wed 28/09/2022

My Old School review - a Glasgow schoolboy and his elaborate hoax | reviews, news & interviews

My Old School review - a Glasgow schoolboy and his elaborate hoax

My Old School review - a Glasgow schoolboy and his elaborate hoax

Jono McLeod mixes animation and real-life interviews in a compelling documentary

Never going back to my old school? Alan Cumming lipsynchs Brian MacKinnon's voiceHopscotch Films
Back in 1995, the name Brandon Lee made the headlines. Not the Brandon Lee as in son of Bruce, who’d recently met his death on the set of The Crow, but a schoolboy who’d chosen to use the same name.
 
A strange hoax was uncovered. Lee was, in fact, Brian MacKinnon, and he was not 16 but 32, posing as a fifth-former at the august Bearsden Academy in Glasgow.
He did, indeed, go back to his old school, where he was a pupil, first time around, in the 1970s. But why?
 

Jono McLeod’s entertaining and original documentary – he was at Bearsden with Brandon/Brian – mixes Daria-style animation with interviews. Teachers and old pupils, including Jono, sit at school desks in a reconstructed classroom, regaling each other with their memories of Brandon, whose words are lip-synched brilliantly by Alan Cumming. Brandon doesn’t want to be seen and the reasons why become apparent later. But, although the film feels slightly too long, many questions remain unanswered and you feel that a deeper dive into Brandon’s motivations, and his mental health, are needed.

In spite of some flabbiness to the structure, there’s something very warm and funny about these ex-pupils with their memories of school and its electric adolescent mix of tedium, fear and excitement. The impression of Brandon’s oddness – “What is a teacher doing in uniform?” a former pupil remembers wondering when this curly-haired, blazer-clad apparition with a briefcase entered the classroom in 1993 – and how he is gradually accepted, even celebrated, is fascinating.

First-years tease him, calling him “thirtysomething”, but Stefen, who is black and was a victim of racist bullying, says the exceptionally brainy Brandon helped him with his studies and changed his life for the better. And Brandon’s unusual taste in music – Eighties bands like Joy Division, Husker Du and Television – made a lasting impression on another pupil.

Brandon knew all the answers in class, impressing the biology teacher (voiced by Claire Grogan; Lulu voices the headmaster’s fearsome deputy as well as singing Steely Dan’s My Old School as the end credits roll) with the depth of his knowledge. He’s all-round brilliant, parsing Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman with unusual maturity. But no one was suspicious, even though some of the teachers had taught him 20 years earlier. Well, he looked different, says a teacher feebly, prompting snorts of derision from the ex-pupils. Curlier hair, because it was permed, for a start.

He gets the lead part in South Pacific, the school musical – “He was noticeably better than the other people”   which helps to turn him into one of the popular kids – something that never happened to him first time around. His accent, as well as his car, lends him cred. Was he enjoying himself? He denies it later.

The story he tells is that he’s Canadian, brought up by his famous opera singer mother. They moved around a lot; he was privately tutored. Then she was killed in a car crash and his grandmother in Glasgow was the only one available to look after the orphaned boy. His classmates are impressed at this exotic tale. He puts on funny accents, gives parties, drinks Chardonnay, drives his schoolmates to the cinema, takes them bowling and to laser tag. He’s the man. Literally.

Brandon’s purpose was to get back into medical school. He’d managed it first time around in the 1970s but once he was at Glasgow university he fell apart, failed his exams and was thrown out. And his plan works, at first. From Bearsden he gets into Dundee medical school. But then, for various reasons, none of them entirely clear, the hoax is uncovered. Once again, he’s out on his ear, to vast publicity. He appears on the Late Late Show, looking sexless, boyish and nerdy, wearing a white polo neck. “Subconsciously, I wanted to be caught,” he says. “It’s such a self-degrading thing, to go under a false identity.” But is Brian’s whole persona, old and new, an act? “All I can say is, what is a person?” asks Stefen.

"Would you allow MacKinnon to be your doctor?" McLeod asks his interviewees, which is surely beside the point. Now, almost 30 years later, this lonely, damaged man is sometimes spotted, looking dishevelled, on the computer in the local library, still, apparently, applying to medical school. An unsettling thought.

There’s something very warm and funny about these ex-pupils with their memories of school and its electric adolescent mix of tedium, fear and excitement

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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