Scots Scriever Hamish MacDonald on film and the Scots language

27 Apr 2017

7 mins
The Gruffalo and mouse
The Gruffalo and mouse

Recently, we invited Hamish MacDonald, the first Scottish Scriever, along to several of our Scots events. The role of the Scriever is intended to help preserve and promote the Scots language, in all its dialects, across any art-form, as well as raising awareness, appreciation and use of Scots across the country and amongst all parts of the population. With many of our Scottish screenings being preceded by readings from prominent Scots speakers, we invited MacDonald to be a part of them. 

Below, MacDonald writes his own account of taking part in our Scots screenings and events across Scotland, and recounts his own fond memories of film, the Scots language, and in particular, the unforgettable nature of the cinema experience. MacDonald has - naturally - written in Scots, but if you'd prefer to read in English, there is a translation at the bottom of the page. And if this is your first experience of Scots, why not compare and contrast both to see how the two languages complement one another?

Movies. Pictures. The flicks. Words tae conjure up a haill host o images, awmaist like the flick o a switch tae stairt up the reels in a projection room. A projector that wid glent its beams abune wir heids, ceustin images o heroes an villains tae the big screen. These are evidently celluloid memories, recollections frae a pre-digital age.

An yet for aw the material an political chynges that hae steered ower mair than a century, the experience o heidin oot tae the picture hoose has chynged by ainly smaw degrees syne the cinema became the social corner-stane o toons frae Dumfries tae Lerwick, St Andrews tae Campbeltown, or amang the muckle, luxuriant entertainment pailaces that graced the streets o Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee an Aberdeen. The heroes an villians hae chynged costumes mony times ower, conflicts an resolutions hae mairched wi the times - or even rowed back the centuries in historic wide-screen epics - but the sang remains the same. Pey yer siller at the coonter. Tak yer seat. Let the pictures roll.

Setterday matinees wir aye a lively affair. In the recently demolished Clydebank La Scala (re-named the ABC but fir mony years still cried the "La") near a thoosan screamin weans chantit on Jason an his Argonauts or Sinbad the Sailor tae ultimate victory. Theme-tunes wir reprised in chorus ayont the picture-hoose door, plotlines extendit intae the streets. I aince witnessed an invisible Ernst Stavros Blofelt an his ne'er-dae-weel cronies herrit doon the lang brae o Kilbowie Road, assailed bi machine-gunnin hordes as the Bond flick You Only Live Twice, somewhit fittinly, lived twice. (An maist likely a gey wheen o lives ayont that). In The Man From U.N.C.L.E.s movie feature The Karate Killers at the Whiteinch Odeon, Setterday efternin shoppers on Dumbarton Road wir confrontit wi gangs made up frae dizzens o high-kickin, haund-choppin enthusiasts lang eftir the last o the credits had rolled frae the screen.

When Into Film got in touch then, tae speir whither as Scots Scriever wi the National Library o Scotland, it micht be possible tae become involved wi ther schuils projeck, the response was a resoondin ‘aye!'. This has meant carrants tae various airts o Scotland, frae Edinburgh's Filmhouse tae the Perth Multiplex, an maist recently tae the wunnerfu Boness Hippodromea real gem o a picture-hoose. Biggit in 1912, the Hippodrome is thocht tae be Scotland's auldest survivin purpose-built cinema. Eftir closin its doors in the 1970s the biggin ran fir a spell fir the bingo (the ultimate fate o so mony aince-treisured picture-hooses),afore closin awthegither in 1980. Whiles staundin tuim ower near thirty year, it wis reopened tae somethin o its true splendour an original purpose in 2009 an survives as an A-listit biggin. It nou offers regular screenins an is hame to Scotland's ainly silent film festival. 

The Into Film events themselves are a virrsome affair. Bairns frae nearby primary schuils are bussed tae the event an arrive tae fill up the raws. A claik o vyces fills the auditorium. But here's whaur the experience is different. Afore the film a readin will be gien frae a relevant text in the Scots language. Thus fir Magic Light's byous animation o Julia Donaldson's The Gruffalo's Child, a readin is gien o James Robertson's adaptation The Gruffalos Wean, a re-tellin o the original in Scots, complete wi aw the kenspeckle illustrations bi Axel Scheffler.

"The Gruffalo said it wid come tae nae guid

If a Gruffalo roamed in the deep mirk widd"

Throu baith the narrative an some on-screen Scots vocabulary, bairns are gien an appreciation o story tellin an vocabulary in Scots. Fir the screenin o The Gruffalo's Child in Edinburgh, they wir alsae gien opportunity tae hear The Shetland Gruffalo's Bairn, as read tae them bi Christine De Luca, erstwhile Edinburgh Makar an poet laureate fir the City o Edinburgh.

Anither text yaised bi Into Film is James Robertson's Scots translation o Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox, in this case The Sleekit Mr Tod (which actually means cunning Mr Fox). The bairns are read tae frae the early chapters o the buik - meetin Fermers Beek, Boonce an Boggin as weel as the eponymous Mr Tod an his clan - afore cooryin in tae watch the film, Wes Anderson's gleg animation featurin George Clooney an Meryl Streep. Wi a wheen o widland craiturs in the story this gies some opportunity tae gie some Scots names tae the chairacters: 

Fox = Tod

Mole = Moudiewort

Weasel = Whiteret

Badger = Brock

Mouse = Moose 

Activities continue ayont the end o the movie. Cairds are gien oot so that each bairn gets the chance tae scrieve a review o the film. These are then collectit in as pairt o a competition, wi winners an runners-up gien prizes frae Into Film.

Aw in aw the Scots activities offert bi Into Film gies a new an imaginative angle tae learnin. As a minority language wi aw the challenges this brings in the day's warld o rapid, globalised communication, the projeck plays neatly bi mellin the yaise o Scots wi contemporary film an literature, as weel as makkin fir an enjoyable experience fir learners. Wi the National Library o Scotland's post haein allowed the opportunity syne September 2015 tae gang oot tae schuils an communities tae promote yaise o the Scots tung, the Into Film events hae been a walcom addition tae the thrang schedule o the Scots Scriever, an a handy excuse tae tak in a guid film or twa forby!

English Translation

Movies. Pictures. The flicks. Words to conjure up a whole host of images, almost like the flick of a switch to start up the reels in a projection room. A projector that would gleam its beams above our heads, casting images of heroes and villains to the big screen. These are evidently celluloid memories, recollections from a pre-digital age.

And yet for all the material and political changes that have steered, over more than a century, the experience of heading out to the picture house has changed by only small degrees since the cinema became the social corner-stone of towns from Dumfries to Lerwick, St Andrews to Campbeltown, or among the large, luxuriant entertainment palaces that graced the streets of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen. The heroes and villains have changed costumes many times over, conflicts and resolutions have marched with the times - or even rolled back the centuries in historic wide-screen epics - but the song remains the same. Pay your money at the counter. Take your seat. Let the pictures roll.

Saturday matinees were always a lively affair. In the recently demolished Clydebank 'La Scala' (re-named the ABC but for many years still called the "La") nearly a thousand screaming children chanted on Jason and his Argonauts or Sinbad the Sailor to ultimate victory. Theme-tunes were reprised in chorus by the picture-house door, plot lines extended into the streets. I once witnessed an invisible Ernst Stavros Blofelt and his ne'er-do-well cronies hurry down the long slope of Kilbowie Road, assailed by machine-gunning hordes as the Bond flick You Only Live Twice, somewhat fittingly,lived twice. (And, most likely, a good few lives besides that!). In The Man From U.N.C.L.E.'s movie feature The Karate Killers at the Whiteinch Odeon, Saturday afternoon shoppers on Dumbarton Road were confronted with gangs made up from dozens of high-kicking, hand-chopping enthusiasts long after the last of the credits had rolled from the screen.

When Into Film got in touch then, to ask whether as Scots Scriever with the National Library of Scotland, it might be possible to become involved with their schools project, my response was a resounding 'Yes!'. This has meant expeditions to various corners of Scotland, from Edinburgh's Filmhouse to the Perth Multiplex, and most recently to the wonderfull Boness Hippodrome, a real gem of a picture-house. Built in 1912, the Hippodrome is thought to be Scotland's oldest surviving purpose-built cinema. After closing its doors in the 1970s the building was home to the bingo for a while (the ultimate fate of so many once-treasured picture-houses), before closing altogether in 1980. While standing empty over nearly thirty years, it was reopened to something of its true splendour and original purpose in 2009 and survives as an A-listed building. It now offers regular screenings and is home to Scotland's only silent film festival. 

The Into Film events themselves are a lively affair. Kids from nearby primary schools are bussed to the event and arrive to fill up the rows. A chorus of voices fill the auditorium. But here's where the experience is different. Before the film, a reading will be given from a relevant text in the Scots language. Thus, for Magic Light's brilliant animation of Julia Donaldson's The Gruffalo's Child, a reading is given of James Robertson's adaptation The Gruffalo's Wean, a re-telling of the original in Scots, complete with all the familiar illustrations by Axel Scheffler.

"The Gruffalo said it wid come tae nae guid

If a Gruffalo roamed in the deep mirk widd"

Through both the narrative and some on-screen Scots vocabulary, kids are given an appreciation of storytelling and vocabulary in Scots. For the screening of The Gruffalo's Child in Edinburgh, they were also given opportunity to hear The Shetland Gruffalo's Bairn, as read to them by Christine De Luca, present Edinburgh Makar and poet laureate for the City of Edinburgh.

Another text used by Into Film is James Robertson's Scots translation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox, in this case The Sleekit Mr Tod (which actually means cunning Mr Fox). The kids listen to a reading of the early chapters of the book - meeting Farmers Beek, Boonce an Boggin as well as the eponymous Mr Tod and his clan - before nestling in to watch the film, Wes Anderson's amazing animation, featuring George Clooney and Meryl Streep. With a collection of woodland creatures in the story, there is ample opportunity to give Scots names to the characters: 

Fox = Tod

Mole = Moudiewort

Weasel = Whiteret

Badger = Brock

Mouse = Moose 

Activities continue after the end of the movie. Cards are given out so that each child gets the chance to write a review of the film. These are then collected in as part of a competition, with the winners and runners-up given prizes from Into Film.

All in all the Scots activities offered by Into Film give a new and imaginative angle to learning. As a minority language, with all the challenges this brings in today's world of rapid, globalised communication, the project plays neatly by merging the use of Scots with contemporary film and literature, as well as making for an enjoyable experience for learners. With the National Library of Scotland's post having allowed me the opportunity since September 2015 to go out to schools and communities to promote the use of Scots, the Into Film events have been a welcome addition to the throng schedule of the Scots Scriever, and a handy excuse to take in a good film or two as well!

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