On Tuesday 17 September we are showing Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil as part of the Scalarama Festival.
To quote their own website Scalarama “brings together all types of different cinemas, venues, film clubs, societies, pop-ups and festivals to encourage and champion repertory and community cinema, and be the UK’s widest and most inclusive film event”.
It’s an idea that started three years ago with Scala Forever, a collaboration between various London venues and organisations that paid tribute to the legendary Kings Cross repertory cinema that Stephen Wooley started in 1979.
Famous for its cult double bills, zombie all-nighters and the resurrection of Hollywood fare that seldom got a look-in at The NFT, the cinema’s projector bulbs were dimmed in 1993 after a legal battle with Warner Bros following an illicit screening of the then-banned A Clockwork Orange.
When I moved to London in 1999 The Scala had just reopened as a music venue but its days as a cinema where you could see John Waters films one day and John Wayne the next were still spoken about in reverential tones. While the BFI screens a wide array of old movies and cinemas like the magnificent Phoenix in East Finchley show the occasional oldie, the culture of repertory cinemas in London is dead.
(If you do want to experience an exciting rep cinema culture then get the EuroStar to Paris. I’ll never forget seeing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with a sold-out audience on a Sunday afternoon some years ago.)
The argument goes (and presumably the economics bear this out) that in a world of John Cassavetes box sets, stunning restorations of classics on Blu Ray and a decent smattering of foreign films on-demand on iTunes and LOVEFiLM there’s no market for cinemas to show old movies.
In their absence, the big question when we all have so many options at our fingertips is who’s going to help us pick what’s worth watching? Who’ll draw our attention to the gem we’ve never heard of? Where can we watch that film we’ve vaguely heard of but that’s never on TV and is one of Netflix’s many blindspots?
That’s what reps like the Scala did brilliantly and I think it’s one of the things people like about what me and Wayne Gooderham are doing at Tufnell Park Film Club. We’ve never tried to give anyone a film education or inflict anything too esoteric on members. Instead we attempt to adhere to Billy Wilder’s golden rule of “Thou shalt not bore” with films that are consistently entertaining and intelligent no matter when or where they were made. And our voting system allows members to influence the direction of programming.
Touch of Evil seemed like a perfect film to show as part of Scalarama. It’s a quintessential cult classic - directed by a Hollywood legend, butchered by the studio who funded it, featuring one of the most famous shots in cinema history and only ‘restored’ to Orson Welles specification 40 years after it was originally released and 13 years after the maestro had died.
There’s so much to enjoy in Touch of Evil and I hope we’ll see you when we show the film on Tuesday 17 September and raise a glass to the continuing efforts to keep the The Scala’s vision alive.