Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Cosmogenesis: 1,2,3 for the GFT!

With work in progress to add a third screen to the Glasgow Film Theatre on Rose Street, we thought we'd take the opportunity to take a closer look at the history of Glasgow's much loved, art-house cinema.

The GFT began life in May 1939 as The Cosmo and was the first art-house cinema to be opened outside London. Architect W.J. Anderson II of John McKissick & Son designed the building as a homage to the Curzon in Mayfair, the longest established art-house cinema in the UK.

The brown-brick, windowless facade and towered entrance are inspired by European modernist architecture of the time, notably that of the Dutch designer Willem Dudok best known for the brick Hilversum City Hall near Amsterdam. In the book Architecture of Glasgow held by GSA Library, the authors describe the building as set on a plinth of black Swedish granite and clad in Ayrshire brick with a cream faience trim. Unbeknown to many, Gillespie Kidd & Coia replaced the lighted glass canopy in the mid-1960s and rebuilt the offices which back onto Renfrew Street.

The Cosmo was reincarnated as the Glasgow Film Theatre in 1974. Since then, it has been remodelled to include two screens and Cafe Cosmo which will sadly cease to exist when the new 60-seat cinema is built on top of the existing bar. The cafe with its dimly-lit ambience has been a popular meeting place for conversation between film enthusiasts. Alasdair Gray may be making a thinly-veiled allusion to Cafe Cosmo in Lanark's opening line in his description of The Elite Cafe, "entered by a staircase from the foyer of a cinema." The eponymous hero who spends his time walking and visiting libraries and cinemas, may in Gray's imagination, have been a frequent visitor - especially given the artist's proximity to the cinema as a student of GSA in the 1950s. There are plans to develop a new cafe to the rear of the revamped cinema in addition to an office, kiosk and canopy and it will be exciting to see whether this feature retains its verve!

Today the GFT continues to contribute to the cultural and artistic scene in Glasgow with the £1.6 million development surely enhancing this position. The 1930s design marks it out from the run-of-the-mill entertainment multiplexes which welcome droves of sugar-frenzied cinema-goers through the doors to indulge in the guilty pleasures of the latest multi-million grossing blockbuster. Always the serious older sibling, the GFT is unique for the crowds it attracts to watch its cult screenings, something to which the success of the Glasgow Film Festival is testimony.

Cineworld may have the distinction of being the world's tallest cinema, but given its designated 'Carbunkle' status, it's the art-deco charm of the GFT that more stylishly represents Glasgow's continuing obsession with the pictures!