Shunning The Multiplex: Alternative Cinema Experiences In The UK

This feature was originally written for Cherwell

‘For a truly memorable cinema experience, one must look beyond the typical multiplex and venture into the unknown realms of alternative cinema’

Going to the cinema is not always a treat. Although your experience as an audience member is obviously largely dictated by the quality of the film on show, there are several other factors worth considering. Perhaps if that annoyingly chirpy 12-year-old girl would shut up you could focus on the protagonist’s affected mumble better. Perhaps if your seat was not bejewelled with used gum you could sit more comfortably. And perhaps if the large man with the unfortunately audible chewing style would cease his incessant popcorn-munching for just a minute, you could hear what the bad guy’s plan was. No, to avoid these irritations, and for a truly memorable experience, one must look beyond the typical multiplex and venture into the unknown realms of alternative cinema

Some alternatives offer luxury. Take The Electric Cinema in Notting Hill, for example. A cinema has existed in one form or another at 191 Portobello Road since 1911 and the current venue, refurbished in the early 2000s, claims to be ‘one of the world’s most lavish and user-friendly cinemas’. This is no hollow boast; in addition to their 65 plush leather armchairs (all with footstools and side-tables), it boasts three leather sofas, and six double beds from which to enjoy a film. Everyone gets their own cashmere blanket too. Instead of a bucket of coke and a box of popcorn the size of a telephone box, the cinema’s bar offers gourmet cinema snacks as well as booze. Tickets aren’t cheap though: £18 for a regular armchair and £30 for a double bed.

If this still seems too conventional, The Rooftop Film Club may interest you. In the evening during the summer months, this innovative group screen a mixture of classic films and new releases on the rooftops of buildings in Shoreditch, Peckham and Kensington. Viewers sit back, listen through wireless headphones, snack on barbecued nibbles and relax as the stars appear both overhead and on screen. The only drawback to this otherwise magical experience is the classic problem with outdoor British events; should the weather take a turn for the worse, warm clothing is essential.

This is less of an issue with Hot Tub Cinema, which, as you can probably guess, seats viewers in inflatable hot tubs to watch movies. Established in 2012, Hot Tub Cinema developed from just one party at which founder Asher Charman decided to screen films onto a bed sheet hung from his window, watching them with friends from a tub in his garden. Since then, his project has expanded, now hosting evenings on rooftops across the UK. This may not be a wise choice for hardcore cinephiles, however; attention can stray slightly from the film, lost in a blur of champagne and 40-degree bubbles. Understandably, concentration is probably difficult to maintain when surrounded by half-naked 20-somethings. In hot tubs. On a roof.

Asher Charman founded Hot Tub Cinema after a party in his garden (photo: http://www.ilovegreen.it)

If you are somehow still concerned about the lack of adventure in your cinematic habits, then perhaps you should consider registering with Secret Cinema. Calling themselves a ‘community of all that love cinema, and experiencing the unknown’, Secret Cinema organises truly extraordinary ways of seeing movies. A film (which is secret) is screened in an appropriate location (which is secret), on one date every month (which is secret). All is revealed in an email sent out shortly prior to the screening, along with a compulsory dress code.

Every Secret Cinema event is highly themed and audience members are very much involved in the occasion; viewers underwent Nurse Ratched-style therapy before the 2010 showing of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and in 2011, at a screening of Gillo Pontecorveo’s Battle of Algiers, film-goers were interrogated by military personnel in abandoned underground tunnels beneath Waterloo train station. Safe to say, a stranger’s irritatingly loud mastication would have paled into unimportance on that occasion.


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