Film Event Feature by Chris Olson
The feeling of saturation is most definitely a 1st World Problem. We find ourselves, on a daily basis, bemoaning the way in which we consume culture and then readily go ahead and engage with it in the exact same way. Specifically in the movie world, there is the franchise formula which has a stranglehold on cinemas for the next few generations, a glut of reboots (from the earliest days of cinema to TV shows no one liked the first time they came out), as well as a yearly host of amazing films which become bogged down in how many awards they won, rather than how they stole our hearts. The buffet style of cultural consumption has meant that to be genuinely moved these days involves, ironically, the audience having to actually move.
Since 2007 lovers of film have been able to access Secret Cinema events. Known to few in the early days, their popularity has risen immensely in the last couple of years, especially when they threw a Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back event in 2016 which saw them enter the Box Office Top 10 for months on end. The same has happened in 2017, as they tackled Baz Luhrman’s theatrical beast Moulin Rouge, which is arguably the organiser’s most politically potent yet.
So what is is Secret Cinema?
The premise to many sounds a lot like LARPing (Live Action Role Playing), and indeed there are several elements which are the same. Attendees will find out the film that will be screened, purchase tickets, be assigned a role to play within the event, including ideas on what to wear, items to bring with them, perhaps even something to prepare. The location of the event is kept secret until you arrive on the day (normally by a popular London Underground station), where you are whisked off by the army of actors and performers that are part of the Secret Cinema world.
Once inside, you are transported into a glorious world of that particular film. In previous years, such as the Back To The Future event, it was 1950s America with all the baby boom paraphernalia that goes with it. In Star Wars, you were immersed into a sci-fi world of the rebel cause, boarding spaceships, landing in the desert, making your way onto the Death Star and beyond. For Moulin Rouge, the location was 1899 Paris in all its bawdy glory. Street performers, theatrical costumes, absinthe bars and more, attendees were able to enter a world they had only been able to glimpse through the other side of a screen in Luhrmann's depiction.
Why attend Secret Cinema?
Put simply, there is nothing else like it. You cannot experience a film in this manner in any other way. The attention to detail is phenomenal, the creativity is breathtaking, and the effect on the audience is the most impressive thing of all. How often do you attend a cinema, enjoy the film, and then leave without saying another word to anyone? The community of like-minded cinema enthusiasts are able to throw away the shackles of our cyber isolation, as your mobile phone is sealed off until the end of the event, and lunge into a make believe world that is very, very real.
The film is screened with uproarious enthusiasm, parts being acted out by the performers alongside the actual movie, and the audience participation can be as little or as much as you like. By having a character and costume, Secret Cinema have given people a way to quite literally become someone else for the event, aiding the most nervous of people to join in comfortably.
The bigger picture and political potency
Moulin Rouge contained many thematic propositions for attendees, encouraging a Society of Love that stretched beyond the event itself. The event I attended was the day before a tragic attack in London that left 7 people dead. The notions of Secret Cinema were not lost on me, especially once the heartwarming behaviour of Londoners started to trickle in in the days that followed. Secret Cinema themselves also put out messages of love and cooperation.
This year, Secret Cinema have also been encouraging young people to vote. A stance which, whilst arguably not completely neutral, is important, as their access to a younger generation is undeniable and when put into the context of movies (I, Daniel Blake) could be transformative.
Whilst we await the next Secret Cinema event, and continue conversations about what film will be next (apparently The Truman Show is a strong contender), I consider myself lucky to have attended such a beautiful celebration of art, movies and love. If you want more information about Secret Cinema, follow them on Facebook /secretcinema.