Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 21, 2022 3:08 pm 
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ALAN CUMING IN MY OLD SCHOOL

Scottish school scandal charms in an inventive film

Alan Cumming stars, but so do all the former classmates, grown adult, in this cheery, inventive documentary "recreation" of a scandal at the Bearsden Academy, a secondary school in a posh neighborhood of Glasgow, Scotland in 1993. There are a lot of them - and teachers too - who sit in school desks and talk about how a certain Brandon Lee (just after Bruce Lee's son of that same name had died accidentally filming The Crow) enrolled at this school. He looked odd, older, and had an American (actually Canadian) accent.

The real Brandon Lee participated in this film, but refused to appear, so Alan Cumming (made to look attractively younger) does an incredibly smooth job of lip-synching the recorded voice. The film otherwise is light-hearted but not gimmicky, using animation to depict scenes from the school days that are being remembered in the present.

The gambit here is a familiar one: the doc reveals a wealth of small detail, leading up to the final carefully withheld revelation the whole movie exists for. There is nothing original in this, and it's a simple game. But the Scottish accents (which vary considerably, due to neighborhood and social background,, one supposes) are charming (when the loud music doesn't drown them out), and the details are fascinating. If you let yourself go, you'll relive a year of school when an oddball classmate made everything a bit more memorable. Their suspicions about his odd accent and his older appearance were set aside since he was smart, helpful, and drove other kids around in his car. And then he gained their sympathy when in addition to having lost his mother already, his father, and then his grandmother die.

Brandon Lee had been privately tutored in Canada while he accompanied his mother, an opera diva, on tour before her tragic death. He was bright and sometimes asked teachers questions he could answer better than they could. He reveals himself that his IQ tested at age none at 161% and that's "as high as it goes." He was recruited - despite great trepidation on his part - to play the lead in a school production of an American musical (they had to have his accent). He was a cold fish and his love kiss wound up being "just a peck". But he had a beautiful singing voice. (This turns out to be remembered a bit wrong.) Indeed, he was musical in other ways, forming the musical taste of at least one classmate with his knowledge of sometimes obscure rock groups, including Joy Division. The film's music does an excellent job of creating nineties nostalgia.

Several of the classmates, including a small black one who had been bullied, were befriended by Brandon and went to his house, meeting there his quaint Glaswegian granny. He helped them with their homework.

All this and more is decidedly strange, but McLeod, who was one of the classmates himself, avoids any hint of the sinister, helped by the fellow students' - and the school administrator's - evident good humor remembering what were happy memories, without regrets. if some embarrassment. While the unseen Brandon Lee comes to seem a troubled and twisted individual, one of the film's pleasures is to share with others from the Bearsden Academy who've gone their own ways and seem quite well grounded today. The truth comes about halfway through the film; the rest goes back and analyzes what happened, when Brandon Lee explaining his "true" story.

At bottom this is another talking heads film, of course. But the animated segments, and one key rediscovered piece of old footage from the nineties when this happened, occupy a lot of the viewer's attention, and the good humor, the revelations, and the sheer oddity of it all make this one of the more engaging of this kind of explorations. True, this film doesn't go very deep into the psychology or ultimate motivations of Brandon Lee's odd behavior. But maybe some things just need to remain shrouded in mystery.

My Old School, 93 mins., premiered virtually Jan. 2022 at Sundance. It opens July 22, 2022 at Film Forum in NYC. If you can take the truth, more detail in the Post.

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┬ęChris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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