It feels great to finally be able to reveal that the secret film at Secret Cinemas record breaking bumper run was The Third Man. Over the course of the seven week long run, over 19,000 people were transported back to 1940s Vienna to experience what can only be described as a simply unique way of experiencing cinema. From the moment Secret Cinema announced their latest venture in late October, the internet was ablaze with gossip and intense blogging from followers who asserted, argued and debated what the title would be, continually being fuelled by a steady supply of clues. Tickets for the opening night sold out in a matter of minutes; tickets for the run sold out in a matter of days. So, assuming the mantra of give the people what they want, Secret Cinema extended the run until the end of January. The result was the same sell out! Throughout the month of November the clues kept coming. Fictional identities were created on Facebook, and like characters in a play they sent telegrams to all who had tickets offering advice on what to wear and how to behave. The fact they sent them on telegrams dated in the 40s gave away a certain degree of the plot. Could it be Casablanca? Eventually the location was revealed - The Farmiloe Building, in Farringdon, Central London. So, on the 8th of December, I along with all the other lucky people who got opening night tickets, donned a tux, black overcoat, Trilby hat and white, silk scarf it was obligatory to bring a white item and arrived at the location where a lovely lady with a bunch of balloons greeted me then directed me to my meeting pot. Parting with a code word, I was admit to an area where others, dressed in similar attire smart, 1940s gathered in eager, anticipation. Here we were met by a shifty fellow. Black overcoat with the collar up, trilby slanted way down, he eyed us all suspiciously then warned us that there was danger all around and we should move quickly and quietly to the location. We obeyed and were lead through the streets of London under the cover of darkness, and mild drizzle until we arrived at the location. The courtyard was decked out to look like any-street Vienna circa-46; piles of rubble, vintage cars and food vendors serving bratwurst with sauerkraut and goulash the food of the day, served in crude containers and pieces of rustically sliced bread. For finer cuisine you had to venture up into the highest reaches of the factory where an unnamed restaurant was serving up roast meats, potatoes and vegetables all detailed on menus printed on fine beige paper and written in a fancy font this was for the aristocrats of the era. Soldiers from Russia, Britain and France patroled the city, dragging in anyone they believed to be suspicious. I was pulled into a room and interrogated by the Russians within minutes of arriving, later the French and even the Brits questioned my allegiance to The Crown, where are you really from?! It is this aspect of the event that is the real draw. Setting the scene with a stylishly designed and decorated location is one thing but it is the actors who literally force you into the scenario that make it so immersive and bring it to life. They never drop character! And while this can get a little annoying if youre lost or just need a few minutes, you cant help but admire their dedication to their craft and maintaining the charade.
Its after 9 when were lead to the screening room and finally put out of our misery with the reveal of the film. Most people had guessed by this time based on the setting and the performances and as the opening credits rolled a huge cheer went up. I had only seen The Third Man once 10 years ago or so, way back in my Uni days and must admit that other than Orson Welles' show stealing performance I was not convinced that this was the classic that the BFI brand it. However, after this viewing, I am happy to admit I was wrong. Produced by David OSelznick, written by Graham Greene and directed by Carol Reed, The Third Man tells the story of pulp fiction novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) who travels to Vienna to visit his old friend Harry Lime. Upon arrival he discovers that Lime is dead recently killed in mysterious circumstances. Drawn to the mystery and bewitched with Limes ex-girlfriend the beautiful Alida Valli Martins digs deeper into the case and unearths some unpleasant truths about his old friend Harry.
Every aspect of the films aesthetic is perfect. The use of black-and-white expressionist cinematography by Robert Krakser, with harsh lighting and distorted camera angles capture the seedy locations in a style that evokes the atmosphere of an exhausted, cynical post-war Vienna at the start of the Cold War. This combined with Anton Karas catchy zither score really create a sense of time and place.
The performances are all sublime. Cotton is restrained but powerful when needed; Valli smoulders in a complex and provocative performance and Trevor Howard is superb as the stoic, British General in charge of order in the city. But Welles, as he always tended to do, steals the show as Lime. Its over an hour into the film before he arrives, with one of cinemas coolest entrances standing in the shadows a light suddenly comes on, illuminating him and revealing him to Martins. He gives a cheeky smile, before disappearing into the darkness of night only to reappear the next day and deliver the best piece of dialogue in the piece. Bidding farewell to Martins and justifying his nefarious escapades, he says ...in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly. Watching the film I suddenly felt very stupid for not guessing it weeks earlier. All of the clues pointed directly to it the names dropped in emails, the man with balloons, the penicillin factory it was all there. However, that is the fun of Secret Cinema. You pay your money, you take your chance. And even if you were not a fan of the film, the atmosphere and spectacle create by the organisers is such that you feel like you have been part of something much bigger than a screening in a public place. It is, as they boast, unlike any other filmgoing experience you have had. To call this a global phenomenon is now very much accurate with the event being simultaneously staged in Kabul and a number of other world cities expressing interests to get in on the next extravaganza. So whats in store for the future of Future Shorts? Well, the short answer is LOTS! Based on this sell out run, the popularity of Secret Cinema has never been greater and fans are already vehemently blogging about what the next will be and asserting their opinions on what it should be. Valentines Day will see The Other Cinema launched at The Troxy with one of the greatest romance stories ever told - Brief Encounter. David Leans screen adaptation of Noel Cowards pre-WWII short play Still Life traces the doomed romance that blossoms between a married, middle-class housewife and a married doctor who randomly meet at a train station. Daring for its time, Brief Encounter is one of the most romantic and heart-breaking stories ever told and rightfully so often tops BFI polls for The Greatest British Movie ever. Previously Secret Cinema gave The Troxy their treatment and transformed it into a Chicago Speak Easy and playground of the prohibition era Gangster for their screening of Bugsy Malone. Now The Other Cinema, a scheme that aims to bring back the local cinema by restoring the sense of community, passion to the movie-going experience will transform the Troxy into a Picture Palace with live music, an organist, usherettes and performance pieces for five nights only! Tickets are currently on sale now; it proves to be a journey back to a time where you went to the pictures for a simpler, classier movie-going experience.
Then theres Secret Restaurant which had somewhat of a cold launch at this run of Secret Cinema with St. John's setting up as a 40s posh diner in post-war Vienna and providing a mouth-watering menu. Sadly I did not get to try St. Johns offering at this Secret Cinema, having stuffed my face with Bratwurst and Goulash, but friends who did waxed lyrical about it and anyone who has been the restaurant support this. The fact you can order a whole pig which they bring out to your table has me sold.The concept for Secret Restaurant is similar to Secret Cinema. A date is revealed; you book your ticket; clues are slowly given about food, theme, etc until the location is revealed and you attend on the evening and marvel in the spectacle and feast on some fine food. As yet the organisers are yet to divulge details of the first exclusive run of Secret Restaurant, but if it is anything like Secret Cinema, it proves to offer a unique, immersive and unforgettable dining experience.