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Long Shot 1978
Director: Maurice Hatton
Cast: Charles Gormley, Neville Smith, Anne Zelda

Today marks the start of the 72nd Edinburgh International Film Festival.
This year’s programme promises some real cinematic delights including the American Dreams strand which will showcase some of the most fascinating new films from independent cinema across the pond including Unicorn Store, the directorial debut of Brie Larson. What I’m most looking forward to, though, is Hal, a documentary portrait of director Hal Ashby (of The Last Detail, Harold and Maude, and Being There fame).

Also being screened on the 40th anniversary of its premiere at the 1978 Festival at the Calton Studios is an obscure micro-budget film about filmmaking shot mainly in Edinburgh during the ’77 Festival.

Long Shot will be shown again this year on Sun 1 July at the Filmhouse 2 and here’s an updated version of a review (with a little added flavour of the Edinburgh independent music scene of the era) originally available here.

Long Shot

1977 proved to be a key year for independent music in Britain, The Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch EP proving to be the catalyst for what would become a boom period for the D-I-Y ethic. All of a sudden independent labels began springing up around the country with Edinburgh well to the fore, represented by such fondly remembered imprints as Fast, Zoom and Sensible; labels that gave the world The Human League, Rezillos, Mekons, Valves and many more.

The idea of setting up a record label and bringing out a few thousand copies of a single suddenly struck many as easily achievable. The Desperate Bicycles could even sing ‘It was easy, it was cheap, go and do it’, but in the pre-digital era, for budding independent filmmakers hoping to shoot a feature, it was often a gargantuan task scraping together enough money to buy film stock, pay actors and crew and all those other inevitable costs.

And while the head honcho of a label could bring a bag full of singles to be sold along to a local record shop like Bruce’s on Rose Street or Hot Licks on Cockburn Street, or go down the mail order route, small film production companies faced major problems setting up deals for distribution at any of the major British cinema chains.

Mithras Films, the London-based production company behind Long Shot, was certainly far removed from the studio system while the film’s director, Maurice Hatton, was once dubbed ‘the most incorruptibly independent’ of British filmmakers.

Shot on some super grainy film, mainly short-ends and stock that was on the brink of expiring from what was then East Germany, the film illustrates the struggles of Charlie Gormley (played by Charles Gormley). He’s a small-time producer touting around a script by his pal Neville Smith (played by – you guessed it – Neville Smith). A likeable Glaswegian, Charlie’s passionate but never too in-yer-face when delivering his spiel regarding Gulf and Western, a ‘movie about oil’ set in Aberdeen and he elicits interest from one distributor, who promises to front some money if Gormley can land a name director, preferably Sam Fuller, to helm the film.

Long_Shot_-_Charlie_Gormley_&_Richard_Demarco

Most of Gormley’s time is spent on wild goose chases, desperately trying to track down the veteran American director, who is due to make a guest appearance at the Edinburgh International Film Festival as well as persuading typists to update the screenplay, and hustling his script to any exec, agent or possible investor prepared to listen. Who will then – if they judge the project has any merit – insist that compromises will have to be made.

I’m not sure how much easier it is to get a feature film made today but at least in the age of smart phones, Microsoft Word and the internet, the majority of hopefuls will at least spend less time being rejected.

Long_Shot-_Wim_Wenders

Fuller is a no show and in a meeting with Wim Wenders, Gormley brings up the idea of him becoming involved – something which Wenders doesn’t totally rebuff. Later it will be the turn of John Boorman to be courted, and he shows genuine interest in working on Gulf and Western, albeit with no guarantees.

As for stars, Susannah York (who Neville confuses with Julie Christie and then Lynn Redgrave) and Sylvia Kristel are both apparently in the frame for the role of the lead female – knowing how popular softcore porn and sex comedies (which featured not very much sex and even less comedy) were with British audiences of the time, the latter might have been the better choice purely in terms of the box office.

In real life, Charlie Gormley co-ran an independent production company, Tree Films, in Glasgow along with Bill Forsyth around this time, the pair earning their money mostly by shooting sponsored documentaries for local tourist boards and large businesses. Forsyth is seen briefly in a cameo here where he discusses what I’m guessing is an authentic project that the pair worked on together.

Yes, fact and fiction blur incessantly in Long Shot – most of the cinematic luminaries here play themselves (or versions of themselves) although a few others are morphed into completely invented characters: Alan Bennett provides a turn as a hapless and hopeless doctor while Stephen Frears is a nameless biscuit salesman whose car is hijacked by Neville and his new pal Annie – incidentally, Frear’s debut directorial effort, Gumshoe, had been penned by Smith.

Long_Shot_-_Neville_Smith_&_Alan_Bennett

Long Shot is episodic, fading in and out and utilising a plethora of title cards throughout. Shot mostly in black and white (with colour only making an appearance very late on as things finally start looking up for Charlie and Neville) the film, despite its obvious financial limitations, is a fascinating watch and might just be the most insightful fictionalised look at what would later become known as lo-fi or guerrilla filmmaking that I have seen.

The performances are solid and naturalistic with particularly enjoyable turns from both Gormley and Smith. I know I was rooting for their project to be green-lit. It’s also very amusing with some strong farcical comedy, and it undoubtedly deserves to be more widely known, having only ever been screened once on British TV, on Channel 4 over thirty years ago.

Luckily, last summer Long Shot finally gained the chance to been seen more widely via a British Film Institute dual format release as part of their Flipside series, dedicated to rediscovering cult British films. Previous entries having included Bronco Bullfrog, Deep End and Bill Forsyth’s That Sinking Feeling. Long Shot is a valuable addition to the list.

The extras included are generally very strong, the best of the bunch being Hooray for Holyrood from 1986, an enjoyable and informative look at the first forty years of the Edinburgh International Film Festival (with a couple of brief detours to Cannes) presented by a delightfully caustic Robbie Coltrane.

There’s also Scene Nun, Take One, a short and almost silent comedy directed by Hatton that comes over as a love letter to the French New Wave; Sean Connery’s Edinburgh, a 1982 TV documentary that does exactly what it says on the tin and an enlightening 22 page booklet with new writing by Dylan Cave, Bill Forsyth (whose award winning Local Hero could also be called a movie about oil) and Vic Pratt.

The real life Gormley went on to direct a couple of films, the best-known being Heavenly Pursuits, which starred Tom Conti and Helen Mirren. His TV work includes 1993’s Down Among the Big Boys with a cast that included Billy Connolly. Sadly he died in 2005.

For more information on Long Shot visit the film’s page on the BFI site.

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