What Makes A Perfect Al Fresco Movie?



It’s summer and rooftop/park/lido cinema is here, sometimes great, often not (depending on sound quality, the weather and the fee – Secret Cinema, this means you) but I’ve noticed something interesting. Certain films crop up again and again for outoor screens. This year the one that has made almost every list is ‘Whiplash’, the drumming-as-torture movie. It seems a really odd choice to have picked a claustrophobically dark character study for the expansiveness of outdoor viewing.

I’d have thought the obvious choice would be ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, where cyanic skies might match the view overhead. A few years ago I helped introduce ‘Alien’ along with John Hurt to a packed audience at Somerset House. It was a beautiful evening and a great film, so what went wrong?

First, you sit picnic-style on cobbles. Fidgetty. And it plays so slowly to a modern audience fixated on fast-delivery thrills. The couple in front of me were in their early twenties. They snogged, had a row, made up and snogged some more. The girl with them photographed her shoes and the ends of her hair and sent the pictures to her friends. They came for her and all of them went off to the bar, the toilet, and to visit others. By the time they came back we still hadn’t got that thing off John Hurt’s face.

The main reactions were boredom and laughter. They particularly laughed at the creature, but then of course they’d played the video game as children.

It’s was like me reading ‘Famous Monsters of Filmland’ at age seven and thinking Dracula and Frankenstein looked silly and boring (which I did and largely still do). I still prefer Bram Stoker’s eerie novel to any of them.

I’ve seen a lot of films in public places. Went to the last of the double-bill drive-ins in America, a West Indian open air cinema where we all sat on the floor, saw ‘Godzilla’ in Tokyo, watched ‘Casablanca’ projected on a bedsheet in the South China Seas (still don’t like the film), saw ‘Death Line’ in an abandoned underground tunnel (recently) – but the best was seeing ‘Some Like It Hot’ in a park with a laughing audience – it plays completely differently. And there was the re-issue of ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s – not a good film, especially the uncomfortable racial cameo from Mickey Rooney, but audience pleasure of the film was palpable every time Audrey Hepburn appeared.

Headset provision feels like a good route to more involvement – or show a few classics; they survive for a reason. Even though I realise the majority of cinemagoers have never seen a black and white film! (True fact.)



9 comments on “What Makes A Perfect Al Fresco Movie?”

  1. Michelle dempsey says:

    I went to see the Dark Night at Brompton Cemetery last year at the beginning of September and it was a full moon, absolutely brilliant atmosphere there amongst the head stones, the film was shown at the end of the central avenue in front of the cemetery chapel. It’s organised by The Nomad, no head sets but there was seating. This year is a choice between Alien or the beautiful Pan’s Labyrinth. Am almost finished listening to Bryant and May and the Bleeding Heart on audio, I listen on a Sunday as I do the ironing for the coming week. Delighted you won the award as I voted for you. Can’t wait to listen to The Burning Man.

  2. Vivienne says:

    Will look out for those Brompton Cemetery ones, but what seems to be successful is matching the film to the target audience. Some films need concentration, so if it’s a picnic, sociable sort of occasion, something more fast paced or light-hearted would seem to be best. Going to Skiathos, where the open air cinema permanently has Mamma Mia on offer – as it was.filmed there and on the next island. Works there- not sure it would be so bearable in wintry London.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    I agree about matching film and audience. The Parks Board is offering them once a week at Second Beach- free, of course, but you bring your own seating. Grease and Pitch Perfect singalongs, an Indiana Jones and a few others too far down the site to read. There are some to be shown at Canada Place so something like a rooftop but I couldn’t get it to load. (Having trouble with Acrobat upgrade at the moment.) I think there should be fun ones and eerie ones for those who like to be scared in the dark. And even if it means dated movies I like them free so it feels like a neighbourhood event. Sometimes it even *is* a neighbourhood event.

  4. Ness says:

    The sewer scene from The Third Man projected onto the sewer walls in Vienna and in smell-o-vision. Black and white with a splash of brown.

  5. Jo W says:

    Ness!! Oooh yukkkkk!

  6. Helen Martin says:

    No, Jo, it’s absolutely perfect. That ending is burned into my memory. I should borrow that one and see it again. Maybe invite the neighbours and watch it on the lawn.

  7. Ness says:

    Helen, you’ll be hearing that zither music for a while after your re-viewing. Going to the midnight session of the Third Man in Vienna that hosted the original screening was evocative and much more comfortable. Sometimes context is everything. Very few people under 40 like the classic black and white, slower films which is why we get terrible re-makes for those with short attention spans who can only tolerate colour. I only saw Casablanca for the first time last year in a single screen ‘vintage’ cinema and loved it (I hadn’t expected it to be so funny) but each to his or her own. Now if I enjoy a film on a plane, it’s got to be pretty good.

  8. Helen Martin says:

    Ness, I had managed to keep the zither out of my memory with effort but now it’s there (plunka plunka plunk) again. Seeing it in Vienna would really be something. That film really makes you think differently about penicillin.

  9. Jo W says:

    Helen, I was not commenting on the film,which I have seen many times,but on that idea from Ness about seeing it in ‘Smell-o- vision’! Have to go and pour myself another cuppa builders to get over the thought. 😉

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