United We Stand: 10 Things I Love About Steve’s Country #9: Films & TV

Well, the referendum came and went, and with it,  40% of Scotland’s hopes for an amicable breakup with England. Now they’re doing the equivalent of that couple that reconciles with lots and lots of therapy, for which I wish them the very best. However, this does mean that Steve and Suzie can still watch the Olympics together, waving the same flag and cheering for the same athletes.

Unfortunately this series has left us all a bit drained. We’ve racked our brains thinking of our respective countries’ favorite inventions, and architecture (and if these search stats are accurate, BOY do people like igloos), and language, and customs, leading to now with #9 in the series: our favorite TV shows and movies from Scotland, England, and the USA. But what do we do when we’re drained? Well, we go on vacation somewhere and pretend we’re not from where we’re from. In essence, we switch. This week, I am Scottish!

I have a confession: I am not Scottish. I can’t even do one of those “Oh, yeah, I’m part Cherokee, part Irish, part Scottish, part Norwegian, and part Dutch” things white Americans are so fond of doing because I’m 100% full-blood Chinese. So, dear Steve, my apologies ahead of time to you and your Scottish brethren. My only goal was to avoid putting Braveheart on the list because it’s too obvious.

1. The Wicker Man (1973)
I much prefer psychological horror over monster-based horror movies. Even better if monsters serve as the backdrop to the psychological horror, as is the case with 28 Days Later or The Descent. There’s also something attractive about that ’60s and ’70s shaky camera cinematography that makes the footage seem more raw and voyeuristic. But beyond that, this movie has Scottish people dressing up in creepy costumes, and nakedly squirming up against the wall trying to sex-osmosis the policeman on the other side, and people fervently worshiping phallic symbols. If not for the whole sacrificing virgins thing, they almost sound like my kind of people.

Even though there is a tragic dearth of bees, this version is so much better than the 2006 reboot. Among the many mistakes the later version made were the far more absurd storyline and making the neo-pagans joyless about the ritual where they dress up like furries, but the greatest mistake of all was moving them off the coast of Scotland to off the coast of Washington State. Because there’s no brogue in Washington State.

2. Trainspotting
Some people, like Bob Dole during the 1996 presidential election, like to criticize this movie, saying that it glorifies the world of drugs and drug addiction, but I’m pretty sure that if New Jack City hadn’t already discouraged my curiosity in drugs, Trainspotting killed off any that might have remained. I have a really difficult time watching people do drugs on screen after watching this film now (I’m not even going to try Requiem for a Dream), but it was really gritty and engaging, and it portrayed subculture in a way that didn’t make me want to roll my eyes, like how On the Road made me feel. Also, it’s full of Scots, and Ewan McGregor is nice to look at.

3. Gregory’s Girl
This movie came out in the early 80’s and had to be re-recorded for American audiences because the accents were so thick (by which I mean “awesome”). It’s an endearing film that might be thought of as Napoleon Dynamite If It Had Been a Teen Rom-Com. It’s a fairly progressive story for its time, too, with a girl’s athletic prowess rather than her sexuality being what attracts the eponymous Gregory. He’s also encouraged to respectfully pursue and be pursued by love interests without scheming or silly tropes. And he has an adorable relationship with his little sister where she offers him dating advice because he’s that helpless. Altogether a very sweet movie.

It’s probably also the last legitimately Scottish TV show/film on my list.

4. Highlander
Come on. If Braveheart wasn’t going to make my list, Highlander had to. It has everything:
Good songs? Check, check, check, check, check, check, and check.
Tagline? Definitely: “There can be only one.”
A really really terrible horrible bad guy? Yes, very!

James Cosmo playing a gruff Scottish paternal figure again? Yup.
A movie so Scottish that they made a French guy play a Scot and cast a Scot as an Egyptian Spaniard? Aye!

I’m really fond of this movie. Not so much the sequels or the television series, but the original will always be a classic.

5. Brave
Ahhhh, a Disney movie that spits in Romance’s eye. I watched this movie with my daughters and came out of the theater very pleased. For years I’ve been complaining that hardly any Disney movies celebrate the mother-daughter relationship, and definitely none of the animated ones. It’s always “Daddy’s girl” this (Little MermaidBeauty and the Beast, AladdinMulan), or “special boy” that (Lion King, TarzanFinding Nemo). Even Frozen‘s focus on the sister-sister relationship had a predecessor in Lilo & Stitch. But finally,  a story about a mother’s devotion to her daughter and vice versa! A heroine who cares more about being true to herself and her family than when her prince will come! A female character with messy curly hair! And cake as a major plot point to boot!

Ok, so maybe this movie and the last are more about Scottish characters than they are Scottish films, but I think they still count.

6. Gargoyles
We’re starting to stretch things a bit now. Gargoyles was a fantastic cartoon series that ran from 1994-1996. It blended folklore and literature together into a dramatic cartoon series about a clan of gargoyles who turn to stone in the daytime and come alive at night, breaking out of the stone. The six gargoyles comprising the clan living in modern day Manhattan were originally from medieval Scotland, but were cursed to sleep in their stone forms until their castle rose above the clouds.

Enter a Manhattan skyscraper, a transplantation of said castle, the super rich and morally bankrupt guy who paid for it, and thus we have a plot.

It wasn’t just the folklore, the numerous nods to Shakespeare (Oberon, Titania, Puck, and Macbeth all feature as characters, plus monikers of Iago, Banquo, Fleance, Lennox, and Macduff), and the camaraderie of the gargoyles though. The cast of voice actors included or guest-starred a significant portion of the bridge and Engineering from the Enterprise NCC-1701-D (Jonathan Frakes, Mirina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Michael Dorn, and Colm Meany). Kate Mulgrew and Nichelle Nichols also made regular appearances. Other non-Star Trek stars such as John Rhys-Davies, Tim Curry, James Belushi, Paul Winfield, Hector Elizondo, Roddy McDowall, and James Avery lent their voices to the show.

I have talked this show up to Earl now to the the point where I plan to binge-watch it with him. I encourage everybody else to do the same.

7. DuckTales
Scrooge McDuck. Totally Scottish. Except for that one time when he got amnesia and started talking with an American accent. That was a terrible day. I’m leaving you with the scene I love and remember best, when Scrooge throws a fucking tantrum, yelling the same thing over and over again, thus forming my earliest impressions of Scottish people. I mean, if people were ducks.

8. So I Married an Axe Murderer
I know, I know, I’m severely pushing the boundaries on this one, given that Mike Myers is Canadian and Brenda Fricker is Irish. I’m not even quite sure why Charlie Mackenzie’s parents, Stuart and May, were written as Scottish other than to give us wonderful moments like this:

So I Married an Axe Murderer is one of my most favorite movies of all time. I love that Mike Myers indulges himself by playing his own father, portraying him with that same gruff exterior we see in Scrooge McDuck and Groundskeeper Willie. But just like Uncle Scrooge taking in his three nephews and Groundskeeper Willie saving the wee turtles, Stuart Mackenzie has a wonderfully sweet moment  amidst the gruffness where, at his anniversary dinner, he first yells at all his guests to shut up and then toasts his wife with an understated yet tear-inducing speech.

Who’s ready to get married now?? Can we get married in Scotland instead, Earl? Earl?…No?

9. The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson
Don’t look at me like that. I know this is an American show that airs when it’s late (late) on the east coast, and that the Scottish host became a US citizen in 2008. But he still sounds Scottish, and has Scottish bands on his show, and even filmed once from Scotland. I don’t get to watch this often because it’s on so late (late), but when I have been able to catch it, I have loved it. Craig Ferguson is so personable and decent and open about his issues with grief over his father’s suicide and mother’s death, and his recovery from alcoholism.  And he’s funny and honest!

Just watch this and see if you aren’t moved by his compassion:

10. Goldfinger
Hear me out! According to Ian Fleming himself, James Bond was born to a Scottish father and Swiss mother. The greatest Bond of all – and I feel confident in saying that everybody who disagrees with me is wrong – was Sean Connery, the same suave Scot who made an Egyptian-Spaniard sound splendid.

I grew up on James Bond movies. Somehow my parents were content to let me watch movies about intrigue and sex and violence and poisonings, and even from that early age, I recognized Sean Connery’s supremacy over the likes of Roger Moore, George Lazenby, and Timothy Dalton. Of the James Bond movies that we serially and repeatedly watched, I remember You Only Live Twice and Goldfinger best. And of those two, I loved Goldfinger best. I don’t even care about the anti-Korean racism that was Oddjob’s literary provenance. On screen, he was this scary guy wearing a scary bowler hat doing scary things to golf balls.

But the counterpoint to Oddjob’s kidney-chopping brute strength was James Bond’s unflappable ingenuity, who, like Westley vs. Fezzik, devises alternate methods to overcome Oddjob’s physical brawn. For that bit of gumption, we can thank two Scots: James Bond for having it, and Sean Connery for selling it.

Besides, they made a video game out of it. That means the movie was awesome.

Well there’s my attempt to be Scottish. Whether I was successful or even convincing is questionable, but I guess ignorance has its advantages sometimes, because it was a heck of a lot easier than picking my favorite American TV shows and movies.

What have I missed, actual Scots? What American movies and TV would you add? Americans are welcome to weigh in as well! Whether you weigh in with Scottish or American TV & films is up to you, though.


8 thoughts on “United We Stand: 10 Things I Love About Steve’s Country #9: Films & TV

  1. What a brilliant list. I love Gregory’s Girl. It’s so scottish it’s brilliant. Strong accents Pah. Also, I’ve actually visited the castle that Brave was based on. I’m thinking for my American list I’ll do sitcoms 🙂


  2. Pingback: United We Stand: 10 Things I Love About My Country #9: Television & Movies… | Steve Says...

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