Secret Cinema have pioneered the concept of ‘live cinema’, transforming film into a uniquely dynamic performance, whilst encouraging thousands to hand over cash without ever knowing what film they were going to see. It plunges film fans into an interactive theatre space, directly relevant to the forthcoming screening, and elevates the experience of watching a film beyond slumping in front of a DVD. The people behind it, Future Cinema, have been branching out with further events, and this latest addition to their increasingly impressive CV is ideal for those who don’t like surprises. Future Cinema presents Casablanca removes the element of mystery, but retains most of the winning Secret Cinema formula.
Like Secret Cinema, there’s an element of playful participation, inviting attendees not to be passive observers, but active contributors to the event. Weeks before, guests received an email from ‘Rick’, giving details of the location and dress code – a white tuxedo or trenchcoat is encouraged; most at least made the effort to slap on a shirt and tie on the day, but there were also some seriously well-dressed couples in the queue (and it was mostly couples – Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca was a canny choice around Valentine’s Day). Those foolish enough not to have suited up – or who didn’t have the correct ‘papers’ – were pulled from the line and berated by actors dressed as soldiers from 1940s French Morocco.
Once you got past the venue’s exterior ‘security’, the queue makes its way inside, where it was a little like stepping back in time to the 1940s – give or take a few anachronistic camera phones. You enter into ‘Rick’s Café Americain’, a faithful recreation of the famous film setting, well-suited to the Troxy’s authentic art deco interior. A smartly-dressed band played some jazz and swing standards (including songs featured in the film, like Knock on Wood). Dancers in tiny sequined dresses accompanied them on stage with a Lindy Hop. Sam was there, in his fedora, and did indeed play it again, on a jangly old piano. A few patrons were also trying their luck at a casino, where occasionally a cheer went up from the roulette table.
As with all of Future Cinema’s events, the attention to detail was tremendous, and the effect almost entirely immersive. Yet, this particular event felt far more relaxed than previous Secret Cinema outings – the last season, which screened Frank Darabont’s 1994 classic The Shawshank Redemption, had filmgoers dressed up in prison gear and thrown into cells for insubordination. The lack of surprise and a classier setting made this more like a jolly evening out, albeit one punctuated by actors fighting and shooting prop guns at each other. There was no prison slop here: we sipped elegant cocktails and ate delicious Moroccan food from Exmouth Market’s Moro restaurant.
Finally, after nearly three hours of chic live music and snippets of theatre, we sat down at the lampshade-adorned tables and watched Casablanca. The confirmed classic has lost none of its wistful romantic muster, and indeed is only enhanced by the surroundings. You can practically hear the sound of a thousand hearts ache by the time Bogart’s “hill of beans” speech rolls around. That this run has just been extended is no accident. We’ve said it before: you won’t find a better filmgoing experience in all of London.
Future Cinema’s season of Casablanca screenings runs up until 23 March, 2013. To buy tickets, visit futurecinema.co.uk.