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1 September 2014

Livin' in the Future

I've wanted to go a Secret Cinema events for yonks: what's not to like about a surprise movie screening in a secret location, with a troop of actors playing characters from the film and an assortment of other experiences relating to the film? Well, the price, for one thing: this summer's event cost £53 — a little more than your average multiplex ticket, even in London. And although the surprise is part of the fun, you would be disappointed if it turned out to be a film you didn't like or — worse — didn't know.


Sometimes, though, the film is announced when tickets go on sale and when I heard that this summer's film would be Back to the Future, I knew it was time to find out the secret. It turned out to be one of the biggest and most ambitious Secret Cinema experiences yet, with a replica of the town of Hill Valley being constructed in a site near the Olympic Park in Stratford. So ambitious, in fact, that the first few performances had to be cancelled because the organisers hadn't received full local-authority approval, but they soon got back on track.


Part of the fun is the preparation. Once you have bought your ticket, you can register online to receive your new film identity and are given a list of items to bring. As Ruby, a Hill Valley High School student, I was asked to bring my homework, some red sunglasses, some 3D glasses, some family photos and a photo of my favourite star. One of my friends was assigned to work in Roy's Records, and she had to bring along her favourite record. Once you've factored in a suitable 1950s outfit, the costs can mount up quite quickly, but you can, of course, choose which props to bother with.



For this event, Secret Cinema also set up the Hill Valley Stores — a pop-up shop (Ruth's Frocks) and a pop-up cafĂ© (Lou's Diner) just down the road in Shoreditch. After I finished work on Friday, I met my friends there and we had a shake in Lou's Diner and bought a few accessories from the shop: 3D specs, banners and Hill Valley rosettes.



Then it was time to catch the, er, streetcar (number 26 bus) to Hackney Wick, the meeting point for the event. We walked ten minutes to the entrance and were asked to hand in our phones and cameras (they hadn't be invented yet, of course), and went on in to the Hill Valley Fair. As the final screening was last night, I think it's now safe to write about the event now.


Hill Valley was huge inside. There was so much to do and to explore, and although we tried to see as much as possible, we could easily have spent all day there, rather than our few allocated hours. I bought a disposable camera, which served mainly to remind me how amazing digital cameras are. Some of the earlier outdoor shots were OK, but those taken indoors or when it started to get dark were pretty poor. It was nice to have some record of the evening, though, and also quite liberating not to feel the pressure to snap photos on my phone throughout the night.



We had a burger at Lou's Diner (Lou's friend Byron helped out); danced and had a dance lesson at the 1955 Enchantment under the Sea dance; drank Van Halen cocktails in the 1985 dive bar; talked to some of the actors; watched part of a movie in the town theatre; and had a tour of the town. You could also ride on the vintage ferris wheel, attend a poetry reading and even ride in one of the 1950s cars.



Just after the sun went down, we settled on our blankets on the grass in front of the big screen, and watched the film. Back to the Future is one of my favourites but I hadn't seen it in about 15 years. It wasn't just a standard outdoor film screening, of course. Actors dressed like the characters would appear in front of the town hall, mirroring their on-screen alter egos, and there were lightning storms, car chases and fights. It was hugely fun and the shenanigans didn't detract from the film at all — far from it, in fact: they were the perfect complement.


After the movie ended, there was about half an hour until closing time, so we went back to the '80s bar for some more retro cocktails and dancing. But as the last notes of Total Eclipse of My Heart faded out, it was time for us to go back to the future. We weren't ready to go home yet, though, so we finished the night with some more singing and dancing at Karaoke Box.


What a great night! If you're on the fence about Secret Cinema, I can't recommend it highly enough. It isn't cheap — from tickets and costumes, to food, drink and photos inside the event, the costs soon mount up — but it was awesome and well worth the money, and I'm sure it won't be the last Secret Cinema event I attend.

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