Scotland's Cinemas by Bruce Peter is a wonderfully evocative stroll through the history of the cinema, and in particular the history of cinemas in Scotland. Anyone of middle age and older will remember a time when the architectural landscape of Scotland's cities, and many of its towns and smaller settlements too, featured cinemas. Many of these buildings have now gone, though conversion to Bingo halls saved some for posterity, while others have found commercial uses, for example as furniture warehouses. Some survived long enough for the wheel to turn full circle and cinema come back into fashion: though surviving original cinemas now tend to serve niche markets within the gaps left between modern multiplexes.
Bruce Peter starts his story where he should, with the very first moving picture shows, and later the first purpose built cinemas intended to comply with safety legislation brought in as early as 1909. Throughout the first half of the 20th Century, Scotland shows every sign of having been movie mad, and Glasgow in particular had more cinemas than any city in the world outside the USA. The result was a huge number of new buildings, some of greater architectural merit than others, ranging from fine palaces to ugly entertainment factories. They ranged in size from some of the largest cinemas in Europe, capable of seating more than 3,000 patrons at a time, to much smaller buildings intended to bring a touch of the exotic to their setting. Many came to dominate their localities, and most were radically different from anything in their immediate vicinity: and often controversial as a result.
The story of Scotland's cinemas is accompanied by a large number of well chosen black and white images which illustrate the narrative beautifully and are closely interdependent with it. Captions are sufficiently detailed to help tie the pictures with the text, but never so long as to interrupt the flow of the book. It's easy to regard this book as a wonderful trip down memory lane (and it certainly is): but it is much more as well, bringing the story of cinemas up to date with a look at the modern resurgence: in cinema going, if not necessarily in the quality of cinema architecture.