Scotland’s cinemas

The Hippodrome, Hope Street, Bo’ness, Scotland, which opened in 1912, is now a listed building, and re-opened as a cinema in 2009, from http://www.scottishcinemas.org.uk

The Scottish Cinemas and Theatres Project is a website dedicated to recording and archiving the historic cinema architectural heritage of Scotland. It also acts as a information resource on Scottish cinemas as a subject for social history. Supported by a network of volunteers, the website aims to provide a photographic and historical record of all surviving cinema buildings in Scotland, including those whose purpose and appearance have changed from when they were first cinemas.

This is a fine resource which shows the power of networking in building up a valuable resource collectively. It has a great deal to interest the silent film researcher, as many of the cinemas and former cinemas that it documents have histories that stretch back to our era. Unfortunately there’s no searching by year or time period, so you’ll just have to browse.

At the heart of the website is the Scottish Cinema Database. This contains details of over 1,130 cinemas from over 240 different places, well over half of which are illustrated by photographs (often of the building as it is now rather than in its heyday). As indicated, the database option itself is a little limited in that there is no browse option – one simply enters a keyword for searching across name, address, town, architect etc., with results refinable by all cinemas, surviving cinemas, demolished cinemas or open cinemas. This is fine if you know what you are looking for, but for most the A-Z option will be more helpful, while the website puts a special focus on the cinemas of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee. The information supplied varies widely, from a one-line description, to detailed, authoritative and well-illustrated accounts, including many historical images from the collection of the Scottish Screen Archive. Collectively the accounts document not only the rise and fall and sometimes rise again of the cinema as a place of entertainment, but the mutability of such urban spaces, as they move in social purpose from places of screen entertainment to become restaurants, garages, hotels, shops and banks. The unevenness of the data makes it of limited use for the systematic study of Scottish cinemas, since one would want consistency of dates, ownership, capacity etc., but as a general finding guide and social record it serves its purpose admirably.

The website also provides a selection of articles on cinema history, a section on listed cinemas and another on cinemas at risk (taken from Scotland’s Buildings at Risk register). There is a somewhat selective links page, and a section showing images of unidentified cinemas. There’s even a section which casts its eye further afield to include some cinemas elsewhere in the UK and worldwide.

All of which is a prompt for the Bioscope to produce a post which surveys cinema databases around the world. The team at Bioscope Towers is already working on it.

2 responses

  1. Thanks for the review, both the kind words and (very constructive!) criticisms.
    It’s actually very flattering that our site is being looked at as a potential academic resource; it started as very much just a hobby & niche interest, and has grown from there over the years.

    Many of the issues you raise – such as being unable to search by e.g. year haven’t been implemented purely because no-one has expressed an interest in being able to do such a thing before. The majority of our audience is folk wanting to look up the old cinemas they remember from their childhood in their home town.

    As for the uneveness of the data and amount of detail, sadly that’s very much down to the extremely varying amounts of information that’s available on these old buildings. The major towns and cities tend to have been fairly well researched in the past, so we have something to build on; the smaller and more out of the way places often the only info we have to go on is that there was a cinema there, sometime, somewhere.

    Of course, with more money, time and resources we could do a lot more… ;-)

    Gordon Barr
    info@scottishcinemas.org

  2. Hi Gordon,

    I think your site has high academic potential; indeed I was led to it after speaking with a PhD student who has been using it in her studies. It’s all the more impressive when something starts out as a ‘hobby’ but turns into something beyond recreational interest to have real documentary value. That’s why I picked on the data side of things, because of the potential I can see there, though I do understand the problems. I co-produced a database of cinemas myself, the London Project, for film venues in London pre-1915 (http://londonfilm.bbk.ac.uk) and know how much checking and cross-checking is need just to get the smallest fact right.

    Do keep going, and I hope money, time and resources somehow come your way to reward a fine enterprise.

    Luke

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