Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Scala Cinema 1978-1993

Scala’d Lady

Scala Cinema 1978-1993
Slipcase Edition
Written by Jane Giles
FAB Press ISBN: 978-1903254981

I have a confession to make. Although I remember going into the lobby/box office area at least once to check it out back in the day, I don’t think (I may be wrong) that I ever saw an actual film at the famous Scala Cinema near King’s Cross (now, sadly, deceased). That being said, I jumped at the chance to back this Scala Cinema 1978-1993 book on Kickstarter, reprinting all of those distinctive, rough and ready movie timetable posters because of what the Scala meant to me at the time and for the atmosphere it was bound to capture.

You see, I was a college student in London from around the mid 1980s to very early 1990s, first on a general Art and Design Diploma in the Clerkenwell area and then onto my Graphic Design Degree at the London College Of Printing, Elephant And Castle. So I used to pick up those ‘what’s on’ posters all the time and marvel at the world of films which I loved, often showing on these things. I was big on what has come to be known as ‘world cinema’ at the time and the programmers at the Scala would often schedule these in, alongside movies I’d often never heard of at that tender age. I’m sure I wasn’t the only student who used to grab these and then use them to decorate my cubicle at college, both signalling my interest in film to other kids while putting up free advertising for the cinema. These colourful and chaotically designed posters were beautiful things in their own way and, I wish I’d kept more of them. I may have one or two in the loft somewhere but... that’s about it.

Jane Giles, who put this book together and wrote the accompanying text for each and every month of the Scala’s total schedule, was one of the programmers there for a while. She was also, near the end, the one prosecuted when the council finally cottoned on to one of the ‘illegal’ screenings of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. I guess the younger generation of film enthusiasts don’t realise how good they have it these days. A Clockwork Orange was banned for public consumption until after Kubrick’s death and the only way you could really see it back in the day, asides from the odd cheeky screening at the Scala, was to hop on a train to Camden Town and, more often than not, you would find a guy selling bootleg VHS copies of the film for a tenner a shot (that’s how I first saw it).

But getting back to Jane Giles and her beautiful book...

If it was just the wonderful, full colour reproductions of the fronts and smaller reprints of the backs of the Scala programmes, then the book would be cheap at half price. It’s an attractive tome with a slip case showing a lovely black and white shot of the cinema on one side and a new Graham Humphries poster style artwork commemorating the cinema on the back. The book itself is a monster and has attractive black covers with a gold foil blocked Scala logo on the front and, on the back, a gold blocked portrait of one of the Scala cats (I don’t know which one).  However, it’s not just about the posters and packing, as I soon found out when starting to read it.

It turns out that, not only is Jane Giles a thorough researcher, she’s also a highly entertaining and informative writer and what I thought was going to be the lesser part of the book, her quite voluminous text is actually, on reflection, at least as valuable (possibly more so) than the souvenir and nostalgia rush of the programmes themselves.

The book starts off with a big introduction section where she talks about a lot of things which will spark memories for Londoners. So, for instance, the importance of Time Out magazine to people in the days long before the internet. She also goes through the whole history of the area since the 18th Century and talks about the various buildings and performances in those venues. Additionally, due to its importance to this kind of cinema programming, she talks a bit about The Other Cinema, which I used to go to when it was renamed as the Metro on Rupert Street before... in its final years... it reverted back to being called The Other Cinema again. Saw a lot of good movies there.

And, of course, she goes heavily into the conditions that the cats/staff laboured under and, once the intro is finished, we are into squidzillions of pages of posters set out in double page spreads. On the right hand page is a full colour reproduction of the original poster for a specific month... not quite as large as the originals if memory serves but nevertheless a treat. The left hand page will have a smaller reproduction of the back of the poster, a few stills from films showing that month (or various other ‘items of interest’) and... some accompanying text from Jane.

Which is half of what this book is all about, as far as I’m concerned. She starts off each page with an account... or flavour... of just what was showing that month and this is sometimes accompanied by an explanation of why film x or y might have been included in the programme. She also tells you just what else politically or financially was happening at the cinema that month, makes notes on famous guests and live performances etc and also, and this really brought back the time period for me, tells you what other important events were going on in the UK or the rest of the world in that month. So yeah, Hillsborough disaster, Lockerbie bombing, Hungerford massacre, Steel worker strikes, UFOs in Rendelsham Forest, Thatcherism... it’s all here along with the terrible fire which claimed so many lives at King’s Cross station. It seems one of the late shift cashiers had a lucky escape and I remember a lot of my ‘class mates’ did as well that night. I recall we’d all been staying late to do some life drawing and so we were all travelling home when the fire broke out. I was alright because I was travelling from Farringdon back into Liverpool Street but many of my friends went the other way and I remember stories of lucky escapes the next day. It was a close one but... not for a lot of people that night.

It’s all good stuff and, despite the depressing ponderings of some of those world changing events mentioned above, the book is also full of fun and really captures both the atmosphere of the time (living in London in that period) and, presumably, the heady atmosphere of attending a screening there (not that I’d know that bit, more’s the pity). And some of these double bills, triple bills and all nighters were unbelievably quirky and often didn’t follow any logic... at least that’s the way it seemed to me back then. This was all a part of the cinema’s charm of course. It was certainly postmodern if nothing else... but it was also everything else too.

For instance, you could see a Pigs And Robots Revolt double bill of Blade Runner and Razorback. Or a double bill which somehow connected the 1966 Batman movie with Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. And where else could you watch an all nighter on 22nd March 1980 which would include movies like She Demons and Attack Of The Crab Monsters (one of my favourites, reviewed here) and then follow it up the next day with a screening of Kurosawa’s masterful Dersu Uzala before returning on the Monday for a triple bill of three of The Marx Brother’s early Paramount treasures? Nowhere is where, except maybe for the Everyman at Hampstead but, that’s a different story and quite a different atmosphere, to be sure.

It’s all good stuff and the, actually massive, textual contribution which is the real meat of the book elevates this tome far above and beyond being just another ‘movie book’ for sure. For me, this one is ‘right up there’ with my other favourite and most precious book about an aspect of the cinema, the equally cumbersome to hold and read hardback edition of Tim Lucas’ Mario Bava study, All The Colours Of The Dark. Scala Cinema 1978 - 1993 is that good, a true treasure of a book on movies (and it has my name listed in the back as a financial contributor, to boot... yay, me!). If you’ve been sitting on the fence about purchasing the now dying breed that is the first (and probably only) print run of this book then you really should get on it. It perfectly captures a time and place that many will remember and I certainly wouldn’t want to forget in a hurry. A rich, visual fusion of celluloid themed imagery and some very informative and sometimes even quite moving text. Snap this beauty up while the snapping’s good... I doubt you’ll ever regret it.

You can buy the book from the Fab Press website here www.fabpress.com and from all good book retailers.

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