Centenorg of Scottish Film
Reeling hrough history
Scots have been keen cinema—goers
since the first ﬂickers lit tip the darkness. Thom Dibdin wanders from an era of ﬂeapits and jam jars to the multiplexes of today.
rainspotting‘s runaway home success. with its ‘record—breaking' screenings at the Cameo in Edinburgh. is an indication of the current resurgence in cinema-going in Scotland. And while the passions of Brave/wart have added to the general euphoria in the industry. the trend must be taken as just that — a resurgence -- and certainly not a return to the time when cinema- going was the number one leisure activity in the country. Asa measure of the demise. Glasgow had 98 cinemas with a total of 133059 seatsjust before the outbreak of World War 11. Today. Glasgost six remaining cinemas have a mere 8777 seats between them.
Cinema’s documented arrival in Scotland was in 1896 when Edinburgh‘s Empire Theatre included Edison‘s Kinetoscope in a variety performance. The Kinetoscope. adapted from a peep-show prototype. was not a great success: the lighting was poor and the pictures dull. During that year. a variety of different systems arrived in Scotland with greater success. By the year‘s end. it was possible to see some form of moving picture in nearly every reasonably sized town.
In Grampian. William Walker began filming local events and showing them round the locality. When Queen Victoria spotted him filming the Braemar Gathering in 1898. she ordered a Command Performance which he gave in Balmoral that October.
The first purpose-built cinema in Scotland was opened by Ralph Pringle in Elm Row. Edinburgh. in 1906. Over the next 30 years. cinema turned into a fully ﬂedged business with families like the Pooles in Edinburgh. the Kemps in Ayrshire. the Greens in Glasgow and the Donalds in Aberdeen building their own cinema empires. Until the talkies arrived in the 30s. sound was provided by an organ or. in the grander cinemas. a full orchestra. But sound was not the only technical constraint: film reels were only ten minutes long. so the projectionist was kept busy. Nor was it
completely safe. The film was so highly inflammable that the trembling spool boys
carrying film between cinemas were not allowed on the trams.
According to popular mythology. it was possible to pay for the pictures with jamjars during World
8 The List 5-18 Apr 1996
End oi an era: Govan cinema was one of 98 Glasgow cinemas before World War il
War II. ‘1 never knew that.‘ counters Bill .\lunn. manager of the New Picture House in St Andrews. who made his first trip to the cinema in 193*) to see llopalong (‘assidy ‘You could get money for your
jam jars in the greengrocers. With a jam iar getting
you a penny. you could maybe get enough money for the pictures because you could get in for sixpence. but 1 never knew anybody actually paying with iam iarsf
The rise of television after the war made its inroads into cinema-going. (‘incmas which might have shown two or eyen three films a week cut their programme back to one and. when cinemas began to convert to several auditoria. films would
Ye shall not . . .
Bill Munn spent several years in Stornoway. first as chief projectionist. then as manager. He recalls the influence of the church on the cinema.
‘ hen we showed Lady Chatterler Lover. the churches were really upset because we were bringing the garbage of New York and
London to Stornoway. A few years later. we showed The Ten Commandments. Of course, it spread like wild-tire round the town and some minister said that. on the Saturday. there would be a fire in the cinema and a young boy would be killed — scare-mongering 1 think you’d call it.
‘Anyway. it came to Saturday and the cinema was empty for those times, only half full. and folk were sitting on the edges of the seats. It so happened that it was a wild stormy night and the lifeboat was called out. they set off a maroon to let the people know. but the wind brought it over the top of the cinema and it burst with a bang. it was exactly at the scene where Moses was getting the
run for more than a week. Cinema audiences continued to fall and cinemas converted into bingo balls. The lowest point came in the early 80s when the ()deon chain closed 2‘) cinemas in Scotland. The arrival of the much maligned multiplex was the force which turned the industry around. The first in Scotland was the DO Clydehank. opened in 1984 against the lowest ever audience figures. 'l‘raditionalists might argue that the multiplex and its half-sibling. the multi-scrcen conversion. do not have the same appeal as a local fleapit with its chummy seats. lug-filled auditoria and continuous shows. but they have undoubtedly brought Scottish cinema-going into the modern age.
Bill Munn: remember: a heady mix of religion and cinema
Commandments on stone, with the ﬁre and brimstone all over the place, and this thing happened at the same time. Everybody stampeded out of the cinema.
‘There‘s a man in Dundee who's still got the cuttings out of the paper from it yet.’
Bil! Mum: is manager of the New Picture Home in St Andrews.