Dirs: Ali Catterall, Jane Giles | UK Doc with Barry Adamson, John Akomfrah, Rick Baker, Ralph Brown, Paul Burston, Adam Buxton, Caroline Catz | 96′
Cinemas are edenic places, some would describe them as palaces which to be fair they were at some point in the 20th century. But between that time of art deco grandeur and the mostly soulless multiplexes and faux art houses that blight our horizons something else existed. Something magical.
Of all the places, the Scala is the most storied in the UK and we now have a myth-making introduction for all those that missed out. There should be a warning for those cinephiles currently hiding out in cinemas across the UK, this is what was taken from you.
The danger with a documentary like Scala!!! is that it must skirt the chasm of describing experiences that have passed and will never be repeated and the cynical idea of nostalgia as false consciousness… Happily I can report that it never falls into that trap.
When we look and listen to the numerous talking heads, from filmmakers: John Waters, Mary Harron, Caroline Catz and John Akomfrah; musicians: Jah Wobble, Barry Adamson, Douglas Hart and Thurston Moore; critics: Kim Newman and Alan Jones, we can perhaps understand what François Truffaut meant when he claimed that ‘film lovers are sick, sick people’.
The sense of the outsider reigns supreme here, as an existential answer to an unanswered question that searches for finding a like-minded peer group. When this happens hubs are important, and the Scala was one of these. Located for the longest time in Kings Cross a good decade before it became the homogeneous gentrified experience that it now is. Difficult to explain what urban areas in the UK were like in the 80s. King Cross could be described as the relative to New York’s Time Square of legendary grindhouses before that was Disneyfied by Rudy Giuliani.
Alongside everything else that the 80s gave us we had to deal with rampant homophobia, the Scala was a safe space before the term started to have various connotations. It was very definitely a ‘Queer” space, queer in the sense that celebrates transgression in the form of visible difference from normie culture.
It has been a long process for Scala!!! to come to light, a crowd funded budget, a book and a yearly national film festival, but through it all the directors Jane Giles (former programmer at the Scala and author of the book) and Ali Catterall (film critic and author) have kept the faith and battled to bring into existence a wonderful documentary that has been acclaimed at various film festivals and will now be going on a nationwide tour to cinemas across perfidious Albion.
What we are left to ponder, after luxuriating in the text, is where we are now that everything has become homogeneous and nondescript. It is true that grubby cinemas of faded glamour very rarely exist anymore, but what have we sacrificed for the boutique cinemas and multiplexes? Comfort, security, safety and a lack of cinema cats. I certainly know where I would rather experience the 7th art. It is yet another example of the mainstream swallowing everything like an out-of-control whale. Outside of London the notion of the Rep cinema simply doesn’t exist, which is a form of cultural vandalism. One thinks of one of the defining lines in John le Carré’s ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’, when Bill Hayden says, ‘it has all become so ugly.’ @DWMault
In UK and Irish cinemas from 5 January 2024. Scala!!! will be available digitally on BFI Player and released on BFI Blu-ray on 22 January 2024 | A season of the Scala’s greatest hits, Scala: Sex, drugs and rock and roll cinema, runs at BFI Southbank throughout January with selected films on BFI Player.