This one was always & forever about the art of the projectionist… watching Ciné-Real 16mm Film Club spool KING KONG from an otherwise empty Castle Cinema was quite an extraordinary – not to say emotional! – experience. Here’s what happened…
By RADIANT CIRCUS
Billed as an “epic online adventure”, on one level this didn’t work. Technical problems kept getting in the way and some audience members (particularly late arrivals stumbling into the IGTV stream) didn’t get how the elements were meant to be working together. But we’re totally alright with that. What shone from the screen was pure passion for cinema and the power of live, original format projection. Which is precisely what we signed up for.
Ciné-Real 16mm Film Club is run by filmmaker Liam Saint-Pierre and projectionist Ümit Mesut. As the only film club in the UK to exclusively play films in the 16mm format (with the occasional Super 8mm screening for good measure…), they are, in their own words, “keeping film alive”. But how to do this in our socially distanced, shutdown times? Well, you choose to live stream yourself on IGTV projecting into an otherwise empty cinema for the (remote) audience’s viewing pleasure.
To make life even more difficult, you also hookup a separate stream of KING KONG using the BBC’s prototype party package, BBC Together. Ultimately, this proved to be the flaw in the plan as, whilst Ümit, Liam and co at the Castle were on point with their projection (as usual), the BBC stream didn’t start and had to be rebooted, leading to synching problems and plenty of buffering. An element of chaos ensued….
Now, as you might have guessed from our logo, we’ve seen KONG, a lot. It’s hard to imagine a film that has had more of an impact on our celluloid consciousness at RADIANT CIRCUS. The original edition is a film that perfectly cements craft and character in an entirely mythic way. Whilst it’s the final battle atop the Empire State that gave cinema (and New York) so much iconic imagery, the scenes in Kong’s jungle home are truly terrifying and totally unmatched by all the remakes, homages and ripoffs. This is a monster movie that isn’t afraid to contrast beauty and brutality dealing out both in equal measure. There are problems aplenty with its colonialist othering of the islanders, some of the acting is clunky as all hell, and Fay Wray is only there to scream (and boy, does she scream…), but seen with our contemporary eyes wide open, it remains a masterpiece of the imagination.
“I always get sad at the end.”
Ümit Mesut, Ciné-Real 16mm Film Club
Getting back to the Ciné-Real screening, we mostly ignored the BBC Together feed until Ümit loaded the final reel (when most of the synching and buffering issues had been sorted). That left us watching the IGTV stream on a phone so we could easily participate in the chat and the BBC Together feed on a laptop. But we already knew how KONG ends… what was marvellous about this experience was hearing the whir of the projector again as we watched Ümit tend patiently to his own animated creature.
Apart from a few glances to the cinema screen, Liam’s cameraphone in the Castle’s auditorium stayed mainly on Ümit and we watched the film through his eyes and throughout each reel change. And he was as transfixed as we remember being every time we’ve seen KONG. Watching our projectionist rise to his feet in awe and trepidation as the story reached its many tense moments, even beating his chest and giving a roar as the giant ape makes his first full appearance, were precious moments that we will never forget.
Watching Ümit watch Kong die was simply heartbreaking…
Whilst the experiment didn’t work entirely, and audience numbers on the live stream dipped when it became clear it was going to be a bumpy ride, this remains one of our most memorable experiences since we started blogging. DIY exhibitors like Ciné-Real are devoting their passion and expertise to keeping not just film but the art of cinema alive. And that art goes way beyond pixel-perfect, big screen projection. It’s about creating a space where awe and excitement, love and fear are all possible, where we can live out our dreams and encounter some of our nightmares, where showmen and women take you by the hand and lead you into darkness.
The whir of Ümit’s 16mm projector invited us to take that step once more, to liberate our imagination and suspend the distractions and self-consciousness that normally come from watching streamed movies. Liam’s whispered off-camera coaching tips, the Heath Robinson set up where the bonds between digital and analogue kept ripping apart, and yes, even the delays and reboots made this a truly joyous screen encounter. The core of the event, like the 1933 film, was captivating. The simple idea that somewhere in London – even if we couldn’t be there in person – a film was unspooling in reel time became thoroughly intoxicating and a powerful reminder of what cinema is all about in these trying times.
We saw very little of KING KONG, but a projector and it’s charismatic projectionist were all that we needed to keep the film alive.
In the raffle that ensued, RADIANT CIRCUS won 2 tickets to see Ciné-Real’s next screening, JAWS. We’ll see what we can do with those…
Main featured image: KING KONG (1933).
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