Maurice Hatton’s 1978 film Long Shot is independent cinema at its most charming. As aspiring film producer Charlie (Charles Gormley) hawks his screenplay in Edinburgh, the film’s meandering, shaggy-dog plot does little to harm its overall warmth, wit and Lothian vibe.
Littered with cameos from a host of cinematic luminaries, including a great turn from Alan Bennett as an apathetic doctor, Long Shot is effectively an extended in-joke about the film industry, but one that never comes off as smug or self regarding. Much of the film’s credibility comes from its punkish cinematography, cobbled together from celluloid off-cuts and expired film stock, most of which has a wonderfully tactile grain. It lends the film a documentary feel, serving as a reminder that analogue film has a life that modern digital techniques simply cannot replicate. And it should be noted that the BFI’s restoration of Hatton’s largely forgotten film, part of their Flipside series, positively sings in high definition.
Long Shot’s ironic sense of self awareness is tempered by a triumvirate of charming, naturalistic performances from Gormley, Neville Smith as screenwriter Neville and Ann Zelda as leading lady Anne. Anne’s best moment coming when she screams “you’re full of shit!” at a producer in a hotel bar, rattling the nerves of the poor waitress. While Anne and Neville drum up support for the script, cadging lifts from unsuspecting festival goers, producer Charlie grifts his way into meetings with potential investors and directors. Sweet talking Wim Wenders before a phone conversation with John Boorman, Charlie’s desperation grows as he struggles to secure a deal. As the audience cranes to hear Boorman’s tinny voice through the phone speaker, a spectrum of emotions plays across Charlie’s face in an extended shot that is nothing less than gripping.
The early, passionate discussions between Charlie and Neville about the script are ultimately juxtaposed with the budget talks that Charlie endures with studio executives, reluctantly relinquishes control of his vision in order to get his film, Gulf and Western, made. As one potential producer quips, “you might prefer to make a bad film than not make it at all. I certainly have”. Nevertheless, it’s difficult not to share in Charlie’s excitement as momentum gathers, and the final sequence’s unexpected injection of colour serves paradoxically as an emotional catharsis for Charlie and an indication of the compromises on authenticity that the industry demands.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell