Secret Cinema: The Experience
Posted on Wednesday March 3, 2010, 12:08 by Helen O'Hara in Empire States
This weekend, I finally went along to see something I've been hearing about for ages: Secret Cinema, the event where they don't tell you what you're going to see but you go along anyway. And while my verdict's mixed, I do think this has massive potential for film fans, because most of my objections were specific to the event I attended.
The deal is this: after ponying up your wodge of cash (and it is a bit of a wodge), you are told where to head about two days before the scheduled screening. In addition to a time and place, we were assigned identity cards, in German and referencing the DDR (immediately prompting me to start speculating about The Lives Of Others, The Baider-Meinhoff Complex and Goodbye Lenin), which we were supposed to bring along. Turning up to Shepherd's Bush on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I found a massive queue of people headed for the venue, which had a big sign outside reading Potsdamer Platz in case anyone was still in doubt (yes, that should maybe have given it away).
As we queued, various characters made their way up and down the line in costume to enhance the experience. A German policeman type was making various announcements in German via megaphone. It sounded terribly intimidating, so was probably just German for "Hey, nice to see ya, come on it!". A girl with streaky mascara was looking for someone named Heinz; a guy in a leather jacket kept trying to hit on girls in the line and got dragged away by his presumable girlfriend (in fairness, that could just be what Shepherd's Bush is like).
Inside, past the couple kissing at the bottom of the stalled escalator, the specially-designed posters (again in German; no clue what they said) and the buzzing TVs was a rather cavernous upstairs, all black walls, decaying furniture and a pleasantly melancholy band playing at a cafe bit in the corner. A couple of small rooms were decorated like a child's room, and a small library (again, that should've helped me twig, but no) before we headed into the auditorium itself - where we were greeted by a circus. The Circus Alekan, in fact, which finally did give it away: it's going to be Wings of Desire!
The floor of the theatre was set up with a mini sawdust ring, a juggler, a trapeze artist*, ringmaster, knife-thrower and
victim target. After a quick circus performance, a musical interlude, short film Splitting the Atom** and a bit more trapezery, the Wim Wenders film finally got underway. The reaction when the title card came up was interesting: hardly anyone left immediately, although about six people in my line of vision left during the running time, which is probably a good result for an arthouse film being shown to a general audience.
Whether that was an awesome choice is another question: it certainly explained the quiet dudes who'd been standing around outside and in the cafe area in the overcoats, but it didn't play brilliantly to the audience I was with. Of course, that could also have been the astonishing cold. We'd been warned to bring blankets, and I did, but even with that, a coat, a hat and a voluminous scarf, it was still biting in there. Even Bruno Ganz at his most likeable and Peter Falk playing himself (but as a former angel) warmed the cockles but not the toes, and by the time the trapeze artist (the real one) came out to join her onscreen counterpart for the big finale, I was very, very glad to be getting out of there. I can't help thinking that I would gladly have swapped any and all of the supporting cast for a couple of big space heaters going full blast for an hour or two before the film started.
In summary: the film choice was unexpected and rather good - it was lovely to see WIngs on the big screen - but perhaps not as rabble-rousing as one might have wished given the freezing environment. In fact, while I was impressed overall with the attention to detail and the idea of going along for this immersive, interactive film experience, I will not be going back until the summer (or, if I do, I'll be bringing several extra blankets). Be warned, but also, be excited.
*She wasn't on the floor, obviously. She was above it, on a trapeze. That's how I knew she was a trapeze artist and not just, say, someone allergic to trousers or a Lady Gaga fan.
**Blooming excellent, by the way. Directed by Edouard Salier, soundtracked by Massive Attack and quite the most disturbing / beautiful / funny / scary thing I've seen in a while.