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1st November 2023

SCALA!!! review: A cinema that “changed lives and blew minds” | FilmFear 2023

FilmFear in collaboration with Manchester’s HOME cinema presents SCALA!!!, a vibrant documentary centred around the legendary London cinema
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SCALA!!! review: A cinema that “changed lives and blew minds” | FilmFear 2023
Credit: Scala Kings Cross @ Fifty Foot Woman LTD

Alongside their annual Halloween programme showing on the screens of UK TVs, Film4’s FilmFear brought an exclusive selection of handpicked horror films and premieres to Manchester’s HOME cinema. In front of an intimate audience of horror fans, joined by directors Jane Giles and Ali Catterall, the vibrant documentary SCALA!!! opened the weekend of frightful films.

SCALA!!! documents the rise and fall of the legendary London cinema of the same name. It became a playground of liberation and release not just for its subversive film programming, but also for London’s so-called misfits and outcasts in 1980s Thatcher Britain. Adopting an anything-goes mentality, the Scala created a bubbling subculture of film fans. It exhibited raucous, daring, and vivacious films – stripped of sensitisation and often lingering in the banned or sexploitation categories – alongside their humble art house and auteur counterparts. The Scala not only provided screen entertainment but miscellaneous escapades for all its attendees. In the introductory talk before the screening, Film4 programmer David Cox describes the Scala as a “haunted house” that “changed lives and blew minds”.

Sat in uncomfortable red sticky chairs, boundless films such as Eraserhead, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, Pink Narcissus, and Thundercrack!, amongst many others, were enjoyed by the city’s queer community, punks, goths, and the unconventional cool kids. Famous filmmakers of today such as Martin McDonagh, Joanna Hogg, Danny Boyle, and Christopher Nolan all had membership to this infamous cinema. The documentary dives into the memories created within its inviting doors and how the Scala cemented its place in filmic history.

Co-director Giles prior to the screening stated they intended to make a visual “kaleidoscope”, moving away from boring and dry art house documentaries. SCALA!!! takes the form of talking-head interviews but varies the format slightly by sprinkling in jump cuts and colourful stop-motion animation, mimicking the cinema’s perceived erratic ambience. This makes the medium so much more engaging and adds another layer of curiosity and lure to the Scala enigma. Tinges of nostalgia permeate the film, Giles describes it as a slightly “melancholic” documentary, however, it doesn’t completely drown in a longing for the so-called bygone era as the film subtly suggests that not all great things can last forever.

Photo: SCALA!!! Animation By Osbert Parker @ Fifty Foot Woman LTD

Interestingly, the co-directors described the film as a love letter to cinema “audiences” as the enchantment of the Scala lay equally with its crowd as it did with the building. A lovely thread that ties the documentary together is the creation of a poster that’s repeatedly returned to throughout. The film literally builds a picture, setting the scene of regular punters and sketches of odd stories like a Where’s Wally? landscape. In a meta almost Charlie Kaufman way, the same poster conceived in the film was thoughtfully gifted to audiences after the screening.

The documentary demonstrates that the Scala was a space that transcended the limits of cinema through community. Despite closing in 1993, its presence still lives on in the lives it affected and even to cinema-goers like me who weren’t even alive during its famous reign. The film’s commentary on audiences therefore comes full circle, ensuring that a piece of this celebrated cinema can still live on through each and every viewer of this documentary. 


SCALA!!! will be released in cinemas on January 5, 2024.

Daniella Alconaba

Daniella Alconaba

Film and TV Editor for The Mancunion

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