Cultural Obsession: Scotland

My Scottish thing has happened by accident recently...but come on! They have the most amazing accents of the English language, beautiful countryside, plus Hogwarts is there(duh). It seems to be the least talked-about of the countries in the U.K., but I would really love to visit it the most, perhaps while wearing a Pringle argyle sweater. Here are the movie and band currently feeding this fascination.

The Winter Guest

I went into this movie really not expecting anything much, and I was blown away. For a little background- it follows a day in the life of 4 pairs of people in a frozen Scottish seaside town: a mother and daughter(whose husband has just died), the daughter's teenage son and a girl with a crush on him, two elderly ladies who attend funerals for fun, and two middle-school boys playing hooky. It is so quiet and subtle, beautifully acted, and injected generously with true humor, all while the specter of grief hangs over most of the characters. Visually it's stunning, with a very natural gray-white-black palette and the background landscape of the frozen sea. The two boys in this movie have some of the most amazing and hilarious scenes involving kids I've ever seen(see above). No one in American films gives kids this kind of dialogue: smart and foul-mouthed and funny and profound, but still believeable. The mother-daughter relationship here(played by Emma Thompson and her real mother) is painfully realistic. The ending with the boys approaches the sublime(a description I rarely have occasion to use, except for maybe the library scene in Wings of Desire). The only bone I have to pick with this movie is the music...good god. Make sure you immediately mute the film the second the credits begin to roll or the beauty of that last scene might just be ruined for you. To my knowledge, this is the only film that Alan Rickman has ever directed. I love some Rickman, I think he is a pleasure to watch and illuminates even the most mediocre movies that he acts in (AHEM Bottle Shock). But judging from The Winter Guest I really think he should give directing another shot.
As a heads up, I could have used some subtitles at times but once you get used to the ridiculously thick accents it's easy enough to understand. Also, 95% of the movies that I love are considered "slow" by the average viewer. However I say that if you think they are slow then you are probably slow!(Just kiddin'...maybe).

Arab Strap

Speaking of ridiculously thick accents...
Not sure why it took me so long to get on board this train. In high school I really loved the Reindeer Section(still do), most especially the Aidan Moffat songs(Whodunnit being my favorite). Listening to the actual band was something I always meant to do but never got around to. My life is littered with good intentions like that. Last year Andy made me an Arab Strap mix after listening to me rave about their RS songs. I cannot imagine a better thing to listen to in the winter.
I'm not exactly sure how to describe this music. With the exception of a few songs, there is no singing done by this band. It's more like lyrical Scottish spoken word(not in the Henry Rollins vein) about romance and failure and failed romance. And those lyrics! Some are brutally bitter, many are shockingly depressing(in that unexpected way that floors you, like some Red House Painters), half I can barely understand, all are clever and pointed and moving. The music itself is much more layered than your standard bland "indie rock," whatever that means nowadays, and it would be an injustice to lump this band in with the rest of the Reindeer Section bands(Belle & Sebastian, Snow Patrol), as good as they may sometimes be. They aren't any soft edges or sentiment here. Maybe living in a place so cold for so much of the time will do that to you...like Russia. I'm doing a terrible job of describing them...obviously living with a music critic has not rubbed off on me any.
P.S. - These videos are not so great, it's probably best to just listen to the music while not watching the video!

More pros: James McAvoy, plaid
Cons: haggis

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