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Archives for March 2011

End of an era

Pauline McLean | 15:26 UK time, Tuesday, 29 March 2011

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It's fair to say that an era is coming to an end at the Scottish Screen archive, when curator Janet McBain steps down.

To many people, Janet McBain is the Scottish Screen archive: the face on television when a new piece of film is found, the person providing the introductions at special screenings in cinemas.

Originally appointed as part of a job creation scheme, her first task was to sift through the films in the collection - rather modestly housed in a garden shed behind the Scottish Film Council headquarters in Glasgow.

Her second task - every bit as important - was to begin a public appeal for more films.

"There had been a film archive in London since the 1930s and we knew there was a lot of film out there, but I think many of them were loathe to hand anything over if it ended up hundreds of miles away in London," she recalls.

"People were coming forward saying I've had this for years and didn't know who to give it to.

"We just tapped a nerve and loads of stuff came from shelves and attics and factories and cinemas."

Within six months, the archive had 4,000 cans of film and had to move it from the shed into a basement.

Much of the footage was amateur - giving a real sense of Scottish life through the 20th century.

From the Lochgelly pensioners off on an outing in the 1930s to the colour footage from Musselburgh as the whole community sends off the fishermen for the herring season, the strength of the collection remains the real people it features.

That, says Janet McBain, remains the thrill.

"When you go out to give talks and the lights go down and you see people enjoying these films after all this time," she says.

"And to think I had a hand in preserving that film so another generation could enjoy it."

Some films continue to elude her.

Hunting Tower, the 1920s film which starred Sir Harry Lauder has been on her radar since 1976.

The discovery of a short piece of archive showing crowds waiting in Glasgow for Lauder at the film's premiere gives them hope that one day the film itself will be recovered.

A lot has changed in the past decade. Scottish Screen is no more so the Scottish Screen Archive now comes under the auspices of the National Library of Scotland.

The archive headquarters are no longer in the west end of Glasgow, but on an industrial estate in Hillington.

Technology has changed dramatically too.

"In the old days, if someone wanted to see a piece of film, you brought them in, sat them down in front of a Steenbeck player and played them the original film - if it was available.

"Nowadays, you can see almost any film in any part of the world at the click of a mouse.

"Technology has really revolutionised the access we can provide to the collection."

But it's also brought new problems. Video - which makes up a chunk of the collection - is difficult to preserve.

Maintaining a digital film collection will be expensive and time consuming. But Janet can leave that to her successor Ruth Washbrook and the rest of the team.

She and her colleague Annie Docherty - who started on the same day in 1976 - once claimed they'd seen every film in the archive.

Thirty five years later, with more than 32,000 films in the collection, that's less likely but as both leave this week, they can be proud of their role in preserving Scotland's film heritage.

Good luck to them both in whatever they choose to do.

Traditional outcome

Pauline McLean | 11:29 UK time, Tuesday, 15 March 2011

So as one observant correspondent predicted on this blog just a few weeks ago, the closure of Plockton School of Traditional Music has been averted in the nick of time.

Education minister Michael Russell galloped in this morning with a cheque for £200,000 for 2012/2013 and 2014/2015 when the facility had expected to close.

The deal is based on a partnership with the West Highland College UHI (University of the Highlands and Islands) and on a number of cost-cutting measures which would save the centre up to £50,000 a year.

If the college agrees, and accepts the grant, it would then run a national certificate in traditional music.

And what about Highland Council, whose withdrawal of their £300,000 annual funding, caused all the hoohah in the first place?

They must still approve the new agreement, and may still have their share of responsibility for the centre.

Highland Council leader Michael Foxley says the whole situation has been positive - showing the extent of the support for the centre, including an internet petition, and a noisy campaign by musicians and music lovers across the world.

Many of those supporters will now be asked to put their money where their mouths are, to support the continuing upkeep of the centre.

Speaking on Good Morning Scotland today, Mr Foxley said the campaign had thrown up lots of previously overlooked options for funding, including weekend staffing and travel costs. A silver lining amongst a lot of black clouds.

And while a cause for celebration in the traditional music world, you can't help wondering whether the wider and more aggressive cuts to music and arts education across the country will be as much of a cause celebre.

Or indeed as simple to resolve.

Hidden Mackintosh frieze

Pauline McLean | 21:25 UK time, Thursday, 10 March 2011

Charles Rennie Mackintosh is an unlikely knight in shining armour, galloping to the rescue of the Glasgow Art Club.

As a young apprentice, he applied for membership and was turned down.

Then his carefully crafted wall frieze - of purple swirling thistles on a sage green background - was plastered over by club members at the turn of the 20th century. Why?

Theories abound but perhaps the frieze overshadowed the work hanging on the gallery walls?

Charles Rennie Mackintosh frieze

Artist's impression of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh frieze

James MacAulay, who recently published a biography of Mackintosh, wonders if the artists who ran the club simply didn't look after it well enough.

"Artists aren't known for their level of care and once it was damaged by water, they may have thought it easier just to paint over," he says.

Wouldn't anyone have protested?

"Mackintosh wasn't widely liked in Glasgow art circles, so I don't think they would have cared too much."

Add to the mix the fact that his colleague John Keppie, who was a member of the Glasgow Art Club, may have had a strained relationship with Mackintosh - professionally and personally (Mackintosh broke off an engagement to his sister Jessie) and you begin to see why no one stepped up to save the frieze from a layer of plaster.

Design rescued

More than a century later, it's a different story. According to recent research, the frieze is still carefully preserved beneath the plasterwork.

It can't be removed without further damage but the details of the design have been rescued and it's hoped the club can recreate the simple A/B pattern on top of the existing plasterwork.

"It would put us on the Mackintosh trail," says the club's Vice President Connie Simmer. "People would come from all over the world to see that."

It may also help the club's attempts to modernise for the 21st Century with a £1m makeover. They still have £200,000 to raise - and are hopeful that the frieze and plans to throw their doors open to the public will help with that.

Meanwhile, the original frieze will remain dormant beneath the plasterwork - at least until techology develops.

"The reason for stopping where we are is we could cause damage, says Ranald MacInnes, Principal Inspector for Historic Scotland.

"It's possible we will develop the technology which will allow us to bring back this frieze without damaging it. Not now, but perhaps in the future."

Gray mural goes digital

Pauline McLean | 12:43 UK time, Friday, 4 March 2011

Food and art have always been interlinked in the Glasgow restaurant, The Ubiquitous Chip.

It was there in 1971 that a 26-year-old Alasdair Gray turned a blank wall into a canvas, famously accepting food and drink, rather than cash, as payment.

So when the restaurant wanted to mark its 40th birthday with a new artwork, he seemed the obvious person to ask.

Except that, instead of a static mural, painted onto the walls, the restaurant now had more ambitious plans.

"I imagined deer galloping through the restaurant," says Carol Wright, who runs the restaurant with her partner, Colin Clydesdale.

"Animals interacting with the diners as they ate their food. It was one of those conversations you have after a glass of wine and everyone thought it was a bit mad and then we realised there were people who could help us actually do it."

The people, in this case, were event producer Neil Butler of UZ and digital artist Deborah Norton.

Deer proved impossible, but alongside the real pond is a digital rock pool. Dip your fingers in and the fish circle.

During courses, diners put on 3D glasses and salmon leap through the restaurant. Morag the Highland cow heralds the arrival of the beef course (no room for sentiment here!).

There's no dramatic unveiling. The Alasdair Gray mural - a digital work which takes up a whole wall of the restaurant - is revealed slowly through the course of the evening.

Last night's opening night was a low-key event, with the creators in the midst. There's no formality, no-one announces when to put on the 3D glasses - but every so often, someone spots activity and the whole restaurant follows suits.

This is of course a neighbourhood well used to eating, and indulging in artistic pursuits at the same time.

Oran Mor has successfully offered theatre at lunch and dinner and every meal in between.

And art in restaurants is not unusual, except in this case when it's interacting with the customers.

It's also Gray's first foray into digital art, and, if he seems unconvinced by the process, he thinks the final result "should be entertaining".

Deborah Norton says she tried to develop a process which allowed Gray to work in ways in which he was familiar, controlling colour and shape before adding it to the projection.

For Gray, it's not that new. "To me, it's just lanterns, transformed into slides and projected onto the wall," he says.

"I wish we had more time to concentrate on that, without other projects, but we did what we could and I think it's quite good. People will be entertained by it, I think."

Up to 70 diners a night are expected to sample the work with their dinner between now and the end of March.

Carol is aware it won't appeal to everyone, but she says they're keen to try something new, which continues their long-running interest in art.

And the benefit of a digital mural is that it's not fixed to the wall. So there's every chance that the new artwork could be on display elsewhere in the near future.

Lord of Dance

Pauline McLean | 16:56 UK time, Tuesday, 1 March 2011

"Lads do football, or boxing or wrestling, not ballet", spits Gary Lewis, as the traditional father reprimanding his wayward son in the film Billy Elliot.

Wayward in as much as he's skipping football practice to gatecrash the neighbouring ballet class, where he discovers he's good at it.

Much has changed since that film, but perhaps not as much as you might think.

Matthew Bourne, whose all male Swan Lake ruffled feathers in the world of ballet some five years before, has done much to counteract the notion that ballet and dance is a largely female pursuit.

Through his own work, and that of his company New Adventures, he's provided plenty of inspiration in shows over the years, most recently a raunchy new adaptation of Dorian Gray for the Edinburgh International Festival.

But for the last year, he's been working quietly away in West Dunbartonshire with 500 boys aged between 12 and 21.

The project - a collaboration between Creative Scotland, Glasgow Theatres' Creative Learning Team, New Adventures, Re:Bourne and West Dunbartonshire Council, using £265,905 of lottery money - took as its starting point the William Golding novel, Lord of the Flies.

Workshops in media and dance examined the themes of the novel, and challenged the boys' perception that dance in general, and ballet in particular was for girls.

From those 500, 15 were selected to perform in a stage version of the book, which will receive its world premiere in Glasgow tomorrow.

This time it's set not on a desert island, but a deserted theatre, where the initial youthful organisation descends into darkness and chaos.

Some of the boys have danced before but others have never even been in a theatre, a tall order for the team preparing them for opening night.

Chibembo Bande says he enjoyed hiphop when he first encountered the project at a local youth centre.

He says the experience has shown him how disciplined dance can be. Duty calls though, and he has to catch up on his university degree before anything else.

Some of the younger participants have even bigger ambitions.

Twelve year old Paul Kenny says his friends told him to steer clear of ballet in case he "turned into a girl" but he's first to admit the rehearsals are tough, and the dancers from Bourne's company, even tougher. He's now considering dance as a career.

So is 13 year old Fraser Johnston, who was already breaking new ground in an all male dance group at his school.

He's still not convinced by traditional ballet but he's desperate to join Matthew Bourne's company. Only thing is, he can't do that till he's 16. Until then, he'll have to settle for appearing in one of the most eagerly anticipated dance productions of the year.

Lord of the Flies is at the Theatre Royal Glasgow, from March 2-5

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