Five things you didn't know about the Edinburgh International Film Festival
Five fun facts featuring John Huston, Bill Forsyth and Barry Norman
Probably the last thing EIFF needs as it reinvents itself after a difficult year is yet another trawl through its glory days. But sidestepping all the familiar stories, Matt Lloyd suggests a few of the lesser known moments from the festival’s rich history
‘The Only Festival Worth A Damn’
EIFF is rightly proud of this tribute by John Huston, made in 1972 when he brought Fat City to the festival. But he had a debt to repay. Houston had attended Edinburgh in 1954, an uncongenial two day visit characterised by his tight-lipped encounters with the press and noisy walk-outs from hot ticket events at the International Festival. He was lucky to be invited back.
Flesh of Scotland
It was only in the mid-seventies that the job of festival director became a full-time position. Up until then, the role was performed by staff on secondment from the Films of Scotland committee, an upstanding and serious-minded organisation charged with depicting all aspects of Scottish life on film. This association came with certain unexpected advantages, such as the opportunity to smuggle Andy Warhol production Flesh through customs in film cans marked The Clydesdale Horse.
Book bashing of the 1970s
Throughout the seventies, EIFF produced critical publications to accompany retrospectives. Written in the politically-charged and dense academic language of the time, they incensed mainstream critics. Barry Norman was angry enough to rip up the festival’s book on Raoul Walsh live on Film ’74. His display was made easier by cheap printing. Indeed, the 1972 book on Douglas Sirk notoriously fell apart on being opened.
Edinburgh made Easy Rider
Columbia Pictures planned to quietly release Easy Rider in one small London cinema, and were appalled to discover that the 1969 EIFF premiere would take place in the 3,000 seat Playhouse. They threatened never to premiere another film at Edinburgh. And then they saw the queue - Hell’s Angels from Fife lined the pavement all the way up to the Balmoral. ‘Look what Columbia can do for your festival!’ declared the studio’s rep, as she hurriedly rethought her release plans.
Without Sam Fuller There Would Be No Local Hero
That same year, a young Glaswegian filmmaker called Bill Forsyth was at the festival with a militantly anti-narrative experimental film called Waterloo. At a party he met Hollywood B-movie hack Samuel Fuller, the subject of that year’s retrospective. When Forsyth described his film, Fuller took a swing at him, shouting ‘what an insult to your audience!’ According to Forsyth, Fuller ‘nudged’ him into narrative cinema.
Matt Lloyd is the author of How the Movie Brats Took Over Edinburgh: The Impact of Cinéphilia on the Edinburgh International Film Festival, 1968-1980 (St. Andrews).