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Scala!!! Film Review

Updated: Mar 10

Article written by Jess Traeger and Carlotta Skeates-O’Reilly Scala!!! 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.’

Scala!!! Is a riotous exploration into the underbelly of queer cinema and the communities who found a home at the Scala cinema. The documentary is as much about screaming, smoking and shagging as movies. Directed by Jane Giles, Scala!!! Is a thrilling raunchy exploration into the communities of gays, punks, new romantics and those who inhabited the edges of normality, who all found a home at the cinema. Featuring interviews from John Waters to Caroline Catz, Scala!!! Is nostalgia pornography (alongside some classical pornography) not simply for a space but for the community cinema created. A love letter to the culture of cinema now lost to streaming.

A documentary stuffed with interviewees from all corners of 1970s British subculture. They describe the Scala cinema to be a shapeshifter, showing German Angst classics like Herzog's ‘Nosferatu’ or Wim Wenders’ ‘Wings of Desire’ to all-night Laurel and Hardy marathons enticing an entirely different crowd. The film follows the cinema from indie picture house that never turned a(n underage) soul away to concert hall, holding the first gigs of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. Director Giles recreates the surrealness of the all-night showings through paper animation, presenting the liminal spaces of their drug-fueled audiences. Between the wakeful world and the sleeping one and on the threshold between reality and the outrageously fictitious, the Scala sat.

Producer Stephen Woolley founded the cinema itself. Initially located in fitzrovia then decamped to its iconic building in kings Cross in 1981. The imposing building was opened in 1920 and functioned as a cinema intermittently until 1993 when it closed for good (thanks to the anarchic choices of the film's director Giles). The building was described as a living entity that groaned as the northern line ran underneath and loudly rumbled the building, creating the eerie soundscape that underlined the all-night cinema showings and rock concerts of the venue. We hear first-hand accounts of the neighbourhood as a population of prostitutes, drug addicts and of course cinema-goers (one of whom in an interview reveals they often found more interest in the seats behind them than the films themselves). Not quite the same image of Kings-cross that springs to my mind. Between interviews, sketches and vintage footage Giles manages to capture the cinema and its areas wonderful dodginess.

Scala!!! recognises a community of seediness and cinema-goers now alien to the digital age. Simply, cinemas are struggling to survive. But all is not lost! I watched Scala!!! At The Duke of York, located at the top of London road, built in 1910, it is one of the oldest surviving purpose-built cinemas in Britain. It shows an eclectic mix of films throughout the week and on Mondays under 25’s can get tickets for £4.99! If Scala!!! If about anything, it is the richness, naughtiness and importance of cinema to culture and communities. So maybe venture out into the darkness of a November evening and seek refuge in the screens? Who knows, maybe Jonny Rotten will be sitting behind you.

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