Rosie Beattie explores Glasgow’s love for the silver screen
I have a confession. Despite being in my fourth year of Film Studies, until recently I had never seen Citizen Kane, or 2001, A Space Odyssey, two of the most highly regarded films of all time. Films like this are mentioned countless times in lectures and academic texts with the assumption that anyone who studies film has come out the womb with a knowledge of Kubrick and Welles. With the exciting current film culture of pop-up cinemas and new releases sparking fascinating societal debates, I must admit to having dismissed some of the oldies. What I have found recently, however, is that holding out on watching the classics on the big screen is well and truly worth it.
Luckily for me, the Glasgow Film Theatre, celebrating cinema both old and new, does just that. In amongst new indie and foreign films, the GFT regularly screen the cinematic greats. In the last couple of weeks, I have seen The Birds (Hitchcock, 1963), Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941) and 2001, A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968). Going into each of these films I felt a mixture of excitement and dread. What if I found these films incredibly boring? Or what if I didn’t “get” it? Fortunately, this was not the case. It proved to be more than just going to see some old films. Instead, it was like catching up on some of American cinema’s most prominent achievements in the space of only several days.
What struck me most about the films was that despite being made pre-digital era, the visual effects and cinematography remain some of the most innovative to date. It was a reminder that cinema is more than a good story or even entertainment; it is also something that can be stunning to look at. You can see and appreciate how and why the films have had a technical impact that has stuck through time. The directors of these films clearly pushed the boundaries, using seemingly impossible camera angles and effects, without the aid of CGI. The experience is jarring. It seems unlikely that films that are decades old present to you something you’ve never seen before in cinema. You’re watching the film for the first time, yet some moments are so iconic it feels familiar.
You’ll have heard this a thousand times from film snobs like me but I will say it anyway. Unless you have a decent home cinema (and not just a cheap projector and a bed sheet) the classics are experienced best in the cinema. The difference is that in the cinema you can better appreciate that you’re watching something that shaped and influenced many films that came after. Had I tried to watch any of these at home I may have fallen asleep or gotten distracted by the constant buzz of my phone. There is a definite pleasure in re-discovering cinema in a way. In the cinema, the film is the only focus, which can be incredibly relaxing compared to watching on a laptop which does little to transport you outside reality. Regardless of the prominence of streaming platforms, I have no doubt that going to the cinema remains an incredibly popular and exciting event for many people in Glasgow. For instance, Citizen Kane shown in 35mm was absolutely packed, showing that Welles’ best-known film is continuing to captivate and intrigue audiences.
Finally, the cinema is a shared experience. There is something special about sitting in an audience knowing you are about to see something great for the first time while someone else is seeing it for the tenth. Glasgow’s community of cinephiles is truly at home in screenings like this. With the classics, there is perhaps something for everyone. Highly regarded cinema encompasses various genres, themes and filmmakers. So, if you do decide to get around to watching the classics, watch them on the big screen, in the dark, with no distractions.