Interview: David Bruce

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In the 1970s, the British Film Institute had a scheme called Outside London, a pot of money the idea of which was to spread the benefits of the National Film Theatre on the South Bank around the UK. The Scottish Film Council spotted that there was a good opportunity here. We already had a scheme to sort out a Glasgow Film Theatre on a plot of land in Woodside Terrace, next to the old Film Council offices. That scheme was fairly far advanced when, more or less out of the blue, George Singleton offered to sell the Cosmo to us. There was no doubt at all that the idea of inheriting the Cosmo and its reputation as ‘the working man’s education’ was, of course, irresistible.

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Our programming was much more radical than the Cosmo. The first film was Roma (dir. Federico Fellini, 1972), though the actual opening night film was Zardoz (dir. John Boorman, 1974). I don’t know how suitable a film it was - I don’t remember much about that – but the thing I do remember very much was that for some of us who’d come from other aspects of cinema (I started carrying the tripods for a documentary unit), actually having a cinema to play with, as it were, was wonderful. We ran into trouble with the critic from the Glasgow Herald, Molly Plowright, who didn’t think that we were doing the right kind of programming for the people of Scotland, despite the fact that she lived in the South of England.

There were problems that nowadays must seem positively bizarre. For example, a lot of people assumed it was a kind of membership thing. There was a perception that it was exclusive, that it was some kind of society. Even two years later, you’d have people saying, ‘Oh, the GFT, we must join.’ The other thing was that this was the first cinema that banned smoking. For the first months, maybe even a year, you would see the cigarette burns on the carpet and people had simply to be educated that you didn’t smoke, because at that stage you went to the cinema to smoke. Cinema screens had to be replaced fairly frequently because they got discoloured by the nicotine and our screen lasted longer because there was no smoking at the GFT.

In the event, the Cosmo audience did come back and it wasn’t such a problem. In fact, our audience started pretty well and built. GFT was regarded as the cinema where the single woman could most comfortably go. It was a place where everybody felt very friendly. You know, the cinema is a dark place - there was no sense of threat to anybody there, it was always very comfortable, whoever you were. It was inclusive and warm, in all senses, I think, and that’s something we were quite proud of. And of course, the wonderful thing is that GFT has been [the GFT] longer than the Cosmo was the Cosmo. And that I think is remarkable and rather wonderful.

As told to Sean Welsh