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Providing audiences with a more interactive, communal atmosphere in which to enjoy their favorite films, Secret Cinema is a bold innovation in moviegoing. 

Secret Cinema3

Since its announcement in December, Secret Cinema has been systematically dropping hints about the details of its latest ‘immersive’ cinematic event to an eagerly awaiting audience. While some lucky ticket-holders have already attended and are remaining silent about any important details, the rest of the public are left speculating what’s in store for the company’s latest venture.

Their tagline or ‘ethos’, Tell No One, seems to be remaining intact. Various pictures of wartime scenes and military uniforms have recently surfaced and combined with the company’s own promotional videos and pictures from their social media sites, which detail much of the same Cold War vibe; most people are under the impression that the film chosen this year is none other than Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Taking place between February 17th and March 13th, the tickets went on sale back in December 2015, but as of the end of February had surprisingly yet to sell out. Considering Secret Cinema’s history with huge turnouts and unobtainable tickets, it would appear that this year they have yet to feel the same wave of enthusiastic audiences. Consider their past two big events, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back in the summer of 2015 and Back to the Future in 2014, which sold 17,000 tickets in the first four minutes and a staggering 85,000 tickets in total (the company had to include 12 extra performance days to appease the hoards of fans desperate to get a ticket).

Secret_Cinema_presents_Back_to_the_Future_(2014)

This year, however, their event has yet to reach the same levels of manic hysteria. The ‘immersive’ cinema company’s steady rise in both magnitude and reputation in recent years is something worth discussing. Within London the plethora of film exhibition and events on offer is staggering; no longer bound by the cinema-going tendencies of previous generations, new and exciting forms of film exhibition are developing and defining the twenty-first century.

Secret Cinema is just one of the companies providing an alternative to the standard multiplex in the capital today. Their success is all the more impressive considering not only the wide variety of competing alternative film events, but also the rapidness in which this company has become the frontrunner for providing such unconventional entertainment. 

Only last week have Secret Cinema also announced yet another show in conjunction with their main spectacle this year, a rendition of zombie classic 28 Days Later running from 14th April -29th May. This will be the company’s first venture into the horror genre and will launch their first nationwide production; the event will also be screened in another ‘secret’ UK city. Stating in their press release, they urged their audiences to ‘find clues on buildings around the country.’

Secret Cinema 28 Days Later

Founded by Fabien Riggall in 2007, Secret Cinema has dedicated itself to delivering a one-of-a-kind film-viewing experience, providing a structure that ultimately depends on audience participation. Ticket-holders are requested to wear costumes, or engage with the cast of actors hired.  Live action sequences re-created from iconic moments unfold throughout the evening, all contained within a fully-realised environment ranging from props or whole landscapes derived from the set and locale of each film.

For example, during their Star Wars event, Secret Cinema recreated various locations from the franchise such as the desert world Tatooine, or set up covert ‘missions’ for attendee to deliver packages to members of the Rebel Alliance under the watchful eye of judicial Storm Troopers. Similarly, with their Back to the Future event, Rigall and his team filled Olympic Park with a re-creation of the 1955 version of Hill Valley, allowing spectators to not only watch the film in the main square but meander to the surrounding shops, school, cafes and carnival, or enjoy the hidden 1980s and school discos that ran during the whole event.

As a ticket-holder for the BTTF event back in 2014, I arrived at the East London venue not knowing exactly what to expect. The rapid sellout of tickets and ensuing drama of a week of cancelled performances (due to the company’s inability to set-up on time) meant that going in I had a lot of expectations.

Secret Cinema has dedicated itself to delivering a one-of-a-kind film-viewing experience, providing a structure that ultimately depends on audience participation.”

Even though my ticket was only priced at £55, compared to the £67.08 for a standard ticket this year or £134.16 for a more exclusive ticket, I was still apprehensive, and perhaps a little bitter, about the amount of money I had paid to see a film I had seen countless times before. While the initial unveiling of the venue space was a tad underwhelming and the Hill Valley town seemed a little less polished than I had been lead to believe, once the film began I finally started to feel as though I’d got my money’s worth.

There was something irrefutably convivial about being amongst the mass of equally passionate fans that day, collectively reacting to the most iconic moments, witnessing Marty himself run around the set in his red life preserver and an apparently spontaneous sing-along dance erupting during Marty’s performance of Johnny B. Goode. By the end of the day my initial reservations had all but been eradicated as I left in an excessively festive and excitable mood.

Secret Cinema managed to create an event that felt reminiscent of the nostalgic, romantic notion of collective cinema-going so often associated with the ‘golden age’ of Hollywood of the 1930s/40s. It was equally as ostentatious and ‘eventful’, and the communal aspect of the evening was definitely one of the highlights, a loud participatory audience that rambunctiously celebrated the film and its iconic eccentricity.

But I suppose that’s what you’d expect from cult audiences; they are routinely adoring, demanding and wildly dedicated.

backtothefuture

With all of the joviality of the evening I couldn’t help but focus on this aspect. This wasn’t the first time Secret Cinema had screened a cult classic to an enthusiastic reception.  Their previous events had included: The Warriors, Alien, Blade Runner, Blues Brothers, Top Gun and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Secret Cinema has continually capitalised on the loyal and passionate nature of cult movie fanbases in order to firstly ensure the audience will be willing to participate in the manner they require, and secondly, for the security of ticket sales. 

Star Wars was therefore another plausible choice along this trajectory, as Secret Cinema was sure to unearth an abundance of fans willing to dress up in costumes and pay the hefty fee for a ticket. For evidence of this enthusiasm, one only has to think of the hordes of fans who annually descend upon San Diego for Comic-Con, usually dressed as their favourite character.

The company’s dedication to creating tangible worlds that cult audiences can ‘live’ in for the mere price of a ticket and being able to blend cinematic culture into reality, even if for only one evening, is surely an event in which any cinephile would want to participate.

Perhaps the rise in popularity for Secret Cinema can indicate an abandonment of local multiplexes and online streaming platforms for a more romanticised form of film spectatorship. As Secret Cinema continues to provide London with an alternative form of entertainment, the popularity of their events have influenced the emergence of companies such as Roof Top Film Club, Hot Tub Cinema and Drive-In Film Club, who similarly screen cult classics. These companies have evolved in response to an overwhelming deviation from the banality of simply ‘going to the cinema.’

By re-branding aspects of traditional Hollywood film exhibition, these companies are providing a platform for the public to engage with their favourite films in new participatory manners. Whether you’re a devoted cinephile, or simply in need for an interesting night out, Secret Cinema events are certainly worth the experience.

For more information about the company and tickets visit www.secretcinema.org/tickets. Follow Secret Cinema on Twitter @SecretCinema

Francesca Amoroso

Francesca is currently a Camera Assistant, working and living in London. She is an MA Film Studies graduate from UCL and writes about film in her spare time.

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Posted on Mar 7, 2016

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