SIFF 2024 Reaction – SCALA!!!

Ready for a documentary ABOUT a cinema? SCALA!!! has you covered, with two screenings happening at this year’s Seattle International Film Festival.

Festival Notes: The wild history of the Scala Cinema in King’s Cross, London, a repertory house of ill repute with enough nose-thumbing alternative programming, midnight madness, illicit pornography, and transgressive politics that it would make Margaret Thatcher’s head explode. From 1978–93, London’s legendary Scala cinema offered its patrons a wealth of diverse film programming, everything from kung-fu to queer, grindhouse sexploitation to gorehound horror, Laurel & Hardy classics to provocateurs John Waters & Divine. If there ever was a high temple of cult cinema, it was the Scala. Founder (and Academy Award nominee) Stephen Woolley adopted the same DIY approach to film exhibition that fueled the punk music scene—as a “cinema club” the Scala was allowed to show more transgressive fare and, in some cases, uncertified or even “banned” films. The cinema’s anarchic reputation attracted and inspired a whole generation of renowned musicians, artists, and filmmakers. And then there’s cinema cat Huston, whose exploits are almost as legendary as the Scala itself. Directed by former Scala programmer Jane Giles with Ali Catterall, 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, to give the film its full title, is not only a profoundly heartfelt tribute to the weird, wild, and wondrous motion pictures of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, but also a love letter to those cinema spaces where we all gather and collectively share such experiences. (Credit: Dan Doody)

Reaction: Any documentary on a cinema is welcome in my books! For whatever reason, the Scala cinema in London was a bit off my radar as whenever I think of the city I think of the Empire Leicester Square or the Prince Charles Cinema. So I am thrilled to see a well made and entertaining documentary on this place that certainly has its controversy and history. The theatre itself, that looks like a converted balcony with its deep rake and tiny screen at the front, looks like a converted balcony cinema and I can only imagine what it would have been like to come in and out of the place. Though the footage of the venue itself is limited (this was well before people had cameras on their phone and theatres were not very well documented) there’s still a lot of life in this documentary, especially with the filmmaker interviews like John Waters, Mary Herron and PT Anderson’s main producer Joanne Seller being key highlights. The movie also gets into the major controversy of when A CLOCKWORK ORANGE showed there when Stanley Kubrick withdrew it from distribution in England, which is a pretty fascinating story. Not sure if SCALA!!! would play in too many theaters aside from special screenings in cinematheques, but overall this is a spirited documentary and one I would like to see more of for cinemas. 

SIFF Media

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