We’re asking our wonderful readers to celebrate London’s alternative cinema scene with a #LDNindieFILM Love Story! Here’s the next of their tributes to the amazing people & places that illuminate the darkness & this one’s a WINNER!!
By RADIANT CIRCUS
THE SCALA CINEMA
by Andrew Kay
My love letter to the Scala
The Scala: a home for outsiders and misfits. We were welcome.
I first tried my luck at the Scala in the scuzzy and edgy King’s Cross a few months before in 1986, aged 13. The film was Crimes of Passion and I was politely rejected. I wasn’t put off. In September 1986, an all-nighter called Pop Goes to the Movies was spilling out at 8am and I took one of their colourful monthly flyers with an array of diverse film titles I wasn’t familiar with, and I was smitten.
In October, I finally got in to see Brazil and The King of Comedy. I think as they were officially 15 rated, I got a squeeze to be allowed in. I breathed in the musty air and rarified atmosphere that allowed a misfit like me in- and I felt strangely at home. It seemed like a cathedral to cinema, but had that run-down, in need of a cuddle and a lick of paint vibe about it. The thing is, no one cared. Come as you are- and we did.
Sporadically over the next two to three years I took a punt on everything from a Saturday given over to a Bob Fosse triple (Sweet Charity, Cabaret, All That Jazz) to The Chelsea Girls (full split-screen version). Often the cinema was empty, or nearly empty. Which I didn’t mind- it felt like a secret club and if you stumbled upon it, however that happened, you had been chosen.
When I got a bit braver, I managed a Zombie all-nighter in November 1988. Me and a friend pitched up at the back of the steeply raked auditorium and had a picnic and smoked cigarettes (my first and last time) as the crackle and pop and gore of the Romero triple spooled out, along with Zombie Flesh Eaters-all on 35mm, all for £4.
As my cinema going got more adventurous, I invited friends to the all-nighters. These became more popular and more atmospheric. Digestive biscuits were thrown from the balcony to the front row. Mutterings were heard. Threats were made, but the victims couldn’t work out where the high fat, high sugar missiles were coming from. As we were often ten to fifteen in number, people didn’t bother getting revenge.
There was a collective sense of participation as the ads before the all-nighters inspired some witty remarks- it was a condom, anti-AIDS ad with the lovers on two sides of a wire fence. There was also the 18 certificate anti-fur ad,, which was always a powerful one to watch. At one all-nighter someone, clearly drunk, threw a bottle up to the projector, with the outline of the bottle appearing on the screen and the screen went black in quite a dramatic way.
But I still went alone as often as I could feel inspired. I didn’t have a copy of Halliwell. I went to the rep houses and saw one film from a director and used that film or double bill as a springboard to see other films from the same director; this went on until 1992, until I moved to New York to attend film school. A decision I made because the embryo was created at the Scala. As history has borne out, I wasn’t the only one inspired by this wonderful, loveable big beast of rep cinema.
THE RADIANT CIRCUS VIEW: Perhaps it was inevitable… The winner of our competition for a copy of Jane Giles’ awesome coffe-table-destroyer of a book, The Scala Cinema 1978 – 1993, is a #LDNindieFILM Love Story about the Scala itself. I chose Andrew’s submission as the winner for several reasons, the main being his fond celebration of being huddled with his friends in the audience. Too much writing about cinema is actually about film (and even then the focus is narrowly on production, distribution and review…). Bombarded by biscuits, Andrew reminds us that the experience of cinema has a profound importance to any film’s impact and that great cinema is always a shared, celebratory carnival. That ‘magical’ 2001 moment with a bottle tossed into the projector beam is what it’s always been about…
It’s too late for the Scala, but I hope to continue to encounter great audiences as I travel across London after lockdown. See you all in darkness again soon…
WINNER!! Andrew receives a copy of Jane Gile’s book & our thanks!!
> For a chance to win a year’s free indie cinema listings, show your support for London’s alternative film scene by submitting your own #LDNindieFILM Love Story.
> You can also browse our London Venue A to Z to find out how you can support your favourite indie cinema directly.
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