The Clyde: Films of the River 1912–1971
As a new exhibition celebrating the River Clyde, as seen through amateur and professional films opens, Paul Dale salutes Glasgow’s cine-camera chroniclers.
The Native American Indians used to believe that the song of the river ends not at her banks but in the hearts of those who have loved her. Without water we are nothing, so surely the celebration of the tributaries that flow through our major cities is elemental to what and who we are.
A certain breed of local amateur photographer has long been chronicling and celebrating social change and sooner or later they usually stumble upon the muscle of liquid that commands our conurbations. Without these remarkable men and women our knowledge of our industrial and rural past would be conjecture and chalk drawings.
Coming together for a third time The Lighthouse and the Scottish Screen Archive (National Library of Scotland), follow popular exhibitions Sadness and Gladness (2007) and Films of the Glasgow Empire (2008) with The Clyde: Films of the River 1912-1971. The exhibition brings together rarely seen footage from many of these amateur films along with recorded interviews with people for whom the river has played an important part in their lives. An associated programme of events and activities ranges from boat trips on the Clyde to opportunities to make contemporary films of the river, and a creative writing project with Glasgow primary schools.
These remarkable films, some of which have been available to view on the National Library of Scotland’s website for a while now (www.nls.uk/ssa/), follows the trajectory of Scotland’s third largest river from industrial growth to shipbuilding decline to the beginnings of regeneration. As Ruth Washbrook, the Scottish Screen Archive’s Education and Outreach Officer explains: ‘the films are a wonderful visual snapshot of history recording the Clyde’s importance to Glasgow during the last century. The old films really bring the past to life showing the river when it was a hub of activity. What is particularly significant about the films is their ability to provide a record of the changing landscape of the Clyde and showcase how important the river was to Glasgow’s industrial and social heritage.’
These films are indeed fascinating not because they feature the celebrities and momentous events of their day but because they feature the mundane and the everyday – holidaymakers travelling by steamer down the coast to Rothesay and Ettrick Bay; holiday scenes at Millport and Dunoon; two children having a guided tour of John Brown’s shipyard. The most exciting thing that happens is a visit to Clydeside by King George V in late September 1917.
And yet, watched with consideration these films tell us more about the rights and wrongs committed on the communities along the Clyde and the legacies they put in place than many a history book. The work of these largely nameless lens men echoes US anthropologist Margaret Mead’s mantra to: ‘never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’
The Clyde: Films of the River 1912–1971, The Lighthouse, Glasgow from Sat 20 Jun. www.thelighthouse.co.uk