Or, the Incredibly Strange Rise and Fall of the World's Wildest Cinema and How it Influenced a Mixed-Up Generation of Weirdos and Misfits
Between 1978 and 1993, the Scala became a Mecca for all manner of oddball cinematic wrongness, attracting a regular, reverent crowd of psychonauts, insomniacs, cruisers, horror hounds, trash aficionados and Laurel and Hardy fans, many of whom have gone on, under its freaky influence, to become authors, artists and filmmakers in their own right.
This affectionate if documentary looks back on the cinema’s heyday via interviews with the myriad filmmakers, musicians, writers, artists and activists who frequented its (apparently deeply uncomfortable) seats; all of whom have a colourful story to tell.
My favourite haunt during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s was the Scala (not the opera house in Milan, but the Cinema in Kings Cross!). It was the best repertory cinema in London with an extraordinary range of programming. Most were imaginative double bills ranging from art house Bergman, classic genre films, to trashy fare like ‘The Toxic Avenger’.
Underground classics like Kenneth Anger shorts, ‘Pink Narcissus’, and other barely legal films found their home at the Scala. I attended some of their all-nighters, from high art to horror and sexploitation (Russ Meyer). ‘Eraserhead’, ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and other cult films I also first saw there.
The Scala produced startling and colourful monthly printed programmes for 31 days that unfolded like a calendar that one put on the wall. It must have inspired my early seasonal programmes for the Chichester College Film Society that also unfolded and contained all double features each week. I also went on to programme all-nighters when we moved to New Park with ‘All Night Hitchcock’, ‘Mad Max’, ‘Halloween’ etc.
The Scala was like a large dark cavern, steeply racked, and its audiences created a wonderful friendly atmosphere. The documentary describes them as the wildest cinema that influenced a mixed-up generation of weirdos and misfits - I am not sure if that described me at the time!
Unfortunately, when the Cinema programmed an illegal showing of ‘The Clockwork Orange’ (It had been banned in the UK by Stanley Kubrick), Warner Bros and Kubrick sued the Scala , which financially bankrupted and closed the Cinema. It is now a night club.
This documentary is a wonderful and entertaining celebration, which I strongly recommend.
- Roger Gibson