Jings, it’s Brigadoon!

A few eyebrows will have been raised at the inclusion of Brigadoon in the 2012 Glasgow Film Festival programme. Perhaps a Highland voice even bellowed out declaring, “Hoots Mon! Yon bonnie pictur hoose is shon thay richt guid fulm Brichadoun.”

Or perhaps not.

In a world littered with incredible cultural and historical inaccuracies and in a medium packed with astonishing interpretations of a Scottish accent, Brigadoon is still heralded as something so extreme that the very name is a commonly used adjective for caricature or falsehood.

However, Brigadoon is hardly alone in donning the garish tartan trews to pa de bas in celebration of some fantastical Scottish national identity. Film and television have never been shy to stunningly miscast the role of a Scots man or woman and then shovel shortbread, whisky, heather and haggis on top of it. Yet Brigadoon retains a place among the most infamous of them all.

Why should this be? The film is first and foremost a fantasy, a musical fairytale set in a village that only appears for one day every hundred years. This is hardly the setting for gritty realism.

It’s also filmed entirely on sound stages. Explanations for this production decision range from the unpredictability of the Scottish weather to producer Arthur Freed bizarrely being unable to find any locations ‘suitably Scottish’.

Whatever the thinking behind it, an indoor shoot with painted backdrops was never going to evoke any sort of realism. It was far more likely to present the image of a stage play and, after all, that’s exactly where the story and songs came from. Originally opening to great success on Broadway and then repeating that success on The West End, this was a hugely popular attraction.

Like many hit plays, Brigadoon, has been periodically revived ever since and is still a mainstay in American amateur dramatic productions as a quick search on YouTube will confirm. There was even a Dutch television special in 1964. These actors and audiences clearly see no shame in it, incredible accents included, so it’s a pity that many Scots remain embarrassed by its very existence.

American stars returned to Brigadoon in 1966 with another television version, which this time starred Robert Goulet and Peter Falk! Stage sets and painted backgrounds were to the fore once again, with the exception of the opening and closing segments. These additional outdoor shots hardly boost any realism as it clearly looks like these scenes were filmed in the Californian hills rather than the Scottish Highlands.

One thing that was very real in the MGM version was the Highland Cows, and Gene Kelly wasn’t happy. It seems the star developed some kind of fear of the horned beast and was unwilling to risk his safety when required to dance around one of the brutes.

According to some fantastic movie anecdotes, the solution to this was found either by placing a false head on the rear end of a real cow (so it wouldn’t be facing dancing Gene) or by chaining the hairy monster up and covering its eyes with a blindfold with false eyes put upon it!

I haven’t seen the film for years so can’t testify as to what is the most likely scenario. The best way to work out what the truth behind this scene is would be to see the film on a big screen, surely reason enough to get yourself along to the GFT.

Brigadoon is showing at the GFT at 11.00 on Friday 24th February and also in St Andrews in the Square (followed by a ceilidh) at 19.00 on Saturday 25th February.

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