Scottish filmmaker Jono McLeod has written and directed a fascinating and revelatory film based on a strange but true story that took place while he was a school pupil in East Dunbartonshire.
In 1993, class 5C of Bearsden Academy was joined by a guy going under the name of Brandon Lee. In fact, he was actually Brian McKinnon, a 32 year old who had enrolled as a pupil at the school in 1975 and was returning under a false name believing he had the right to a second chance at being a medical student. After a year, his façade came tumbling around him, bringing a media circus to the douce streets of Bearsden.
This unusual and difficult to categorize film is a brilliant mix – interviews with former 5C pupils; old tv news footage; an old school video and scenes of impressive animation from Wild Child. The animated element, where characters are voiced by, among others, Clare Grogan, Juliet Cadzow, Gary Lamont and Lulu, who also sings songs that accompany the film, allows parts of the narrative to be shown in an amusing and lighthearted way.
International star Alan Cumming returns to his native Scotland to take on the role of the imposter, one he was meant to play 25 years earlier but that fell through. Opening shots of Cumming’s head swathed in crepe bandages, like H G Wells’ Invisible Man, symbolizes McKinnon’s wish to remain off camera while agreeing to a recorded interview that has been immaculately lip synced by Cumming as he sits at an old school desk.
It’s pretty clear that the now forty something former pupils, also in an old school setting, are completely comfortable being filmed by their former school mate Jono. They are relaxed, funny and honest in their replies as the story is revealed to the viewer and, sometimes shockingly, to them. What becomes clear at the start is that while teachers dealing directly with McKinnon seemed to take him at face value, the pupils recall that McKinnon looked ‘noticeably different’ to his peers, even having the nickname among younger pupils of ‘Thirty Something’! Their cynicism didn’t last with Brandon Lee becoming a popular if unusual figure who socialized easily with his younger classmates although McKinnon admits that they were mere ‘ciphers’ in his overall plan.
Rector of Bearsden Academy, Norman Macleod, who was renowned for his sense of fairness and deep interest in the pupils in his charge, had to face the media to justify the bizarre situation and so became the public face of the scandal though it transpired that it was another member of staff who had actually enrolled McKinnon and who did not appear in the film apart from in cartoon form.
McKinnon claims he has mesmerizing powers that allow him to practice mind control but the skill behind Jono McLeod’s excellent film contains the power to hold the viewer in a fascinated spell as the strange but true story of a man stuck in a groove and unable to face reality, perpetually ‘[wanting his] career back,’ unfolds. Cinematic top marks!
My Old School premiered at the Sundance Festival, getting its European première at the Glasgow Film Festival and opening the inaugural Sands Film Festival in St Andrews’ Byre Theatre.