London’s Cinema Of Sin Is Coming Back
A million people walked (or often fell) through the doors of London’s Scala cinema between June 1978-June 1993. Most of them staggered out.
Now my old friend Jane Giles, who was the life and soul of the 24 hour party that was London’s Scala Cinema, has written a book on this scurrilous subject, which promises to be a sumptuous volume.
She’s crowdsourcing it on Indiegogo here. The clock is ticking and the fund is live. Unlike many other crowdsource sites Indiegogo fixes a strict time limit on the funding, so if it fails to get fully funded in a month any money you pledge gets returned to you. The book is to be produced by those connoisseurs of cult, FAB Press, and if you know anything about them, you can imagine the quality of the finished article.
I don’t suggest this sort of thing very often on the site, but this one’s a winner. If you have any interest in London or cinema, the alternative arts or just juicy scandals, you can help fund her project and select from a variety of collectable goodies that go with it.
The Scala started life in a building backed onto Scala Street near Goodge Street tube, with a tiny screening room and a cafe. It was founded by producer Steve Woolley, who modelled it on the terrific Nu-Art Cinema in Los Angeles, showing unconventional cult films. Two years later the Scala moved into the old Kings Cross Cinema.
Going since 1920, the original cinema seated over 1000 people. The auditorium used to offer a three-hour program accompanied by a 20-piece orchestra. At the end of the nineteen twenties, under the control of Gaumont British Pictures, it staged lavish free Christmas shows for local children. It was damaged in air-raids during the Blitz but reopened in 1952.
The venue finally became a live, all-night, rock venue. Iggy Pop and Hawkwind played there, but in 1974 its license was revoked. Five years later it became the London Primatarium, with a stage like a forest and primates roaming about.
The project mercifully failed and it returned as the Scala, featuring the 1933 version of King Kong on opening night in an auditorium that still reeked of monkeys – that night I went home smelling of gorilla.
The Scala ran an eclectic – yes, I think that’s the politest word – menu of movies and events that blurred the line between classics, trash, classics and porn at a time when King’s Cross was still the home of prostitutes and drug addicts. ‘Part of the thrill was that you walked into the badlands of King’s Cross,’ says Jane. ‘The auditorium was dark and, at times, illicit. A lot of the films were quite explicit, so there was a sexuality about the place that was unusual in cinemas.’
The increasing availability of transgressive films on video was meant that the cinema was no longer so special. John Waters, the Scala’s recalls a visit. ‘It was like joining a very secret club, like a biker gang or something. I remember the audience was even more berserk than any midnight show I had ever seen in America. It was so great – but it was almost scary.’
After its closure the Scala Cinema was briefly revived as a travelling roadshow around London. Now the venue hosts gigs.
The book will be a testament to those glorious times when cinemas still shocked. It’s a reminder that’s especially needed now, when such a freewheeling cinema menu would be unthinkable. How many trigger warnings and safe spaces would a deliberately transgressive movie house need not to be constantly picketed?