Une bonne journée

Today has been a fun day, with a dash of gallic flavour. C’est bonne, ca.

Around midday we headed down to the Secret Cinema at Leake Street, the tunnels underneath Waterloo. As usual with Secret Cinema we had no idea what film was going to be shown, just general instructions on what to wear (50s/60s European with a white scarf) and where to turn up. I knew that Secret Cinema involved re-enactments of the film around seeing the film itself, but not much more than that. So, looking a lot smarter than usual for a Saturday afternoon, we rocked up to Leake Street to find a large queue of people entering, and lots of soldiers herding people along, all talking French. I was ‘lucky’ enough to be singled out by the soldiers, and made to stand with my hands against the wall as my identification documents were confiscated. Then after some minutes myself and the other detainees were taken to a dark room, followed by an indoctrination talk with spotlights in our eyes where we were asked to sign out name as belonging to a terrorist organisation. Even knowing that this was all an act it was pretty unnerving, especially when a planted audience member was taken to one side, beaten and thrown in a prison cell to be tortured. Magnifique!

Eventually all us detainees were allowed into the main area, which consisted of a fake souk, food stalls and a bar offering white russians. Could the movie be the Big Lebowski? Perhaps not. After negotiating with someone in French at the casbah I had some new fake identification, one French and one Arabic, with instructions to get a new stamp from a man round the corner. He greeted me as a fellow revolutionary, hugging and showing me his suitcase bombs then giving me a stamp for my French fake ID. My limited Arabic was ignored, thankfully he helped me anyway.. shukran. Then it was off to the Air France counter for a one way ticket to Paris, before that was later blown up and we were suddenly herded into the cinema proper. Finally the film started, it was the 1966 black and white French film, The Battle of Algiers, telling the tale of the Algerian revolution as the French tried to suppress the Algerian freedom fighters/terrorists. Although an old film, it was incredibly relevant to modern days and highly engaging. Good show, even if it wasn’t my original movie guess of Brazil.

I love events like Secret Cinema and suspect we will see increasing numbers of this sort of thing as modern media struggles to keep up with our changed attention spans and home cinema systems. Last week in New York I was lucky enough to see the new Punchdrunk show, Sleep No More, a dark, dance extravaganza set across five floors in three warehouses that I highly recommend you check out as they’ve extended their run till June. Although a very different beast, the high art of modern dance versus the ‘lower’ art of cinema, both events engage you in a similar way – you have a very unique experience, that generally equates to the more you put in, the more you get out – as opposed to normal media experience that is just a passive ‘sit and receive’ transaction.

Punchdrunk are particularly good at these engaged experiences, creating dark, cavernous spaces with literally no clues as to where you find the actual show. You can walk around for the entire time and see no performance at all, just fellow spectators where masques. Then suddenly you find a performer who you watch and follow as you choose. These performers could just be walking along, or suddenly they could do the most amazing dances up walls, or get naked in a techno rave or just grab you and look at you intently then run off elsewhere. How you react to the performance is up to you, but the more you put in by following the performers – sometimes running up stairs at a quick pace (so glad I’ve been running more recently) – the more you get back by finding strange hidden rooms and wonderful experiences that stay with you. In my head I have this image of a sea of masked faces watching one of the performers disrobe and stand in front of a bathtub that will likely stay with me the rest of my life, a scene that likely few other people have as opposed to the exact shared images of every movie or stage show. A Punchdrunk show is an experience I recommend to everyone without exception.

However in the absence of any more engaged experiences today, the French theme continued with the biopic Gainsbourg, a movie about the troubled musical genius, Serge Gainsbourg. More good stuff and highly recommended, especially si tu veut pratiquer ta francais. Et maintenant, bonne nuit a tous. A demain.

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