Filmhouse has been a place of significant dates for me. My first night in Scotland was spent here on my birthday, which was the day of devolution. A few years later, it was where I spent my first night as a citizen of Caledonia. It was where I attended my first film festival. It was also where I saw my last film as denizen, and the last film I’ve seen to date in Edinburgh.
There are other more personal occasions. Some of what a cinema means to me is too personal to write here.
That’s why cinemas are so important to me, and why the act of film going features so prominently in my just published novel. It’s not only the films and their effect on you, but the reminder – as benchmark as well as mnemonic – of what was happening in my life. It’s a place where relationships are charted, a beginning, turning and end point. Seeing a film here was the last I saw of a friend: she walked out – whether it was the film or us, we never found out.
At the time, I felt quickly disillusioned with Filmhouse – now I rather miss it.
I have never seen a bad film here. By that, I don’t meant that I enjoyed everything or approved of everything but that everything that Filmhouse shows is appropriate to a film house: it shows the fare it’s publicly funded to, ie arty things which you don’t see in the ‘plexes. And that’s more than I can say of many arts cinemas.
No blockbusters, plenty of foreign language, quirky, independents, sprinkled with docs, classics and shorts. It also hosts the 80 year old Edinburgh Film Guild. It does interesting add ons – such as showing Trumbo alongside the films he penned secretly when blacklisted.
Edinburgh is the joint best city I’ve lived in for cinema. It has three artsy ones, and three mainstream ones, all in walking distance of the middle. (It has three more multiplexes – one in Leith, and two on either wings of the outskirts). That gives 79 screens. Yes I counted.
The Cineworld at Fountainbridge – once the land of Sean Connery’s milkrounds – supports the city’s large film festival (now in June) and shows some less usual films all year – I saw indie Primer here. There’s little to say about the Vue at Omni(ous) centre at the head of Leith Walk; the old style Odeon on Lothian Rd has lost its 30s features but recently gained a pizza restaurant in its foyer. You can also watch films on a bed on a pull down screen in a pub.
The other two cinemas – the Cameo and Dominion – will get their own slot.
Edinburgh’s the only city I’ve lived in with two multiscreen arts cinemas – I think it may be the only one, not counting London. And in Edinburgh, they are in the same road (not by address) – and with another semi indie cinema about a mile further along. So 10 arts screens, 3 cinemas, serious festival, and a not bad for a multiplex – and the most screens in one city in Britain – yes I’ve a chart.
Filmhouse is one of the oldest arts cinemas, hailing from the 1940s when it and the festival were established. Thirty years later, it left Randolph Crescent for its current home, in a former chapel, now part of a cluster of well recognised arts venues.
Filmhouse often feels like the unofficial national film theatre for Scotland, and perhaps with the exception of Glasgow’s Film Theatre and its new sister in Aberdeen, it’s a claim which is unrivalled.
It has a shop with interesting DVDs you often don’t see in HMV, and an atmosphere of the serious film buff.
Some years ago, Timeout said that the staff are slightly po faced. In the cafe maybe – but I recall the very kind and attentive man at the box office who remembered about a film I’d asked about months earlier. I wasn’t even in his queue and he called over and told me that the film was now here!
I love that Cameo and Filmhouse have some kind of programming relationship, in that, despite being independent of each other, they don’t overlap. Hence Edinburgh’s central screens offer a wide choice. Filmhouse has a “maybe you missed” strand which lets you catch up with new releases a couple of months later, which is useful.
Its main auditorium is the old chapel. You ascend to what would’ve been the gallery, where I expected to be handed a Grace hymnbook, but instead, staff give you a synopsis of the film. This is always a sign of a quality independent. It’s quite a large, high, pillared room but there’s little leg space which means that those who arrive late but want to push past to the best seats make others stand.
I recall some of the worst behaviour by patrons here of all my cinema going.
This screen is used for the new releases. And I’m glad to say, these are all the thoughtful end of mainstream, or the more popular end of arts – no Star Wars or Ab Fab here. The BFG is where it belongs – in the kiddie strand, which wittily used to be called “Wean’s World” (‘wean’ is pronounced ‘Wayne’).
But the second and third screens – used for the various themes and festivals which make Filmhouse’s programming rich and special – are too small. I was always sorry to see a film here. I truly don’t remember anything epic being put on here, but the experience felt quite different and disappointing. It’s whilst living in Edinburgh and being a regular here that I formulated my single screen theory.
The bar is the place where things go a little wrong. It’s the space that some churches have carved out for themselves as their cafe under the gallery, behind the foyer. But it’s not big enough for the amount of people who want to use it, and something’s not right about the décor. No I’m not wanting a fad-of-the-second style lounge, but this isn’t quite old fashioned in a a good way, and nor is it arty, like the cinema itself. They’ve an interesting menu, supporting the full range of vores – herbi, carni, non gluten, etc. Prices can be little high.
Sadly, the ticket prices have zoomed up. I felt quite smug that the two arts cinemas kept – I presumed – each other’s prices down. Now they’re both a tenner and I’m a bit sorry that 3D is mentioned – what would Filmhouse show in 3D? Caves of Forgotten Dreams and Pina those are the only arts 3D films I know of. I’d be sorry to think that blockbusters had snuck in.
They have – the BFG is showing in the evenings! And for a fortnight!
Oh Filmhouse, you were my last bastion of hope that a FILMHOUSE was not movie theatre. Cinema for grownups. Even your kiddie films had angst – such as March of the Penguins, which seemed to be the main diet of broadsheet readers’ bairns.
I am sorry that the monthly brochure’s format, which has been the same for at least 10 years, has just shrunk. I liked that they had space to explore a film and describe it properly – I often liked to see what Filmhouse had to say, even if I knew I couldn’t attend there. Now the column on each film has become a short paragraph. In the introduction, they now try to suggest what to see… something’s going wrong here. Quick skim marketing – that’s not the Filmhouse I love!
My new novel – literally just published – is available from here
This is my second most visited cinema
Shortly, I’ll be back with the first – which is part of the novel directly