‘Film is the only art whose birthday is known to us.’
(Bèla Balàzs, Theory of the Film, 1945)
Welcome to the Early Cinema in Scotland project’s website. As the project enters its final stage, this site is being re-developed to provide access to the research the team has gathered. The new website will feature maps, essays, images of primary sources, full access to the filmography and to a database documenting places, people and organisations connected with the emergence of cinema in Scotland.
About the Early Cinema in Scotland research project
The central aim of the project is to produce a comprehensive account of the early development of cinema in Scotland. Where were the early films shown; who by and to whom? In what ways did cinema, within thirty years, become a major cultural form? How were the expectations of cinema defined; what social, cultural and aesthetic values were ascribed to it; and how was the experience of cinema described in the press and other sources?
This will be the first major attempt to bring together systematically a range of resources and archive records on the beginnings of cinema in Scotland. It will cover production, distribution, exhibition and reception in order to understand the 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.’
The popularity of cinema in Scotland is legendary. Purpose-built cinemas began to appear in 1910, and by 1920 there were more than 500 cinemas in Scotland. In the same period, internationally, over 150 films have clearly identified Scottish themes: Bonnie Prince Charlie, Rob Roy, Mary, Queen of Scots, Annie Laurie. By 1922, there were already four versions of The Little Minister, three produced in the US and one in the UK. Against this background, however, the absence of feature films produced in Scotland is striking. In a period from 1915 to 1930, when the Irish Filmography lists around thirty Irish-produced fiction films, the Scottish record currently contains six.
This disparity – between the popularity of cinema and the production of feature films; between the international market for Scottish stories and the apparent absence of a domestic industry that might sustain their production – points to a key element in the research.
Distinctively, the Early Cinema in Scotland project will consider cinema not simply as an urban phenomenon of the major cities in the early twentieth century, but as a widely distributed entertainment in small towns and rural communities: ‘shows’, ‘local topicals’ and ‘actualities’, appearing in fairgrounds, village halls, libraries, skating rinks and purpose-built cinemas from Lerwick and Kirkwall to Campbeltown and Dumfries .
Internationally, the project will contribute to research in early film history, and to the historical, social and cultural understanding of a period when cinema was defining its place as a dominant form of culture.