I don’t usually get political on my blog, nor is this an attempt to be. Regardless of your party affinity, I’m sure most people will agree that freedom of expression is an important right. As I write this review post a week after attending the Secret Cinema protest screening against censorship, Sony have now released their new film ‘The Interview’ after initially cancelling plans to do so.
However, just a week ago the story was very different. After weeks of embarrassing emails being leaked following a hack into Sony’s computer system, the Hollywood studio revealed it had received threats over ‘The Interview’, a movie about a fictional plot to kill the Communist nation’s leader Kim Jong-Un. In a move criticised by US President Barack Obama, Sony announced the film would not be released.
Before Sony’s U-turn and eventual release of the film online and at selected US movie theatres on Christmas Day, cinema event company Secret Cinema decided to host protest screenings in London, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Rome simultaneously on December 21. The message was to protest against the attack on freedom of expression which the threats against ‘The Interview’ represented. Organised in less than two days and in tradition of Secret Cinema events, ticket holders were given instructions to wear a black suit and bring a gift for someone. The London screening was £25 per ticket, which along with the other cities, contributed to a total of £11,500 raised for global free speech charity Article 19.
Several hours before the screening we were emailed with the location – the stunning 1930s Art Deco The Troxy cinema in Limehouse, east London. So armed with our tickets, some gifts for a stranger and wearing our black suits, my friend and I arrived at The Troxy promptly at 6.30pm. Upon entering, we walked past protest banners and placards depicting the right to freedom of expression. The cinema was set out with large tables and chairs – an unusual seating arrangement for a film screening, but gave a stylish formality to what would usually be casual proceedings. Aside from the screening, guests were also entertained by jazz singer Jordan Jackson and performance poet Adam Kammerling with a short talk by Article 19’s Barbora Bukovská explaining the importance of free speech. Overall, the evening was relaxed and sophisticated – despite the serious message behind the event.
An hour into the evening, it was revealed the film would be the 1940 classic ‘The Great Dictator’, directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977). The movie stars Chaplin as Adenoid Hynkel, the ruthless and unhinged dictator of the fictional country of Tomainia – a thinly veiled version of Adolf Hitler and Germany. When the film was originally released, the US was still officially at peace with Germany so it caused some controversy. Unsurprisingly the film was banned in many countries in Europe as it appeared to criticise Hitler and his regime. My friend and I had never watched the film before and found it both funny and moving. The three and a half-minute speech directly to camera with Chaplin’s beliefs towards the end of the film is particularly powerful and still relevant today. The choice of movie for the Secret Cinema protest could not have been more apt within the current debate on censorship in film.
For Metro Girl’s review of Secret Cinema’s Back To The Future screening, click here.
Secret Cinema events usually stays off-radar, fulfilling the ‘secret’ element to the title. Since it was first started 10 years ago by founder Fabien Riggall, it has hosted immersive experiences and screenings of classic films such as Shawshank Redemption, Grease and Casablanca. However, with the announcement two months ago that Secret Cinema were going to host the biggest live cinema event in the UK, it brought the company to a whole new level of publicity. I have long wanted to go to SC event, but have been waiting for the right film. When I found out they were presenting my favourite film Back To The Future, I knew I had to go. Admittedly, SC did experience some negative press in the run-up, with ticket problems and having cancelled the initial week of screenings, Thursday’s launch in East London easily proved the doubters wrong.
In the run up to Secret Cinema’s launch of ‘Secret Hill Valley’, my friends and I were each assigned our own characters. I was a student at Hill Valley High School, where the movie’s characters of Marty, Lorraine, George and Biff all went to school in the either ’50s or ’80s. We were given a list of props to bring to round out our character, such as sunglasses, a family photo and homework. Although SC’s BTTF screenings had been in the national press, the premise is to keep as many details secret as possible so not to ruin the experience for subsequent visitors. In my review, I’ll only give away what has been covered in the national press and the photos included so I don’t ruin the many surprises of the evening.
The dress code is 1955, so my friends and I all gathered at an East London train station dressed in petticoats, crisp white shirts with high ponytails and gelled back hairstyles armed with cushions (to sit on during the screening) and our various props. At the entrance, we handed in our cameras and phones to try to preserve the secrecy of Hill Valley. Although my friends and I kept reaching for our phones when spotting great photo opportunities, we soon got used to not having them, which gave us the freedom to truly immerse ourselves in the experience. Anyway, no one had mobile phones in 1955, so that would have spoiled the look.
Just like our hero Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) did in the movie, we walked through the country lanes approaching the town of Hill Valley, past the houses of some of the famous residents, such as the Baines, McFly and Tannen families. SC has recreated Courthouse Square with great detail, full of the familiar shops and businesses from the movie, such as Lou’s Café, Roy’s Records and the Hill Valley Telegraph. The town was also full of residents (played by actors), many familiar from the film, such as bully Biff Tannen cruising the square looking for trouble with his gang of cronies. Admittedly there were a lot of queues for the eating establishments, but with a couple of thousand people in attendance, this was inevitable. Visitors had 3 hours to enjoy the sights and sounds of Secret Hill Valley before the main event – the film’s screening – took place. This is where is helps to bring a cushion or blanket so you can park yourself on the grassy square of Hill Valley and watch the action on the big screen of the Courthouse – complete with its clock frozen in time at 10.04pm when it was struck by lightning. Following the screening, there is a chance to rock your socks off at the Enchantment Under The Sea dance in the High School, where George and Lorraine finally kissed for the first time in the movie, ensuring Marty’s existence ahead in 1985.
Tickets for the event are £53 which does sound steep – but this is more than a film screening. When you enter the life-sized town that SC have created and the large cast helping to transport you back to 1955, you soon realise why the pricing is such. However, all five people in my group of friends who attended and myself all agreed we would happily pay to return – it was such a brilliant experience.
- Secret Cinema Presents Back to the Future runs until 31 August 2014 and tickets are available for dates from 14-31 August via Secret Cinema’s official site.
For a review of Secret Cinema’s screening of The Great Dictator, click here.