My attention was brought to this film about Kirkcaldy, made in 1975 and available on the National Library of Scotland website.
The film is quite odd, and its purpose isn’t entirely clear to me. But it is a fascinating snapshot of the town I grew up in, taken 11 years before I was born.
What I found most notable was that, unlike most films made about towns in the mid-20th century (such as the incredible Telly Savalas looks at… films), it was not an unquestioning hagiography. Indeed, some portions are astonishingly blunt.
For instance, there is this exchange about some modernist housing in Dysart.
Interviewer: Do you tell me that you actually like these flats that are painted black and what have you?
Interviewee: Like boxes to me. I know somebody got an award for them or something, but to me they should have got shot.
I believe some of those flats in question are now no longer in existence.
Contrast this with a more optimistic sequence about the Ravenscraig flats, the three highrise buildings that punctuate Kirkcaldy’s skyline to the east.
There’s an awful lot of nonsense talked about high living. There’s nothing wrong with high living if the flats are good, if the people are good, if they’re carefully looked after, and if the setting is good. So these flats — people actively are in the queue for these flats, and very often have given up the semi-detached council type houses to come to the flats.
I wonder if the flats have ever been seen as a desirable place to live in my lifetime. Although one thing can be said for them: unlike many highrise council blocks, they are still standing today.
The mid-1970s was a turning point for attitudes towards modernist architecture. This is reflected in the mixed opinions featured in the film.
Lengthy sequences about industry — coal pits, furniture manufacturers, linoleum factories — underline how much Kirkcaldy has changed, and emphasise in retrospect how the town has failed to adapt to the decline in manufacturing generally.
Another area where Kirkcaldy has sadly declined, is in its shopping facilities. In this respect, Kirkcaldy is described in the film as “a very good shopping centre” and even “a boom town”. You certainly couldn’t say that about the High Street in Kirkcaldy today.
Some things haven’t changed, though: the magnificent parks, the annual Links Market, the beaches (as polluted now as they were then).
Perhaps the oddest quote of the film, though: “Even the aggressive people are friendly.”
“That’s nice,” says the cartoon host sarcastically.
The film doesn’t seem to sell Kirkcaldy too well. Instead it seems to be a realistic assessment of where the town stood in 1975.
I wonder what a film about Kirkcaldy in 2015 would say.