane if she would like to be in a movie. And here I’m conjuring up an image of some gallus lassie on Argyle Street giving it, ‘Aw, never heard that wan before,’ before striding on and muttering, ‘Creep.’

And speaking of that film, the shot of Jody and Sean drinking milkshakes is a hommage to the scene in Trainspotting with Spud and Renton, where Spud has a little dab of speed before a riotous interview.

Finally, when Metzstein first met Jack Lothian, the latter was working on a novel called Last Exit to Anniesland.

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That Sinking Feeling

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Writer/Director: Bill Forsyth

Cast: Robert Buchanan, Billy Greenlees, John Hughes, Gordon Sinclair

Running time: 93 mins

Original UK Release: 29th August 1979

A neglected city dominated by high-rise flats and blackened tenements. Graffitied brick walls stand half-demolished with rubble strewn around them. The majority of the young people living here seem to be unemployed and crime is commonplace. This is an environment so grim that the closest some of these alienated teenagers get to fun is sitting in an abandoned car in some waste ground and discussing the best way to kill yourself or clustering together in a bedroom to sing Holidays in the Sun by The Sex Pistols.

When one of these young men asks his pals what their hometown is famous for, he receives three different answers.

‘Drunks?’, ‘Muggers?’ and ‘Multiple social deprivation?’

Okay I’m being deliberately misleading here, just as Bill Forsyth was when he included a title card during the film’s opening credits with the following disclaimer: ‘The action of this film takes place in a fictitious town called GLASGOW. Any resemblance to a real town called GLASGOW is purely coincidental.’

The film, in case you don’t know, is an absurdist comedy with a whimsical heart.

That Sinking Feeling BFI

While myself and some pals were living down south in 1981, there was a robbery at the hotel where we worked. The police interviewed us collectively. You can imagine the line of questioning, mainly did we have alibis for the night before? For once none of us had went out on the randan, instead we’d stayed in to watch That Sinking Feeling, which was being shown on TV for the first time. We told the cops this and they hadn’t heard of the film, so asked us to describe the plot, which we quickly ran through for their benefit.

Initially they thought we were winding them up. ‘You watched a film about some young Scottish thieves who carry out a robbery?’

Even taking the burglary out of the equation, this, it would have to be admitted, was a pretty big coincidence. Back then films set in Glasgow with local casts were non existent. That’s obviously changed. Think Small Faces, Red Road, Orphans, The Angels’ Share (another heist comedy featuring a group of young losers), Ratcatcher and even Under the Skin with a lead performance from one of the world’s most recognizable stars but three and a half decades ago, the only thing more unlikely than a film set in Glasgow was probably a film set in some place like Cumbernauld.

The main production company involved in making the movie was even named Minor Miracle Film Cooperative.

Parallels could even be drawn to the local independent music labels that were springing up at the time such as Fast and Postcard. That Sinking Feeling – the Falling and Laughing of Scottish cinema?

Well, not exactly, although like, say, Orange Juice, who railed against the macho Glaswegian rock acts of the era, That Sinking Feeling struck many as a reaction to the Peter McDougall style of social realist Play for Todays.

Nowadays anybody with the determination can have a go at making a microbudget guerilla film but back then, making a feature length movie required a helluva lot more enthusiasm, planning and financial risk than putting out a few hundred singles on your own DIY label – albeit Forsyth’s film was a real shoestring (and independent) operation, the director funding it largely by contacting local businesses and trade unions and asking for donations. Described in the 1979 Edinburgh International Film Festival programme notes as ‘Scotland’s first no-budget feature film’, its £2000 cost even earned it a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the cheapest feature then released theatrically in Britain.

It did certainly point the way for others, its comparative success making similar celluloid ventures suddenly seem more achievable.

Forsyth’s pal Charlie Gormley made Living Apart Together (1982) and Heavenly Pursuits (1985), while that same year Michael Hoffman’s Restless Natives and Cary Parker’s The Girl in the Picture were both Forsyth influenced films set in Scotland.

I didn’t get the chance to watch That Sinking Feeling again for many, many years after that TV debut.

At one point the film was released in a version with a re-recorded audio track (with different actors!) to make it easier for American audiences to understand. Generic mid-80s tracks were also added added to replace the film’s incidental music. I’ve never seen this version and have no intention of ever seeking it out. Unless maybe for a laugh.

Then, I did manage to see the film in a cinema for the first time, when in 2008, Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian selected it to be screened one night at the Glasgow Film Theatre as part of the Monorail Film Club, the film being followed by a very entertaining Q&A with Robert Buchanan who played criminal (non) mastermind, Ronnie, a hapless and helpless figure that, like most of the cast, looks like he’s just stepped out from 1972.

Remarkably I remembered pretty much every scene in the entire film although my mind somehow swapped two of the characters around – I was sure that John Gordon Sinclair had played the part of the character that cross-dresses in order to lure the night watchman away from his duties.

I’ve just watched Forsyth’s debut again, this time on Blu-ray, and would definitely recommend it. It’s out on the BFI Flipside series with some early shorts and documentaries with a Forsyth connection.

Bill Forsyth went on to make the much loved Gregory’s Girl before Local Hero established him as the kind of director that Hollywood took a keen interest in.

Being Human, which starred Robin Williams was an awful film and 1999’s Gregory’s 2 Girls was even worse and must be a contender for any top ten rotten sequels out there – and from what I’ve heard, it was far from the fun shoot of That Sinking Feeling.

 
While writing this it just occurred to me after all this time that the alibi mentioned earlier of watching the film on TV should maybe have been further investigated. After all, we could have watched the film at some place like the GFT on its release, remembered the plot and relayed it to the cops convincingly enough.

Strangely enough too, when filming his heist at a local plumbing supplies warehouse, Forsyth was trusted with the keys, with no presence of anybody from the firm keeping an eye on him while he completed his footage over the course of a weekend. So, as Forsyth discusses with Mark Kermode on the film’s commentary track, his cast and crew could have used the filmmaking idea as an elaborate ploy to steal the sinks, which if sold, could have probably financed the film.

For more on the BFI re-release of That Sinking Feeling click here.