GFF: Glasgow on Celluloid
Many cities have a cinematic identity. We can visualise a packed Hong Kong teahouse at the mere mention of John Woo, navigate New York holding Scorcese’s hand or feel Paris’ Gallic charm with any new wave bon viveur. What then of Glasgow, which not only hosts GFF but is projected onto its screens? This is a city with a strong constitution and a heady mix of art, violence, beauty and tragedy in its marrow. What more could a filmmaker want?
Much of the allure is visual. Soft light on a hard town, a magnificent contrast true to this city. Its harsh beauty is shown so clearly in Death Watch, a largely undiscovered gem showing at this year's GFF (26 Feb). Brooding autumnal Glasgow acts as the perfect location to mirror a society on the edge of humanity. Harvey Keitel and Harry Dean Stanton star as TV company men conspiring to film a dying woman (Romy Schneider), a sacrifice to the god of ratings. It’s bizarre to see these international stars walking Glasgow’s streets, just as it was seeing the wonderful Jet Li tearing up the city in Unleashed. Both present a case that Glasgow is a film location of choice. The recent George Square zombie encampment during filming of the upcoming World War Z suggests Hollywood heard Billy Connolly’s mischievous suggestion that "the great thing about Glasgow is that if there’s a nuclear attack it’ll look exactly the same afterwards." An outdated sentiment, but one that must be forgiven from the city's favourite son, paladin and on screen star of The Big Man and Just Another Saturday. The benefit of having a bit of character is proven by the revenue - over £20 million - brought to the city in 2011 from film and media projects.
Many tales born and raised here show the easily recognisable image of Glasgow, one that matches the tartanry of the Highlands. This is Clydesideism, a reflection of the working class community and post industrial masculinity so evident in locally made films such as Orphans and Small Faces. Yet there is a very different cinematic Glasgow to be found. Dr David Martin-Jones, author of Scotland: Global Cinema spoke with me and shed some light on a new reality: “Many recent films depict the city as a globally connected multicultural space, especially those which explore the aspirational lives of Glasgow’s various diasporas, like American Cousins, Nina’s Heavenly Delights, and Ae Fond Kiss.” He went on to mention Glasgow-set Bollywood hits such as Pyaar Ishq aur Mohabba. These successes encourage film tourism while providing a connecting link between communities at home and abroad - cinema as global communicator.
Further evidence of Glasgow’s versatility comes again from the GFF programme. Night is Day (22 Feb) is a micro budget superhero flick showing in the Kapow! strand of the festival. Having made this comic book caper on Glasgow’s streets, director Fraser Coull told me, “it's a great backdrop for crime dramas, drug and gangsters, but it's also a romantic city, a beautiful city and mostly untapped.”
We have seen that Glasgow on film is an intricate reality. It recognises the diversity of modern life, where population flows meet and mingle, while also paying homage to a stereotype which acts as both curse and blessing. Most citizens truly desire to shed the legacy of No Mean City. True that this skin should no longer be worn but intelligent cinema such as NEDS shows that it can be maintained as a trophy, hopefully avoiding self-fulfilling prophecy.