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"It's not just about removing the machete from down the good people's strides," says Mr Grazetti in long-suffering tones, "It's about ... creativity." He is attempting to educate his bouncers in the social niceties, part of a truly hopeless attempt to lift his nightclub out of the social gutter, where it lies covered in spilt beer and cigarette stubs. You ready yourself for a pleasant bout of tenement picaresque - currently Scotland's principal artistic export. But there is a little more going on here than that, whatever is suggested by the pick 'n' mix selection of local colour you are first offered. Mr Grazetti, for example, turns out not to be Mr Grazetti at all - he is Wilfred McNulty, a man who has decided that the best solution to the difficulties of his life is to be someone else altogether. When he encounters a childhood sweetheart he willingly relinquishes his mask of massy obduracy. "I can change," he pleads, and he is finally glimpsed in a pinny, shampooing a terrier in his new fiancee's dog salon. This is sweet, in its arbitrary way, but there is sour too. Ruffian Hearts is a composition of random, contingent pairings - desperate clutchings rather than embraces - and not all of them come off so well. When Caitlin clamps on to Chez, a sardonic painter, he clamps back, burying his teeth in her hand to convince her that he's not interested. The touchingly romantic Peter carries a blazing torch for Dervla, an Irish masseuse, but has it smokily snuffed out by her casual infidelity with Chez.

The mode - as in the work of John Byrne - is caustic soda mixed with the far less corrosive sensibility of a folk history curator. When characters recall old acquaintances, they always do so with a little vignette of period detail ("ginger hair, liked Trini Lopez" or "dress with Hermans Hermits on") which cannot help but sound a bit cute or calculatedly charming. It's something of a surprise, then, when the mood turns despairing rather than just sardonic, more so because there never seems any particular emotional logic to the suffering. Ruffian Hearts ended beautifully - with an improbably good blues version of "Che Sera, Sera" playing on the soundtrack and the hopelessness of some of the preceding scenes softened by a new and more heartening romance, but you couldn't help feeling that the characters and their fates might have been shuffled in any number of other variations without disruption.

It is clear from the credit sequence that The Other Hollywood is going to fly the flag for European cinema - a Marianne figure, all flowing robes and heroic locks, waves a banner of celluloid above her head. Aux barricades. Les Americains arrivent! The title itself betrays the mood of sulky resentment but it gets worse still. "Europe lead the world until the First World War," explains the voiceover, "then she was second to America ... but artistically second to none." Occasionally, you wonder why they didn't just call it Bloody Yanks Hogging All the Limelight as Usual, and finally set their minds at rest.

We have been here before this year, with The Last Machine, a thoughtful and ingenious account of the pioneer days of cinema. The Other Hollywood is nothing like as cerebral - it's structure is a chronological tramp through a treasure-house; little more, for the most part, than "Here's another amazing bit we found." But the footage is wonderful, restored with a priestly devotion so that it makes its own case heard even above the chippy special pleading of the script. You were offered glimpses of Piccadilly Circus in 1896 (tantalisingly brief) and early sound movies using synchronised gramaphones, as well as evidence of the artistry of early directors. It was a curious era - a combination of striking innocence (two-minute films about dogs rescuing babies were international blockbusters) and startling sophistication - and The Other Hollywood does it justice.