Archive for Edinburgh

Phantom Electric Theatres of Leith, Part 2

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 11, 2013 by dcairns

salon_edinburgh_sept_1977_gk

Our trawl around the ghost cinemas of Leith seemed to do Fiona good — or else it coincided with a period when she was starting to feel better. It gave an added purpose to going for a walk other than exercise and fresh air, and allowed us to look at familiar places in a fresh way. So we did it again.

Leith Walk is a big hill a mile long leading into town. We’d looked at the defunct cinemas on its lower stretch, so we headed further up to see what we could find. According to Brendon Thomas’ The Last Picture Shows: Edinburgh, there were once several cinemas along here — we used the book as our Baedeker, but also freely pillaged from the indispensable website, the Scotland Cinemas and Theatres Project, which is where I found the image above.

The Petit Paris is one of the most mysterious of all these vanished picture houses. Thomas supplies no address, only an area, Shrub Hill, which is rarely referred to anymore, outside of a bus stop reading “Shrub Place”. The theatre, originally named The New Electric Cinema, opened on Hogmanay 1908 “with staff dressed in Napoleonic costume.” The first film advertised was BLUEBEARD, but I’m unable to be sure which version — maybe the date is wrong on this Charles Ogle version?. Children, who were apparently encouraged to see this bloody story, received a free stick of “New Electric Rock” (rock: a tube of hard candy with a logo printed all the way through the centre). The cinema was either closed within a year, or else it burned down in 1912.

Nothing remains, even of the building which replaced it.

cine2 002

Further up, however, is the site of another cinema about which more is known, and the building still stands. Pringle’s Palace Roller Skating Rink was originally a veterinary college, then a cinema. It opened in that capacity in 1908, under the auspices of one Ralph Pringle, a Northerner who got bit by the movie bug while touring with his Animatograph (sample Animatograph titles: AN OPERATION IN A DENTIST’S CHAIR and AN AMERICAN LYNCHING SCENE. All very mondo).

atmospheric

Atmospheric interior.

At one point, it had what I consider the most beautiful of all Edinburgh cinema names — The Atmospheric Picture Palace. Later it was Millicent Ward’s Studio Theatre, The Repertory Theatre, The Festival Theatre, The Broadway and finally The Gateway, run by the Church of Scotland. They opened it in 1946 with OUR TOWN, supported by the Ken Annakin short WE OF THE WEST RIDING.

And then it was acquired by Scottish Television to use as a studio, then I think Queen Margaret’s college had the run of it, and now it’s been turned into apartments, still preserving the Gateway name. But think how much better if they had been called The Atmospheric Apartments! Still, those lucky tenants, passing through the carbon-charged air once stabbed by a smoky projector beam!

A side street on the right as you ascend Leith Walk, Annandale Street now contains no trace of the mighty Olympia, adapted from a roller rink in 1912. It sat 1,800 — a vast size even then, and proved unprofitable, switching to circus shows a few years later.

At the very top of the walk is Baxter’s Place, and this was home to what my Dad dubs “a flea-pit,” naturally known as The Salon (see top), now a burnt-out shell concealed within a woodchip box. I caught up with this one on  a separate outing, since it isn’t mentioned in Thomas’s book. Walking in the area, I bumped into my friend Graham Dey, and he pointed it out to me, reminiscing the while on an epic early seventies screening of THE LAST VALLEY which marked him for life. I believe it was the site of my parents’ disastrous second date — THE VIRGIN SPRING is not recommended to courting couples.

Diversion — a right turn onto Broughton Street immediately presents us with the site of the Theatre Royal, which ran summer season films shows until it closed in 1946. Demolition took place in 1960. Carrying further down would take us to Rodney Street, where another cinema formerly stood –

ritz_rodney

The Ritz was all-talking from the start, opening in 1929 with THE SINGING FOOL. It closed in 1981, so why don’t I remember it? I don’t think I was ever there. It’s the true lost cinema of my life.

Back to Leith Walk, which ends in a big roundabout, and we get The Playhouse, a working theatre specialising in big musicals, and possibly still capable of showing movies. Edinburgh International Film Festival used it as a venue during the 80s and 90s, and Fiona and I attended a screening of the Lon Chaney PHANTOM OF THE OPERA with live orchestra conducted by Carl Davis.

Currently screening: Ghost, from the Swayze/Moore movie. Fiona points out that nearly all the shows playing are based on movies.

cine2 013

The Playhouse opened in 1929, having converted to sound as it was constructed — THE DOCTOR’S SECRET, starring Ruth Chatterton and based on a work by Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie, was the first film shown. By wild coincidence, today I randomly picked up a copy of Projections 2, the John Boorman/Walter Donohue movie publication, and here’s Sidney Gilliatt recalling that movie –

ds“Now it’s totally forgotten. I suppose it had little merit, but it completely fascinated me because it was a complete thing on its own. The lighting was different from what you got on silent films because of the incandescent lamps, which they used because of the soundtrack, and that gave it a different look. I still felt that talkies had nothing to do with art, but did have something very immediate. The audience felt a part of a whole new medium.”

I’d like to see THE DOCTOR’S SECRET, if anyone out there has a copy. It was directed by William C. DeMille, brother of the more celebrated Cecil, and featured sexy Jesus H.B. Warner.

Next to The Playhouse is The Vue, a modern multiplex, part of a mall, only a few screens, but one of them is a luxury cinema where you get served beer, like a PULP FICTION Dutchman. We saw THE NEW WORLD there, because it was the only cinema showing it. Very comfortable, but it still did little to change my view that a multiplex is not a cinema, it’s merely a place to see films.

This is no longer remotely Leith — Fiona and I walk on into the city centre, but that’s another story, for another day.

To Be Continued…

(Un)forgettable Ruins

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , on October 10, 2011 by dcairns

A panoply of ridiculously beautiful and talented people.

The Edinburgh-born musician Bert Jansch died this week — I didn’t really know anything about him, but by one of these weird coincidences that have been piling up around me lately, I’d been listening to the soundtrack for Roddy McDowell’s TAM LIN right before I saw his name as a trending topic on Twitter (anytime you see your name trending on Twitter, get your pulse checked because it probably means you’re dead). And I discovered only then that Jansch was a founding member of Pentangle who did the memorable, eerie, folky music for that odd film.

The country house is Traquair, not far from Edinburgh. So the movie relates to Jansch both musically and geographically.

I wrote about TAM LIN here.

And here are the Edinburgh bits of the film.

Alva Street, a Georgian New Town area… South Queensferry, with the Forth Bridge (as seen in Hitchcock’s THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS)…

Jansch is a fantastically influential guitarist, ripped off by all and sundry (but especially Jimmy Page). This article in The Guardian fills in useful backstory.

A Pentangle collection: Light Flight – The Anthology

The Sunday Intertitle: Hall of Usher

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , on November 7, 2010 by dcairns

A Halloween special last Saturday at Edinburgh’s grand Usher Hall (above) — The 1920 DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE (previously discussed here) was screened with live accompaniment from the Hall’s massive pipe organ, which towers above the screen. Last year it was PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, which of course was a very fitting choice. Maybe the audience for this kind of entertainment is building, because it was a sell-out show this year. Many of the punters came in ’20s dress, as per the invitation, which added a festive note. (Maybe next time they should show a movie SET in the ’20s so customers can compare their garb with those onscreen?)

Fiona and I, accompanied by Marvelous Mary, didn’t manage to accouter ourselves in period dress, but Fiona did don her special Halloween top –

Apart from the entire film being projected — on DVD — in the wrong aspect ratio (about 14:9 — not bad enough to be ruinous, but an unnecessary and rather dumb mistake) this was very enjoyable. The crowd started by chortling at every silent-movie mannerism or gesture, but by the time of the first murder, they’d realised, I think, that this was not really a tenable way to approach the movie, which gets pretty horrible…

The score was superb, that ominous rumble really affecting us at a gut level, and on the big screen it was possible to see more clearly the superimposed giant white spider which attacks Jekyll in a dream sequence: it not only symbolizes his evil side, it has Hyde’s face! I’d love to see this scene recreated in a modern version. Seems like a good idea for any dramatization of J&H to include a fantasy scene where the two halves meet and confront one another.

If they do this again next year, what movies would Shadowplayers suggest for screening?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 386 other followers