The legendary Scottish film distribution company Tartan Films went into administration last month. Former employee Paul Smith bids it a fond farewell
If Norma Desmond believed that pictures were getting smaller, then the same can be said for the industry. Smaller by one distributor. After 26 years, Tartan Films has ceased to be. The home to many cutting-edge, independent and foreign-language films, it launched the careers of John Woo and Almodovar.
I worked at Tartan for eight years in both theatrical and home entertainment divisions, I saw the launch of many classics and all under the prime guidance of its irrepressible owner, Hamish McAlpine including Oldboy (pictured), Supersize Me, and In the Mood for Love.
The Edinburgh International Film Festival gave debut screenings to documentaries such as Capturing the Friedmans and, when it hosted the UK premiere of Gaspar Noe’s modern shocker Irreversible, I saw a man faint (across Mark Kermode’s lap no less) and people walking out too traumatised to return. Elsewhere, the infamous fight between Hamish and director Larry Clarke on the eve of the premiere of Ken Park made headlines and it was a sobering time when Battle Royale opened in the week of 9/11, making the school kids’ celluloid battle for survival the last concern for a shocked world. And I wasn’t even around when the staff had to dress up for a Beatrice Dalle-lookalike competition when the actress failed to appear. Who says real life doesn’t imitate art?
But perhaps Tartan’s most lasting legacy is the Asia Extreme phenomenon, that group of high-octane thrillers and blood-draining chillers from Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea. After Ringu and Audition, more modern classics followed that defined a new genre – The Eye, Infernal Affairs, Bangkok Dangerous which have all now been stripped down and redressed by Hollywood.
As significant was Tartan’s world cinema ventures on DVD. They were a collector’s dream with collections that included the near-complete works of Bergman; Ozu’s Tokyo Story; the early films of Pasolini and Eisenstein; and more recently, the surreal genius of El Topo’s director, Alejandro Jodorowsy.
The cinematic graveyard is littered with the remains of film companies such as Palace, Goldcrest, and Film Four but it will only be a matter of time before Tartan rises phoenix-like from the ashes. It may have launched the careers of many new directors, but equally many of my wonderful former colleagues have flown the nest over the years to join other film companies or even make their own films, such as the ever amiable Camilla Bray, producer of Summer, winning Robert Carlyle the best performance prize at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival. As long as great films are still being made, we’ll all soldier on, but Tartan as it was will be much missed.
Tartan Film’s end credits spooled on 26 June 2008.