Aims and Objectives

In the context of a significant research gap not only in the history of British cinema, but in the social and cultural history of Scotland in the early years of the twentieth century, the main objectives of the research are:

  • To identify the distinctive features of the development of cinema and cinema-going in Scotland between 1896 and 1927.
  • To explain the apparent failure, despite the popularity of cinema-going in Scotland and the international appeal of Scottish stories, to develop indigenous and sustainable feature film production.
  • To identify in popular, press and critical discourses the ways in which the meanings and cultural significance of early cinema came to be understood in urban and rural Scotland.

The popularity of cinema in Scotland - and in Glasgow particularly - is legendary. Purpose-built cinemas begin to appear in 1910, and by 1920 there were 557 cinemas in Scotland. By 1929, according to the historian, Christopher Harvie, Glasgow had 127 cinemas. (In 2014, according to a report by Creative Scotland, there were 67 cinemas in Scotland, with 352 screens.) Green's Playhouse, opening in 1927 had a seating capacity of 4,368 and a full orchestra pit, and was, by repute, the largest cinema in the world outside the USA. In 1939, according to Bruce Peter, there were 'a staggering 114 picture houses in Glasgow with a seating capacity in excess of 175,000, more cinema seats per head than any other city in the world.'

Against this background, the absence of indigenous feature film production is striking. In a period from 1915 to 1930, when the Irish Filmography lists around thirty Irish-produced fiction films, the Scottish record contains around six. At the same time, as can be seen in the Filmography, over 200 films have Scottish themes, locations or characters. Most strikingly, there were four versions of The Little Minister, three of The Lady of the Lake, four Annie Lauries, numerous accounts of Young Lochinvar, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Rob Roy and Mary, Queen of Scots, and nine versions of ‘the Scottish play’, Macbeth, produced in France, Germany, Italy, England and the USA.

These disparities - between the popularity of cinema and the productions of films, and between the international market for Scottish themes and the absence of a market which might sustain indigenously produced Scottish narratives - provided the historical context for the research. Both the appeal of the imaginary Scotland, and the challenges of indigenous production, were addressed by the research.

The central aim of the project, however, was to research and produce a comprehensive account of the early development of cinema in Scotland and to bring together systematically a range of resources and archive records to detail the early decades of movie-going. It covers production, distribution, exhibition and reception in order to understand the cultural, social and economic place of cinema in the early years of the twentieth century: the phenomenon which Francesco Casetti describes as 'the popularization of modernity and the modernization of popularity.' (Casetti, ‘Filmic experience’, Screen v. 50, no. 1, 2009) While much of that early development will be common to other national cinemas, a historical understanding of the particular configurations of the rural and the urban in Scotland, and of the particular formations of Scottish cultural and literary history contribute to a more complex understanding of the cultural significance of the 'silent period'. While cinema in the 1910s and 1920s was increasingly shaped by global trends and the power of Hollywood, small-town cinemas maintained surprising levels of local diversity and ‘local topicals’ documented local lives in ways which still seem immediate.

Outcomes

From the beginning, it was the intention that the website would be a primary output. This was an attempt to capture the diversity of the data and to embed the research in a form that was dynamic, accessible and open-ended. We are pleased at the way the website has been used and grateful for the feedback – and new information – which we have received (a Harry Lauder "One Pun Note", for example, to advertise Huntingtower in Anstruther in 1929). We are also grateful for the opportunities which the website has given us to address local communities in, for example, Dumfries and Bonnybridge. We are particularly grateful to the Hippodrome Cinema in Bo’ness for the opportunity which they gave us to present papers to their audiences during the annual Silent Cinema Festival in 2013 and 2014. And we are grateful to schools who participated in our workshops on cinema during World War 1 throughout 2014.

Hard copies of the data which have been used to compile the website and to develop the research are now lodged in the Moving Image Archive of the National Library of Scotland. The data was also used by the restored Campbeltown Picture House to compile their website.

At the same time, while we have tried to make the website as comprehensive and as accessible as we can, we have also resorted to the traditional means of disseminating academic research. The website is complemented by a collection of essays by the research team in Early Cinema in Scotland edited by John Caughie, Trevor Griffiths and Maria Vélez-Serna (Edinburgh University Press, 2018), and by Trevor Griffiths’ The Cinema and Cinema-Going in Scotland, 1896-1950 (Edinburgh University Press, 2012). A full list of publications from the project is accessible under Outputs on this website.