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“It’s back – by public demand!”

Lawrence Lettice’s first memory of the Filmhouse came 50 years ago when it operated out of 3 Randolph Crescent


When the Edinburgh Filmhouse closed its doors back in 2020, a significant and important part of Scotland’s arts culture, looked like coming to a shuddering halt.

Regular movie goers and serious cineastes were left shocked at how such a catastrophic situation could have happened in the first place. This after all, was the home of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, a major event known throughout the world.

Celluloid tears began to form around the eyes of moviegoers, at the prospect of Edinburgh being denied this hub of film culture; a venue so deeply embedded within the capital’s soul. With many voices praying that either the Scottish Government, or the Scottish Arts community, would arrive in the nick of time (much like the US Cavalry!) and save it from impending doom.

So, how did this all come about? Well, it was an inevitable gathering storm combining the after effects of Covid, a gradual and growing reduction in audiences, not forgetting the current cost of living crisis. All failing to keep this cinema alive in more austere times.

The administrators were quickly called in, the staff lost their jobs, and the steel shutters were crudely erected.

Rumours began to circulate around social media as to what the Filmhouse would eventually re-emerge as: a nightclub, a restaurant, a hotel, or lavish apartments? All told, a very sad day for those customers who frequented it out of love as a place that dealt in all aspects of cinematic art and teaching.

My first memories of the Filmhouse didn’t actually occur at Lothian Road. I go back almost 50 years ago when it operated out of a large new town house at 3 Randolph Crescent.

During that time my first film excursions within the building included the Brian DePalma rock musical Phantom of The Paradise, as well as a week-long retrospective on Sam Peckinpah. However, by 1979 the growing demands of serious Edinburgh film followers made a move to much larger premises all but inevitable. So, a larger more permanent home in Lothian Road was found and promptly occupied.

My first steps through the doors of the new building, saw me taking in Billy Wilder’s penultimate film, Fedora. From then on, I would venture to the Filmhouse on a regular basis. Not only to see many new releases, but to enjoy the occasional big screen reissue of many past classics.

So, within the building, you could sense a golden fusion of art house appreciation, as well as a more commercial celebration of all forms and styles of cinema.

For it was here that you could catch up with the works of Bergman, Bunuel, Kurosawa, Fellini, Godard, Herzog, Truffaut etc. along with the likes of Kubrick, Scorsese, Spielberg, Coppola etc.

Whilst not forgetting many great figures from the past such as Hawks, Hitchcock, Lean and Powell. In other words, a blending of cinema as a popular art form, a sense of personal expression, along with the enjoyment of a recent blockbuster.

Which is to say, the Edinburgh Filmhouse was all things to all audiences.

For a brief period, it was also home to a small, thriving bookshop adjacent to the main box-office. Books on cinema history could be purchased along with your ticket. Sadly, that too closed down, making way for a toilet.

One other aspect of the Filmhouse that I enthusiastically participated in was the regular monthly film quiz which took place every Sunday night in the bar. During the early 199Os my dad and I would take part, and guess what, the majority of the time we would win!

By the end of the night we could be seen loading two large boxes of beer (our prize) into the back of a taxi, like roaring twenties Chicago bootleggers!

Twenty years later, I would team up with a group of friends and enter a newly revamped monthly film quiz. Our team included the multi- talented and much missed comedian and actor Ricky Callan who, in between rounds, would entertain the group with a multitude of movie star impressions. While at the same time, bemoaning the lack of questions on the questionable film career of… Victor Mature!

Now that once sad story of the demise of the Edinburgh Filmhouse looks as if it has achieved its own happy ending.

The UK government has come up with £1.5 million to add to the funds that have already been provided and owners Caledonian Heritable were, and are, very amenable to see this hub of cinematic culture once more rise and fly (with or without Jimmy Stewart in the cockpit) like a phoenix from the ashes!

All being well, the Edinburgh Filmhouse looks set to reopen as a cinema around the end of 2024.

So, amidst all the doom, gloom and pessimism that abounds these days, there appears to be a small glimmer of light emanating from a projector, returning back to us, our much loved ‘silver screen’. ■

Edinburgh Film Guild’s programme for its 1946-47 Cinema Season at Film House, 6-8 Hill Street



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