If you are among the many Hobbledehoy who love Bill Forsyth’sLocal Heroand Gregory’ Girl, we’d love to introduce you to a lesser-known classic from the Scot director, Comfort and Joy. Here’s a wee clip with Bill Patterson (as radio DJ Dicky Bird) and Clare Grogan, and Alex Norton.
Comfort and Joy is about a war between two Italian families, the Bernardis and the Rossis, over whose ice cream vans can sell where in Glasgow. It’s also about finding meaning in life.
Oh, and that cool music soundtrack with the vibes? Mark Knofler. -who also wrote the original music for Local Hero.
There was a real “Ice Cream War” in Glasgow in 1984, and it led to murders within the city. It was really a drug-land turf war by gangs who used ice cream vans as a front. Writers Douglas Skelton and Lisa Brownlie cover the story in their 1992 book “Frightener”. The deaths of van-driver Andrew Boyle (who had resisted being involved in drug dealing) and his family happened in April 1984, four months before “Comfort and Joy” was released, and as star Bill Paterson acknowledges, this had an impact on the film’s reception: “It wasn’t a great time to launch a light-hearted look at the ice-cream business in Glasgow.
Bill Forsyth’s slice of Glasgow noir never received the praise showered upon its predecessors Local Hero and Gregory’s Girl. The bonus interviews included on this disc hint at the reasons why: Forsyth admits that his script could have been tightened up, and Claire Grogan suggests that the film’s payoff doesn’t feel like a proper ending.
Comfort and Joy is still a treat, though, its dry humour a return to the style of Forsyth’s zero-budget debut. Bill Paterson’s Alan “Dickie” Bird is a Partridgesque local radio DJ whose life starts to unravel when his kleptomaniac girlfriend leaves him. Buying a 99 from an ice cream van he’s chased because he fancies the serving girl (Grogan) unwittingly involves him in a turf war between rival Italian ice cream vendors. The news items we hear on Bird’s car radio are full of African coups and Middle Eastern peace negotiations, foreshadowing his decision to act as a mediator between the two firms.
Cinematographer Chris Menges gives the mean streets of Glasgow a warm, twinkly glow, despite the city’s northern latitude limiting the number of exterior shots. The visual jokes are brilliant: we see that Bird’s problems really begin when he, Alice-like, follows a Mr Bunny ice cream van into a dark tunnel. Alex Norton’s Trevor, reeling from a baseball bat attack on his van, turns out to be relatively unharmed: the blood pouring down his face is actually raspberry sauce. Bird’s prized BMW literally disintegrates as the film unwinds, the victim of bird shit, ice cream and physical violence. As things escalate, he uses his early morning radio show to broadcast coded messages to the warring tribes, prompting boss Rikki Fulton to refer him to eccentric psychiatrist Arnold Brown.
Forsyth elicits predictably winning performances from his large cast, including a convincingly Glaswegian-sounding Patrick Malahide as Bird’s best friend, and Roberto Bernardi as the charismatic “Mr McCool”.
Robert Buchanan has a blink-or-miss-it cameo, and even Claire Grogan’s atrocious Italian accent doesn’t derail proceedings. This restored print looks and sounds excellent; Mark Knopfler’s moody soundtrack adding much to the atmosphere. And, as already noted, the interviews with Forsyth, Paterson and Grogan are a delight, revealing that the idea for the plot was suggested to the director by a young Peter Capaldi.
Bill Forsyth’s Comfort and Joy is full of cherishable moments.
Bill Forsyth’s Comfort and Joy underwhelmed at the box-office on its release in 1984 and has subsequently been out of circulation for many years, which partly explains why it has never achieved the acclaim and cult status enjoyed by his other early ’80s crowdpleasers Gregory’s Girl and Local Hero. Another reason, however, might be because this comedy-drama doesn’t feel as fully formed as those previous efforts, and it suffers from an underpowered narrative engine. Much of the charm and lightness of touch that defines Forsyth’s work is still evident, though [ . . . ] Read more at The Skinny
Gregory’s Girl and Local Hero helped shape how Scotland sees itself. But director Bill Forsyth says that was the last thing he aimed to do There are plenty of Scottish actors and writers working in the movie business but strangely few directors. When you search for “Scottish film director”, top of the list is Bill Forsyth, who hasn’t made a film this century and is remembered primarily for two from the early 1980s – Gregory’s Girl (pictured below) and Local Hero. Such is the rarity of quality films made in Scotland by Scottish auteurs that these are still celebrated as ones that forged the character of the nation.“I wasn’t flying the flag for Scotland,” Forsyth says. “I wasn’t trying to say something culturally about Scotland – I don’t know what Scotland means to the guy next to me on the bus. It’s too dumb an idea to want to nail, a culture. It comes from making stuff, and the accumulation of that stuff finally reflects a culture.”