The Road to Nowhere: On the trail of a lost Scottish Road Movie


It’s great to see film critic and writer Colin McArthur is included at this year’s EIFFI can only imagine that Forsyth Hardy is probably turning in his grave at the thought of such a  free-thinker and champion of  Poor Cinema being given a platform in a lecture dedicated to his name!  So if you’re in Edinburgh – which I won’t be sadly –  here’s the info to go and listen to McArthur:

Anyway – to get straight to the point and to set us off on a  road trip across 2 centuries  –  I guess much of what he will speak about will  probably relate to Holly/Follywood on the Clyde, the kind of Scottish Cinema we want and a Poor Cinema ethos. All this has its roots in a debate however that raged for a while in Scotland decades ago – in the last century in fact.  And yet  it’s a debate which is still raging within the Scottish Film sector now, which you can read about elsewhere in particular in May Miles Thomas wonderful writing at:

But the era I’m referring back to here – when it all started – was  back before “the end of history” happened and the end of what old lefties called a ‘critical  context’ or cultural discourse. It was  an era when films were made with something called well ehh –  how to put it –  celluloid stuff –  called ‘Film’ It was also an era when  all things were analogue rather than digital. Back then myself and my creative collaborator at the time the wonderful editor and now Belgrade resident  Allan Robertson were angry (Some things haven’t changed!) young video Artists and Film-makers from south of the border, who found themselves living in exile in a country (Scotland) where institutional suspicion (especially in the Art/Cinema scenes) of anything perceived as being “Too English “ bordered as it still does on racism. So you can imagine how (un)popular at the time – even among our Peers let alone the Art/Film establishment – a couple of smart-arsed punk/skinhead–looking council estate boys with Art school Firsts, bad attitudes and English accents who wanted to live in the East-end of Glasgow were ! More so because we both believed in what we were doing, were hungry,  had fire in our bellies, were driven by our passions and wanted to change and rage at the world through our Films and Art.

The end result of nearly a decade of collaborations between us as Pictorial Heroes 1984-95 an era which was mostly supported by Steve Partridge at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, the DHSS and eventually a fired-up Stuart Cosgrove who had newly arrived at channel 4) was our ‘Poor Cinema/Electric Cinema’ magnum-opus: Work, Rest and Play.  Filmed and assembled over 5 years and using whatever technology we could get our hands, we saw what we were doing as being a part of a New Wave of Scottish film-makers.  Which brings me onto the junction on this particular road trip, where we came across Colin McArthur :  A vehement critic of Scottish Cinema and its funding structures and a fellow traveller who championed our work in an article he wrote: ‘On the trail of 2 Scottish Road Movies’  FYI: the other ‘road movie’ he briefly wrote critically about in the article was made by the talented actor/film-maker Peter Capaldi (Tucker from The thick of it and In the Loop)

The article McArthur wrote – much to the distain of the power brokers at the time – in particular the then EIFF Director Penny Thompson and her protégé -in-waiting: the 10-quid film-maker Mark Cousins (whom I’m sure you’ve all heard of by now!) – certainly rattled a negative and conservative film establishment. Whose only response – in keeping with the mean-spiritedness we often encountered among the Scottish Arts/Film Mafia  – was to pretty much blacklist and traduce what we did, as not being ‘good enough’. Colin McArthur on the other hand praised our film-making highly  as a ‘technical palimpsest of our time’, commended our use of pioneering moving-image technology and just as significantly also complimented the films written text and use of language as well as it’s play on image/motion and emotion.

But although McArthur may have thought we were the future of film-making and I was Scotland’s answer to Wim Wenders  elsewhere we were pretty much told that we needed to learn ‘to know our place’ by Penny Thompson and her subsequent ‘curling generation’ of wannabes at the EIFF. As a result, Work, Rest and Play instead of screening in the country of its origins went on to screen instead at the London Film Festival and  then Internationally at the World-Wide Video Festival and the Locarno Video Art Festival among others. So – the argument back then – as has been the case more recently with my BAFTA nominated film KURDI  – from a  former Director of the EIFF Hanna McGill– that what I was doing wasn’t Poor Cinema, it just “wasn’t good” or “edgy enough” for them, when it came down to it was really  just vindictive and self-serving bullshit rather than a genuine critique of what I was doing.  I subsequently also discovered in the case of KURDI for instance  that a former EIFF Director had also been making a film in Kurdistan and that people had his best interests in mind!

And now 25 years on it’s great to see  Colin McArthur  giving the Forsyth Hardy lecture – unless the old man rises from the grave like a zombie to prevent it happening in his name, while Penny Thompson is no longer of this world and Mark Cousins is internationally renowned as a film-maker of sorts. Peter Capaldi’s undoubted talent meanwhile have rocketed him to stardom and Oscar wins  elsewhere (despite McArthur’s dismissal of his film – which proves any criticism is always positive!) While Allan Robertson and myself are still On the Road  – now on separate journeys – having left the country we both saw as our heartland for lives elsewhere. Work, Rest and Play meanwhile, can be found here:

Watch it, share it, download it and dream on. Oh and before you dismiss something as “not being good enough” in the future at least try and watch it , rather than just look after your mates.