Where Is Bill Forsyth?

Slate's Culture Blog
June 15 2009 10:34 AM

Where Is Bill Forsyth?

In the late '70s and early '80s, a Scottish filmmaker named Bill Forsyth made a handful of whimsical comedies.  After shooting a number in and around Glasgow, Forsyth moved on to Hollywood, where he adapted Marylyn Robinson’s acclaimed novel

Stephen Metcalf Stephen Metcalf

Stephen Metcalf is Slate's critic at large. He is working on a book about the 1980s.


; cut a deft little gem with Burt Reynolds (and a script by John Sayles) called

; and, finally, wrote and directed

, an ambitious think-comedy—a Charlie Kaufman film before there was a Charlie Kaufman—starring Robin Williams. 

Nothing I have ever loved so much has ever disappeared so completely as the films of Bill Forsyth. Why?  Forsyth’s L.A. sojourn had come courtesy of David Puttnam, the legendary British producer and then-head of  Columbia Pictures. Puttnam shepherded Forsyth’s

Local Hero

, as well as the triumphs


. But Oscars and swooning critics never made up for a perceived sniffiness toward American showbiz; and when Puttnam went down, so, too, did Forsyth. Under the new management,

Being Human

was butchered from a three hour director’s cut down to 85 minutes. A grating voiceover was added. The


now fully separated from the



Being Human

was left to die a critical and popular death.

Forsyth is regarded as the man who returned contemporary filmmaking to Scotland. And yet, as far as I can tell, he has all but vanished. When the cast and crew of

—his masterpiece, and the last movie I’d like to watch before wheeling off to eternity—reunited at the Glasgow Film Festival for its silver anniversary, Forsyth did not attend. A washed-out cut of it can be rented on Netflix, along with similarly insulting editions of



Breaking In

. Forsyth’s Comfort and Joy, a lovely film about a Glaswegian DJ caught up in an ice cream war, must be watched on …YouTube?

I encourage you to discover

Local Hero

. If anyone knows what has recently become of Forsyth, an answer unavailable even to the tentacles of Google, drop me a line; if you know how to move the bigwigs at Criterion to create a box set for a wondrous but misplaced director, e-mail me at




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