Glasgow has always been a city in love with cinema. Since the 1930s the city has borne the proud title of ’Cinema City,’ a testament to the 130 cinemas (more, per capita, than any city outside of the USA) catering for film-obsessed Glaswegians during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Sadly, all but a couple have been demolished or redeveloped into Bingo Halls, Social Clubs and, on one occasion, an Adult Cinema — itself an eventual casualty of changing tastes and advancements in home entertainment that destroyed its more noble predecessors.
For cinemagoers who need substantially more than vegetarian vampires and excruciating romantic comedies with indistinguishable female leads (who could be Goldie Hawn’s daughter, or that ’mean girl’ who went on to crash weddings, or maybe it’s that one from Friends with the hairdo), there exists, amidst the plethora of multi-plexes that now dominate the city-scape, a little picture house in the city centre that has for the past 36 years provided a cultural life-raft to the more discerning film fan.
Glasgow Film Theatre, or GFT as it’s more commonly known, takes pains to insist that it’s not exclusively an ’art house’ cinema, it has been ‘leading the way in specialised cinema for 36 years — from art house cinema to late night cult screenings and from classics back on the big screen to independent documentaries, there’s something for everyone at GFT.’
So, it was with an enormous sense of pride, overwhelming elation and some genuine surprise that I learned of GFT’s intention to include in their Film Festival the work of one of the most important creative forces in the history of film musical and a man I have adored all my life. It strikes me now as I write this that I shouldn’t have been at all surprised. Glasgow is the most obvious city in the UK in which to hold a Gene Kelly Festival: he did, after all, visit the city in 1953 (right) while scouting locations for the film Brigadoon (he visited the Trossachs, Burns Country [south Ayrshire] and the Borders), and if that link isn’t tenuous enough to make my point, how about this one? His Irish Grandfather fled to Dunfermline in Fife where he borrowed money before embarking on his trip to the USA… All Celts together.
Initially, I was astonished that the BFI in London was not screening a similar festival until it suddenly dawned on me that you simply can’t have a Gene Kelly Festival in England: I hold the romantic notion dear to me that, like everybody of Celtic heritage, while maintaining all possible civilities with our overlords from the south, Gene still harboured for them an affectionate mistrust, a friendly suspicion and a genial resentment.
The Glasgow Film Festival has always been overshadowed by its more renowned east coast equivalent, although recent reports suggest that the Edinburgh Film Festival is dwindling in popularity while ours grows from strength to strength and that, quite frankly, is precisely how it should be. The decision to screen a Gene Kelly retrospective to commemorate the centenary of the great man’s birth prompted me to cast my eyes skywards and breathe a silent “thank you” — no small feat for an atheist. Finally, this lifelong Gene fan would get to see some of the films that have helped shape and define the person he is…
Let the festivities commence…