The sight of hundreds of Bedouin-attired tribespeople making the long walk from Wood Green tube station to Alexandra Park may have turned quite a few heads from passers-by, but to those in the know – which still is not many considering the event’s soaring popularity – another exciting evening orchestrated by Secret Cinema was just getting started.
The sight of hundreds of Bedouin-attired tribes people making the long walk from Wood Green tube station to Alexandra Park may have turned quite a few heads from passers-by, but to those in the know – which still is not many considering the event’s soaring popularity – another exciting evening orchestrated by Secret Cinema was just getting started.
Organising meticulously planned occasions based around the screening of a secret film (the identity of which remains firmly under wraps until the opening credits roll), Secret Cinema is peerless in reproducing the sights and sounds of the worlds depicted within each movie, all in the name of exclusive, cultish entertainment. Even the location of each event is only revealed to ticket-holders a few days in advance.
For this occasion, following June’s hugely successful screening of Blade Runner, attendees received correspondence that set the tone for the event’s proceedings, asking them to “join the uprising” and come dressed in tribal colours for a treacherous journey to ‘the promised land’. At this point, the odds of guessing the chosen film have dramatically improved – after all there are only so many Arabia-based films to choose from – but nothing is confirmed or denied by the organisers (or any of the 150 actors to make the experience come alive) and this leaves just enough doubt to make sure the film choice is still one of the many surprises to unfold throughout the night.
Upon arrival at Alexandra Park, the Arabic theme was even more prevalent, with new arrivals being greeted by live donkeys, goats and even camels, as well as hired extras jumping out from behind bushes to harass and barter with guests. Before long, however, everyone was assembled in front of the tribal leaders (on horseback, barking orders) who proceeded to lead them in storming Alexandra Palace.
Once inside, attendees were ushered into the first great hall of the night and, while some were subjected to hostile British military interrogation, others enjoyed a game of billiards with the friendlier soldiers, or had their picture taken on a turn-of-the-century camera. As impressive as all of this was, it all became a faint mirage once guests entered the second hall and the real experience began.
Therein lay a maze of Bedouin tents and stalls that sold exotic food and handcrafted trinkets as well as some that offered Indian head massages and fortune-telling. With the sound live drums beating in the background, the smell of spit-roasting meat in the air and the dazzling array of Eastern fabrics that hung from every available space, Secret Cinema had transported its audience to the foreign setting of a film that, by now, no one could have failed to guess correctly: Lawrence of Arabia.
If people were wowed by the reproduced world of David Lean’s 1962 British epic, there were certainly reservations as to its length. At 222 minutes in length, those who took the advice to bring cushions and rugs were considerably more comfortable when settling on the otherwise cold concrete floor, but there were really too many distractions for guests to commit to the whole film in one sitting.
But then, on this occasion at least, the screening itself came second to the spectacle. The hall’s acoustics, perhaps, detracted from Maurice Jarre’s majestic score but it was impossible not to join in with a crowd that wooped and cheered at every iconic moment or memorable quote from this timeless classic.
Lawrence of Arabia was enjoyed by 15000 costumed fans (over the three nights) as part of a unique and phenomenal experience. And with the 3D craze currently sweeping across cinemas attempting to put the audience ‘in’ a movie, no one make that claim quite so literally as the creative organisers behind Secret Cinema.