After the rise of pop-ups and alternative cinemas, South London’s cinemas provide a more permanent alternative movie experience, writes Hayley Watson
Say goodbye to the old multiplex. Pop-up and alternative cinemas have been rapidly gaining popularity over the last few years in London. Gone are the days of Orange Wednesday codes and questionable hot dogs, as cocktails and gourmet popcorn become de rigueur.
One of the greatest appeals of these cinemas is watching a film in a brand new environment. There is a growing demand from cinemagoers to watch movies in unusual locations, prompting the growth of several alternative film companies.
Secret Cinema has been one of the most prolific, providing immersive film experiences to those lucky enough to get their hands on a ticket. Their performances, such as last summer’s infamously postponed Back To The Future, often include elaborate sets built to reflect the film, live actors, and encourage fancy dress.
Another popular company, Rooftop Film Club, has been gracing rooftops of the city since 2011, offering open air film screenings in trendy locations including Shoreditch and Peckham. They are set to bring cinemagoers another new experience in November with their Underground Film Club, located in The Vaults underneath Waterloo Station.
Onto the more bizarre, Hot Tub Cinema air films to punters from the comfort of their very own… you guessed it, hot tubs. It’s proven so popular that the usually strictly summer, outdoor viewings have moved inside for winter, currently showing a week full of classic horror films for Halloween.
While pop-ups like these are promoted heavily in London event guides and offer instant Instagram appeal, many places in the city offer more permanent settings for a different film experience – you might have some trouble finding them though. These are London’s hidden cinemas. Concealed from public view, they offer an alternative to the alternative, both in their setting and in their listings, showing a greater variety of independent, cult and arthouse films.
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Hidden under a set of railway arches by Loughborough Junction station, Whirled Cinema is a small but impressive space offering the best in arthouse and world film. Currently members-only (but offering weekly passes for just £10), this is a strictly local affair. Visitors are reminded of its location by the trains that occasionally pass overhead, a trait that owner Rob Lindsay thinks is annoying – but that members find “quite quirky”.
Down the road in Peckham, The Montpelier pub houses its Back Room Cinema. While the back of a boozer seems like an unlikely place to catch some culture, the cinema offers independent films for “less than the price of a pint”. Having recently undergone a refurbishment, I spoke to owner Russell Porter about the appeal of watching films in a different environment.
“Over the past five or six years, I’ve probably seen as many films in unusual locations as I have gone to the cinema. That’s maybe because I don’t go to the cinema very much, because we’ve got one here, but I think it’s great.”
I asked Russell his opinion on the rise of pop-up cinemas and film clubs.
“I think of course they’re great. My only comment would be that I think a lot of these enterprises that show films in parks and in outdoor spaces… They’re good, but I think that the programming is pretty lacking. It’s always the same films that people know, Ghostbusters or Dirty Dancing or whatever – and that’s fine – but everyone’s seen them.”
“The locations are great but I really like it when the location responds to the film.”
While pop-ups offer the setting that people want, it does seem that the films shown at them are repetitive. Classics like Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Mean Girls and Clueless are some repeat offenders, turning up on schedules year after year. For what could be a great platform for independent cinema, recycled classics are too often the choice of organisers.
With the rise of the alternative cinema experience, it’s clear that these days, Londoners are looking for more than the typical chain multiplex. However, if they looked a bit harder, they might find one of London’s hidden cinemas, for a real taste of independent film.