Since it was first launched in 2007, Secret Cinema has kept growing and punters have continued to stump up a fair whack to take part in an offline event where in the past they didn’t even know what film they’d be seeing. In it’s most notable release so far, ‘Back To The Future‘ was revealed in advance and the tickets for the dates in July and August disappeared in no time. Luckily, Stuart (my brother-in-law) and Lorna (my sister) managed to get us all tickets not that my wife and I had any idea what it was all about when we were presented with the tickets following our family get-together the day before.
Lorna had told me in advance to keep my Sunday evening (August 10th) free but I just thought it would be tickets to watch a film or go to a music concert! As it was, my first guess was kind of right but in a way that was so different to anything I could ever possibly have imagined!
Despite the many Star Wars and 007 features on Tokyo Fox it’s actually ‘Back To The Future‘ which is my favourite film. However, regardless of that I was still very apprehensive about this event as I couldn’t understand what it actually was at first and with jet-lag kicking in I really wasn’t confident that we could stay awake for that long having been in bed so much earlier on the previous nights. Furthermore, when I did my research on the event the first Secret Cinema article I came across was one slating it for all number of reasons, most notably the £50+ ticket prices!
After a morning of rain-soaked sightseeing we returned to our rented apartment for a much needed rest ahead of the nights events wondering how the rain would affect the occasion. We were pretty much still oblivious to what Secret Cinema entailed though when we arrived at Stuart and Lorna’s hotel in Stratford where they were staying for the night. On booking the tickets, each audience member is assigned a character name card and identity with many personal details on it (I was Roderick Poitras, an egg gatherer!) and one has to dress up as that extra to become part of the experience of being part of the production of this classic movie. We would certainly find out later on that it really is best to just go with the flow and get immersed in the world of cosplay in order to reap the full reward.
The line to enter the “secret location” at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London stretched for miles and took us an hour or so till we entered via a bag search. This is a rare event in that mobile phones are confiscated from those who decide to bring them each night. It’s supposed to be some response to digital culture and of the course the organisers can use the excuse that mobiles didn’t exist in 1955 so allowing them would take away from the grandness of the event. What we didn’t realise though was that we could purchase disposable camera’s on sight (£6) which naturally we did and thereafter our attitude changed a little bit as it became just about taking pictures rather than enjoying it in the way that people used to do in days gone by!
So how to describe this event? It’s basically a BTTF festival with a bit of cosplay, theatre, cinema and live music thrown in for good measure. As soon as we entered we were on Twin Pines Ranch whereby we encounter the fairly surreal situation of interacting in character with some workers (a.k.a. trained actors speaking American English) amid real goats from Mr Peabody’s Farm.
The site had been reconstructed to resemble the 1955 Hill Valley as close as possible with the courthouse square taking the central area. The clock tower is of course in front of that including a huge giant screen displaying the film. Hill Valley high school was to one side of the square and of course was playing host to the all important ‘Enchantment Under The Sea‘ dance which bookended the nights main event with Marvin Berry & The Starlighters performing. Lou’s Cafe was behind the square and the place for us to spend huge amounts of money on food and drink if we so desired! Just the £8 for my cheeseburger as not surprisingly this was not on sale at 1950’s prices!!
The roads between the ranch and the courthouse square featured the houses of Biff, Lorraine, George, a few others and a bit further along was the Doc’s house and the Texaco gas station. Of course I’ve been to the actual houses used during filming in Los Angeles but nevertheless it was still very exciting to see these rebuilt places with actors inside them mingling with the audience in character. This interaction had actually started while we were queuing outside and continued all night with sketches taking place randomly at any place and any time. “No jaywalking” was said by traffic policemen and other such folk throughout the night every time one of us “extras” committed the number one crime in Hill Valley!!
Courthouse square was where the vast majority of the huge crowd sat to watch the film which began just after 9pm. I had originally thought that this would, in a way, be the least exciting part of the evening but on a night of delightful surprises I was happy to be proved wrong again.
Throughout the film, I not only enjoyed watching it outside with thousands of likeminded fans (which was actually far more exciting than I thought possible for a film which is nearly 30 years old!) but we also got to witness and be part of live re-enactments with many of them acted out on a stage lying beneath the screen. Furthermore, there were numerous cars, vans, yellow school buses, cadillacs and skateboards whizzing around the square as the actors and stuntmen recreated key scenes from the film parallel to their appearance in the movie. It was a pretty awesome spectacle.
Conditions were fairly windy at times but thankfully the rain also managed to mostly hold off for the duration of the event. Overall, there was so much going on throughout the evening and it really is quite difficult to paint a really true and accurate picture of what this particular Secret Cinema was all about. The attention to detail was really great and there were so many geeky BTTF references everywhere. Now, you have to understand that this is my account of how I got lost in cinema on the night. With this event though, nearly every single participant has a different and unique experience and therein lies the beauty of such an event.