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Tuesday, 2 March 2021  |  Admin

Stanley Livingstone Russell, a Glaswegian born in 1905, had trained in law. His passion however was film making.  With Jack Robertson and others, Russell formed the Meteor Film Producing Society in 1932 and became its Secretary. Through Meteor, they organised the Scottish Amateur Film Festival. First held in 1933, it claimed not only to be the first of its kind in Scotland, but also the world.

Emboldened by the success of his hobby, amateur cinema, he decided to move into professional film making. At the time, it was said of Russell, that with his good-looks, tall stature and snappy dress-sense, he could have been a film star- but his  passion for film  lay behind the camera.  In May 1936, he joined inventor and entrepreneur Malcolm Irvine’s production company Scottish Films. The company, established in 1928, with studios in Glasgow’s India Street  had started out to make silent films, but the advent of ‘talkies’ soon afterwards had hit the young company hard.  Irvine had designed and built a sound recording system to enable Scottish Films to compete in the new world of talking pictures.  However work on his home made system, Albion Truphonic, and the associated costs of re-equipping for sound production had slowed the production of films.  Russell’s appointment was designed to  re-energise the company.

Tuesday, 2 March 2021  |  Admin

As the curtain fell under the shadow of war at the end of a wonderful season at Covent Garden, the London Philharmonic Orchestra faced up to voluntary liquidation. At a liquidation meeting held at the Holborn Restaurant in September 1939, a fortnight after the outbreak of war, Sir Thomas Beecham explained that there was no funding to pay the players’ fees or creditors, but the players, led by Thomas Russell, pledged to keep the Orchestra together and manage it themselves. With the blessing of Sir Thomas, the musicians formed a new company with themselves as shareholders and elected a Board of Directors. (Beecham does not appear in the re-enactment of the meeting in the film, as he had departed for  the United States in 1940.) Viola player Thomas Russell became Secretary and Business Manager of the new company and they resolved to promote the Orchestra themselves and to seek their own engagements. I first learned about this film from archivist David Meeker who had worked with the British Film Institute.

Tuesday, 2 March 2021  |  Admin

Venus Peter was chosen for the "Un Certain Regard" showings at the Cannes Film Festival in 1989. Young Peter's world is populated with magical thoughts and fantasies, as he grows up with his wise, old grandfather (Ray McAnally), a fisherman, in the Orkney Islands during the 1950s. Based on the novel A Twelvemonth and a Day by Christopher Rush.

Tuesday, 2 March 2021  |  Admin

The question “Who owns the land?” lies at the heart of writer John McGrath’s classic 1973 play The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil. But to appreciate the remarkable sense of political power and urgency with which this work poses that query, we might also ask ourselves who or what owns the play. After all, the cast of director John Mackenzie’s 1974 BBC TV adaptation includes both professional actors and hourly-paid oil riggers; historical reconstruction rubs shoulders with contemporary documentary interview; human tragedy and brutality alternates with music hall vitality and hilarity; a performance that talks about the past also has a lot to say about the present. At the levels of content and form alike, The Cheviot has a strong claim to be the most provocative, intelligent and enjoyable screen representation of post-1746 Highland history ever made.

Tuesday, 2 March 2021  |  Admin

In 1949, when The Gorbals Story was filmed, cinema audiences were familiar with Scotland as a land of history and romance, with wild landscapes, populated by wilder natives, who talked in some unintelligible, often comic dialect, and by dashing heroes and beautiful heroines, who spoke with reassuringly cut-glass English accents. David Niven had wrapped himself in tartan the previous year as Bonnie Prince Charlie. Brigadoon was a hit on Broadway and the London West End and a film version would soon be delighting audiences around the world.

The Gorbals Story presented a very different image of Scotland. It was set not in the heathery Highlands or misty Islands, but in the slums of Glasgow. Its characters were not Jacobite princes or  young romantics seeking love and a simpler way of life, and liquor was not merely a comic plot device. Its characters were the men and the women packed together in the teeming tenements just south of the Clyde, sharing their living space with rats whose presence in the bed may offer some warmth on a cold night, according to one character.

Tuesday, 2 March 2021  |  Admin

The Brave Don't Cry (1952), a reconstruction of the mining disaster at Knockshinnoch Castle Colliery Ayrshire in 1950, dramatises the tense events of the rescue of miners trapped underground after a pit shaft was flooded and nine men were lost.

In September 1950, the walls of Knockshinnoch Castle Colliery cave in under a sudden surge of water, trapping 118 men underground. The only escape route is through a series of abandoned tunnels filled with toxic gas. Without enough time to pump out the gas, a dangerous rescue plan is formed by mine inspector John Cameron (John Gregson) and miner's wife Margaret Wishart (Meg Buchanan). With limited breathing equipment on hand, the miners must make their way up to the surface three at a time. The film features actors from the Glasgow Citizen's Theatre. The film was premiered under its new title at the Edinburgh Film Festival in August 1952, and also shown at the Venice Film Festival that year.

Tuesday, 2 March 2021  |  Admin

Seawards the Great Ships (1960) was the first Scottish made film to win an Oscar, for best Live Action Short Film of 1961. The film paid tribute to the internationally recognised achievements of Clyde shipbuilding. It was released at the beginning of a decade that was to see the River Clyde's long established predominance in world shipping slip into financial decline and human disillusionment - a decade that was to end with government rescue packages and the emotive years of the UCS 'work-in' - a workers' occupation of the yards in the fight to prevent their closure.

Monday, 1 March 2021  |  Admin

Many years ago I purchased from the United States a VHS video starring my favourite Western actor Randolph Scott. The title was Abilene Town, made in 1946, but sadly the picture quality was very poor, scratched, dark and worn, probably from a 16 mm library print, but the performances of Scott and his co-star, another childhood favourite Rhonda Fleming in her first Western, were brilliant.

After some research I discovered that the producing company, Jules Levey had closed down in the late 1940s. More research uncovered the original camera negatives and I had a high definition transfer produced from a 35 mm fine grain print made from these negatives.


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