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Issue 84 - From Scotland With Love

Scotland Magazine Issue 84
December 2015


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From Scotland With Love

Susan Nickalls talks to the producer of a landmark film

In Scotland’s recent history, few years have been as momentous as 2014 with the Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow and the independence referendum propelling the country into the international spotlight. For film director Virginia Heath, 2014 also offered an ideal opportunity to produce a landmark film which looked at 20th Century Scotland through archive film. She quickly discovered a treasure trove of footage in the National Library of Scotland Scottish Screen Archive with the organisation also coming on board as a producer/investor in From Scotland with Love.

From the outset, Heath knew she needed to collaborate with a musician to help tell the story, given that the film would have no narrative. She had heard of singer-songwriter Kenny Anderson, whose stage name is King Creosote, and felt he was the right person to bring on board. “The way Kenny sings is quintessentially Scottish and he has a great way of telling stories, not always in an obvious way,” she says. “His lyrics are poetic and beautiful, for instance the song
Something to Believe In was perfect to open and close the film:

But our story it has only begun,
Are you willing it to end?
You promised me this feeling,
Something to believe in.
You promised me this feeling,
Now promise to be real.”

Rather than chart the 20th Century chronologically, Heath decided that the film had to be thematic and chose the overarching theme of love and loss. This related to many sections of film from Glasgow’s shipbuilding industry which was once the envy of the world; both the skills and industry have now been lost. Emigration has also fundamentally influenced the history of the Scottish people and this theme in particular struck a chord with Heath who was born in New Zealand and now lives in Edinburgh.

“This affected me personally as my grandmother was Scottish and emigrated to New Zealand and never came back. A lot of people find the sequence on emigration quite moving. Both wars affected everyone and I don’t distinguish between them in the film, I just wanted to make a powerful emotional sequence focusing on human relationships. I also wanted to bring out interesting ironies.

For example there’s a scene where women are saying goodbye to their husbands and lovers and then making guns that are then used to kill other people’s lovers and husbands.” For the war sequence, Heath used one of King Creosote’s best-known songs
My Favourite Girl. It was written about his daughter and is often played at weddings and funerals. Along with Carry on Dancing, it was the only pre-existing song by Anderson in the film with the rest written specially as part of a close collaboration, says Heath.

“In the past I might have put some footage together and asked a composer to write music for it, but I didn’t want to work like that. As I was editing From Scotland with Love, the music was also being created. When I found footage or key imagery I knew would be in the film, I would meet up with Kenny for a pizza – he’s an analogue kind of guy who still sends newsletters to his fans so it’s no use sending him links online – and show him footage which gave him the impetus to write the songs. For instance, a skipping sequence led to
Bluebell Cockleshell 123 and shots of kids larking about in the water gave Kenny the jazz rhythms for Only from Largs”:

So would you look at this gang.
How we all burst forth at sun up from our caravan parks.
While the kids are going mental and kicking up sand.
I’ll take this chance, To slope off, find the queen of ice creams.
I shall ask her to dance while she dithers with wafers, 99s the number of my knockbacks.

As well as sticking to specific thematic material, Heath also decided to only use footage that was originated on film. “I wanted to get that flickering quality which takes you into a dream-like state and really encourages people to reflect.”

Fortunately there was a variety of sources in the archive for Heath to chose from in addition to newsreel footage. She struck gold with the documenting of everyday life, from going to the beach to having a drink with friends, in the Super 8 home movies of Scottish / Italian surrealist film-maker Enrico Cocozza. Public information films about health, farming and fishing also gave Heath access to a lot of professionally shot footage. Along with fiction films, these sources provided a rich seam of material she was able to refashion to suit her themes.

"There’s some great footage of naughty boys breaking into a house which was taken from a moralistic film trying to prove that if proper youth hostels weren’t established, this would be what happened to our youth. At the opening of the film we use some amazing sequences of a train coming into Edinburgh which is from a fiction film called
Waverley Steps: A Visit to Edinburgh which was made as Edinburgh’s answer to the 1927 film Berlin: A Symphony of a Great City.

“It shows a real sense of community, that whatever is happening to people, they are in it together.”

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