JOHN Boorman, the distinguished British film director, has a CV that extends from the hard-boiled 1967 thriller, Point Blank, to Hell in the Pacific (1968), the Oscar-nominated Deliverance (1972), Excalibur (1981), The Emerald Forest (1985) and Hope and Glory (1987).

Back in May 1974, his latest film was Zardoz, an ambitious science fiction project that starred none other than Sean Connery, and Boorman flew to Glasgow to promote its Scottish premiere at the newly-opened Glasgow Film Theatre, on Rose Street, on the first of the month.

During his brief visit Boorman was interviewed by such film writers as the Glasgow Herald’s Molly Plowright and the Evening Times’s David Gibson. Critics generally were divided over the merits of the movie - but, still, it was a notable coup for the GFT and the Scottish Film Council to attract Boorman, and Zardoz, in the first place.

Newspaper advertisements for the GFT that May of 50 years ago list its inaugural screenings of several filmhouse classics: Federico Fellini’s Roma (“the director’s latest masterwork:), Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev, and François Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cent Coups (The 400 Blows), as well as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

The Herald: The GFT this month marks its 50th anniversaryThe GFT this month marks its 50th anniversary (Image: free)

The GFT this month marks its 50th anniversary with its customary flair, beginning with another showing of Roma, Fellini’s striking ode to the Italian capital.

The Rose Street venue has, in its own words, provided Glasgow with a window on the world, with top-quality foreign-language cinema being as central to its programming as it was central for its predecessor, the Cosmo.

This year is quite a year for anniversaries: not only is the GFT marking its half-centenary but it’s also 85 years since the Cosmo opened on May 18, 1939; and 2024 saw the 20th edition of the hugely popular Glasgow Film Festival.

The Cosmo came into being less than four months before the world was plunged into war. It was the second purpose-built arthouse cinema in the UK, and the last cinema to be built in Scotland before the outbreak of war. Renowned for its architecture and post-art deco interiors, the cinema was designed by James McKissack and WJ Anderson II. Its geometric windowless facade was influenced by the prominent Dutch modernist architect Willem Marinus Dudok. The building was B-listed by Historic Scotland in 1988.

At the official opening of the Cosmo, admiring references were made to the growth of a discriminating public taste in films.

The pioneering documentary-maker, John Grierson, observed that audiences “went shopping for films”, while Lord Nigel Douglas-Hamilton, chairman of the Scottish Film Council, who declared the cinema open, said he thought that the Cosmo would foster an appreciative public for its programmes in the west of Scotland.

The author of the ‘Editorial Diary’ in the Glasgow Herald reported: “If last night’s guests at the Cosmo constituted a specialised audience, they showed that they had not forgotten how to laugh at the same things which amuse patrons of common or garden cinema.


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“The Paramount news reel which introduced the well-chosen programme drew merriment when Il Duce [the Italian Prime Minister, Benito Mussolini] was shown speaking in his emphatic fashion into a stout row of no less than seven microphones.

“Emmett’s commentary in a study of the dandelion, in which he makes clever use of the language of the boxing-ring, made a hit, and the highly contrasted humours of the ‘Fox Hunt’ cartoons of Disney and of Hoppin and Gross were warmly appreciated”.

The first film to be shown at the Cosmo was Julien Duvivier’s French drama, Un Carnet de Bal. To the approval of the Glasgow Herald’s then film critic, other esteemed French movies would follow, including Le Patriote, La Grande Illusion, Katia, and La Mort du Cygne.

French cinema, the unnamed critic wrote, “is a homogeneous, adult cinema, and its best products vie with those of the other arts as expressions of the contemporary intelligence. Their chief characteristics are wit and wide human sympathy”. The critic added that the Cosmo was “the first of Scotland’s specialist cinemas”.

It’s difficult to encapsulate the many achievements of the GFT since it first saw the light of day fifty years ago. Countless film fans have fond memories of the sheer breadth of its programming over the years; for many, it’s the place where their tastes in film were extended further than they could have imagined.

In an interesting new article in The Skinny to mark the anniversary, Jamie Dunn observes that the GFT is all things to all people - “it’s a place of learning, it’s a place of community, it’s a place of worship”. Film-maker Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar, You Were Never Really Here) has said that she “grew up going to see movies in the GFT”; among the memorable films she saw there was Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1974 classic, Fear Eats the Soul.

The Herald: Zardoz with Sean ConneryZardoz with Sean Connery (Image: free)

Jamie Dunn’s own introduction to the GFT was “dragging a bunch of university pals along to a screening of Donnie Darko sometime in the early 00s, and I kept returning. It’s where I got my first taste of some of my favourite filmmakers like Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Agnès Varda and Jean Renoir; where I giddily watched the likes of The Warriors, Dawn of the Dead and The Thing at late-night screenings; where I attended Q&As with people like Mike Leigh, Lynne Ramsay, and Terence Davies; and where I danced in the aisles during Stop Making Sense …”

Dunn asked Allison Gardner, chief executive of Glasgow Film, for her favourite memory of her time at the GFT. “I think my favourite day at GFT was when we were doing audio descriptions for children who were blind,” she responded. She thinks it might have been the first Harry Potter movie: “In those days we did it live – Carol McGregor did the describing live from the projection booth! The look of sheer pleasure on their faces has always stayed with me and it inspires me to ensure we can share the love of cinema with everyone.”

The GFT’s 50th anniversary programme in May will, the cinema says, be studded with “films that have been hugely popular with audiences and have played a unique role in the history of GFT over the last five decades”. They include Cinema Paradiso, Jean de Florette, Manon de Sources, City of God, a Calamity Jane singalong, a special screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey on ‘unrestored’ 70mm, and an In Conversation event with ‘Scorsese on Scorsese’ editor Ian Christie.

May will also see the launch of a ‘£50 for 50’ campaign, in which supporters can donate £50 and thus “become part of GFT’s cinematic history and help shape the next 50 years of independent film”. In return, donors will be invited to a special screening and have their support recognised on screen.

The May programme sums up the never-ending appeal and the sheer pleasure of the GFT. As one patron said on the cinema’s Facebook page, surveying the list of 50th anniversary films: “I’ve hard copies of near all those (not Calamity Jane) but I might be tempted out for love of the venue”.

Viggo Mortensen admires the GFT, too. Speaking in March after it had staged the UK premiere of his new film, The Dead Don’t Hurt, during the Glasgow Film Festival, he described the GFT as the best setting in which he had watched the film in so far. “It wasn’t just that the audience was great, the space is very welcoming, very conducive to getting into the movie,” he said. “I’ve not seen the movie better or heard it better than we did yesterday”.