[Photo Credit: Camilla Greenwell]
In society as we know it today, not much scares us more than the threat of what goes on behind closed doors. The half certainty that our lives as we know them are constantly at threat, but that the power to harness a full understanding of that threat, or to defend ourselves if it comes to it, is out of out hands. What would it feel like to live behind those doors? To walk amongst the leaders, to sit at the table of a war room, and make the sorts of decisions which have a life-or-death knock on effect the world over? The latest Secret Cinema event boldly set out to to show us.
In cold war era America, Stanley Kubrick envisioned a scenario where America’s leaders, set apart to protect, instead “went and did a silly thing” and initiated a nuclear strike on Russia. Dr. Strangelove, or, How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is from 1964, it’s in black and white, and it is not in the vein of recent blockbuster Secret Cinema productions such as ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Back to the Future’, it is a return to a more subversive Secret Cinema, taking cult classics and giving them the screenings they deserve. With American politics in turmoil in the run up to the election, this screening of Kubrick’s dark satire on the complexities and stupidities of war and politics couldn’t be much more relevant or feel closer to home. By tying the thematics of their latest experience to the current state of the world outside, Secret Cinema add further tension, as well as the opportunity for deep thought and big questions, to what is already a tense and exciting experience.
Secret Cinema’s reputation for creating strange and beautiful immersive experiences is already highly regarded and unparalleled. The attention to detail with which they apply themselves is awe inspiring, creating sets that are taking straight from the screen, in which they engage ‘audience’ members in scenarios from epic crowd scenes down to one-on-one experiences, making each character’s ‘journey’ unique. Even little details such as the food and drink, and then of course the screening itself are all thoughtfully considered to maximize the immersion and create a fully sensory experience. Yet despite previous successes, there is no ‘formula’ and every time they are able come up with something completely fresh and new.
A standout foray for this production was the online D.O.C.S system, allowing ticket holders to connect with each other prior to the event, for the very first time. This involved uploading a photo, a bio and even news articles written in character to a specially designed online newspaper, blurring the lines between real world events and those in the world of Kubrick.
The set, fictitious Burpelson Air Base in a disused warehouse in South London, was smaller than previous Secret Cinema goers might be used to, but this was all part of the experience of being ‘behind closed doors’. The wonder of this edition was the freedom it gave you to get caught up in the melee of people in the busy air base, chaotic mess hall and 1960s bedecked government offices; the choice to follow orders or to use those sleuthing skills to find the cracks in the military and government systems, and uncover the truth. Standing on the sidelines was not an option, you were either with the crowd or against them and could expect to be challenged on your allegiances at any time. From full military parades, to raids and arrests, there was always something to see! And secrets to discover. But nothing, nothing could quite prepare you for the scale of the War Room with its imposing, iconic, circular stage and six full screens showing different angles, to really bring the film to life in the most immersive way possible.
As is cursory with Secret Cinema in my experience, you often don’t fully appreciate the details until it’s all over and you’re passing through the set on your way out! It was only then I could fully appreciate the replica military plans, the files stuffed full of notes, the military vehicles, the tape decks and vintage recording equipment, the plush secret speakeasy with full jazz band to play away into the early hours… but still, behind the fun the feeling that behind closed doors, this secret world of farce could still be playing out in real time, in government offices in America and all over the world… Now I’ve seen a reproduction from the inside, it’s somehow an even more terrifying thought.