Cinema exhibition opens

The stars and stories that put Scotland on screen

The story of cinema in Scotland from the first screening in 1896 to modern day blockbusters is celebrated in an exciting exhibition opening today (June 15) at the National Library of Scotland (NLS).

It presents a century of Scotland and Scots on film from the romantic Hollywood image of heather clad hills in Brigadoon to grim urban worlds of contemporary life in films such as 'Trainspotting'. Material is also included from this summer's eagerly awaited Disney Pixar movie 'Brave' which is set in medieval Scotland to bring things bang up to date.

'Going to the pictures' charts the rise of cinema going when people flocked to the pictures in the 1930s and huge movie palaces were built, such as the Regal in Glasgow that could seat over 2,000. It also records the fall, when many of these buildings were demolished or changed use in the 1970s as audiences deserted the cinema in favour of the small screen at home.

Clips from famous films including 'The 39 steps', 'Whisky galore' and 'Gregory's girl' will be shown on screens throughout the exhibition, together with the earliest representation of Scotland on film in the 'Execution of Mary Queen of Scots', made by the Edison company in the United States in 1895.

Fascinating home-grown collections preserved by the NLS Scottish Screen Archive will be among 70 films being shown that showcase Scotland over the last century. These include local films of community life in Scotland that were screened in neighbourhood cinemas. Some of the archive films are being shown at the exhibition for the first time.

The exhibition also celebrates the pioneering work of documentary film making in Scotland through the Films of Scotland Committee. It was set up in 1938 under the initial chairmanship of John Grierson, often considered the father of documentary film. These films record many aspects of Scottish life and were made to promote Scotland at home and abroad.

There will be cameras and projectors on show, along with stunning film posters and examples of cinema advertising.

There are also stars galore from home-grown talent of Sir Sean Connery, Ewan McGregor, Kelly Macdonald, Gerard Butler and Peter Mullan to those from another era, including Deborah Kerr and David Niven. Over the years many other stars have appeared in films made in Scotland or about Scotland, including the silent movie star Mary Pickford, Katharine Hepburn, Orson Welles, Errol Flynn — and Mel Gibson in 'Braveheart'.

The exhibition is full of fascinating information including:

  • The first cinema show at the Empire Palace Theatre in Edinburgh (now the Festival Theatre) in 1896 failed to excite. A critic for 'The Scotsman' complained that 'the exhibition somehow missed fire'. The audience preferred the live variety acts to the flickering images of dancers, boxers, and sailors on the strange screen.
  • By the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, cinema had well and truly caught on. Edinburgh could boast 43 screens while places such as Dumfries and Fort William had their own cinemas.
  • The story of Rob Roy was used for Britain's first ever feature film in 1911.
  • Scotland's first Oscar winner was Frank Lloyd who was born in Glasgow in 1886 and became a director of both silent and talking films. He won two Oscars in 1929 and 1933.
  • Orange blossom and lavender were sprayed around cinema houses of the 1930s to dispel the pervading aroma of damp or unwashed children.
  • The makers of 'Brigadoon' and its star Gene Kelly failed to find the location they wanted in the real Scotland, and built their version in Los Angeles.
  • The first Oscar for a film shot in Scotland went in 1961 to Seawards the Great Ships, a poetic study of shipbuilding on the Clyde, that won best short film.

Although the exhibition focuses on the history of film and film-going in Scotland, it also highlights what is currently happening with film making in Scotland.

Ruth Washbrook, Senior Curator at the Scottish Screen Archive, said: 'Scotland is bursting with film-makers, attracting film crews in search of our landscapes and cities, exporting stars worldwide, and luring film fans to the red and tartan carpets of local, national, and international festivals.

'Stereotypes have been revived with great popular success. Many films mirror how Scots are living today but just as many continue to screen the old Highland myths. The future is looking every bit as exciting as our past has been.'

Andrew Martin, Curator of Modern Scottish Collections, who put the exhibition together with Ruth, added: 'Almost everyone has experienced going to the pictures and being caught up in the glamour and excitement of it all. We hope the exhibition will bring back memories of films, people and cinemas that have been significant in their own lives.'

'Going to the pictures: Scotland at the cinema' is on from 15 June to 28 October at the National Library of Scotland, George 1V Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EW. Entry is free.


Postscript: David Niven claimed throughout his life to have been born in Kirriemuir but it was only after his death it was discovered he had been born in London.

15 June 2012

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