The Lord of The Rings Trilogy – Prince Charles Cinema

Lord of the Rings screening

It’s been several years since I’ve seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so I thought it would be a good time to refresh my memory. The Prince Charles Cinema holds all-night marathons every December, and I went along armed with snacks and energy drinks.

The marathon featured all three films, in extended editions, over a period of more than twelve hours with minimal breaks. It was less of an endurance test than I’d expected (the energy drinks helped), because the movies are so good, and still hold up well twenty years after they were first made. Boromir’s “One does not simply walk into Mordor” line got a particular laugh.

When the final credits rolled I went for a Wetherspoon’s breakfast and went back home, where I spent the whole day sleeping.

Prince Charles Cinema

90s Kids’ Shows – BFI Southbank

Screenshot of Maid Marian and Her Merry Men

I visited the BFI Southbank to attend a panel discussion about 90s Kids’ TV shows. This is exactly my era so I was incredibly excited.

First of all we were treated to a montage of TV shows including Chucklevision, The Queen’s Nose, Art Attack, Power Rangers, Clarissa Explains It All, and many many more, including shows I know and those I wasn’t familiar with. Afterwards, there was a panel discussion featuring actor and writer Sir Tony Robinson, performer Francis Wright, and producer Catherine Robins.

Naturally enough, the discussion focused on the shows that the panel members were involved in. This began with Maid Marian and Her Merry Men (my personal favourite), and it was interesting to hear Sir Tony’s stories and anecdotes about the production of the series. I was particularly excited when Marian and Robin from the series, Kate Lonergan and Adam Morris, made an appearance and came up to the front to talk about their experiences. Another show we heard about was Five Children and It, as Francis Wright was responsible for operating the puppet Psammead.

It was interesting that all three panellists seemed to think the 90s were something of a golden age in childrens’ television: I’ve always thought so but I lived through it, I wondered if it was just nostalgia, but apparently not. It seems officials were more willing to take risks back then, and to educate as well as entertain.

I left the event with my only regret being that I chickened out of asking Kate and Adam for a picture.

The Lost World + Live Score at BFI Southbank

The Lost World (1925)
The Lost World (1925)

I’ve had dinosaurs on the brain since going to see a 25th anniversary screening of Jurassic Park at the Prince Charles Cinema a few weeks ago, so was very happy to have the opportunity to check out an even earlier example of dinosaurs in cinema. The Lost World, based on the Arthur Conan Doyle novel and directed by Harry O. Hoyt, was made in 1925; once thought lost, it has now largely been recovered, and was shown at the BFI Southbank with an accompanying live piano score from Lucky Dog Picturehouse.

I absolutely loved this movie; the animation was incredibly impressive for the time and I particularly loved the section which saw the diplodocus rampaging through the streets of London. I believe it’s available on YouTube, and it’s well worth a watch.

Secret Cinema presents: Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge!

Entrance to Montmartre
Entrance to Montmartre

I’d never been to a Secret Cinema event, although I’d heard of them. It was always at the back of my mind as something I’d like to do, but I never got around to it… until they announced Moulin Rouge! as the next film, at which point I knew I would just HAVE to go. This modern classic, released in 2001, happens to be one of my favourite films of all time.

I ended up going by myself – at first I was nervous at the prospect, until I reminded myself that I’ve been to plenty of immersive theatre alone in my time, and this probably wouldn’t be that different. As the day approached, I visited the website, filled in all the forms I needed to and gathered my outfit together. You are meant to register with the website once you’ve bought your ticket and you are allocated a character, complete with a backstory and outfit guidelines. My character was Nina Boucicault, a comedian. Here I hold my hands up and frankly admit I completely ignored my character’s suggested outfit. It involved trousers, but I haven’t worn trousers for years, and I wasn’t going to start now.

Full-length outfit photo

I don’t know what it says about me that I didn’t actually have to make any special purchases at all in order to dress up. I wore a dress I got from ASOS (mega sale bargain) a couple of years ago, with a corset over the top. I took a fan (that I think came from Accessorize) and wore my ‘She Walks In Beauty’ earrings from Alchemy Gothic.

Close-up

I got changed in the toilets at work (classy) and then I had to get the tube to Canning Town station. Now I was a bit nervous about the prospect of having to get on the tube with all those commuters, but one of the reasons I love London is that no one pays any attention to you on the Underground (unless you’ve got a dog. Everyone loves dogs), so no one looked at me twice the whole way there. At the station, I began to see other people dressed in a similar way to me, so I knew I was in the right place.

The venue was really close to the station. It was supposed to be top secret, but to be honest, any locals or anybody passing through would notice the queue of people building up at around 6pm. We didn’t have long to wait, we were soon invited to enter the world of the Moulin Rouge. No phones or photos allowed, naturally.

Wow. Inside it was incredible, like stepping into another world. There were bars and storefronts, cafes and stalls, all designed to draw you in to the fin de siècle world in which the film is set. Costumed actors added to the atmosphere, and sometimes it was hard to tell the actors from the ordinary ticket-holders. I only saw one person without costume, and I felt quite sorry for her as she really stood out!

Everyone was so friendly. I didn’t talk to many people – I didn’t need to – for most of the event, but I got chatting to people in the queue to get in and in the ladies’ loos, and I even danced with some people at one point. There’s something about immersing yourself in something like this that makes you forget yourself and act much more confident than usual – I guess that’s true for me, anyway.

I spent the time before the film started just wandering around, exploring as much as I could, and sampling the drinks on offer (which included absinthe). I also won a bet on some lesbian wrestling (don’t ask). There were performances and songs and I was almost sorry when it was time for the film to start.

Almost, that is. There was still loads going on while the film was showing, with actors performing key scenes in front of the screen. I never did see Moulin Rouge! at the cinema, as no one wanted to go with me and at sixteen I was much less inclined to do things by myself than I am now, so it was so good to actually see the movie on the big screen.

By the time it finished I didn’t want to leave. I’d had SUCH a good time and it was an unforgettable experience. I wonder what Secret Cinema will do next year?

Puppet

As part of the London International Mime Festival I attended a screening of the 2010 documentary Puppet at the Barbican Cinema. Made by David Soll, the film followed the New York puppeteer Dan Hurlin as he worked on his production Disfarmer, based on the life of Depression-era photographer Mike Disfarmer. I thought it was fascinating, an intriguing glimpse into how an adult puppet show is made interspersed with the history of puppetry. As someone who loves this art form I found it fascinating.

What I watched on TV over Christmas

Happy New Year! As I stumble through the beginning of another year, back in London, settling back into work in a luckily still-quiet office, I’m taking the opportunity to catch up on all those TV shows I missed over the Christmas period when I was busy reading, visiting family, and eating my own body weight in chocolate. Then I thought: why not write a post about all the Christmas television I enjoyed? Why not, indeed, so here it is. N.B. Most of these shows were on the BBC, mainly because I find the iPlayer so easy to use. Other channels are available.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong
I always feel a bit smug when I talk about Mischief Theatre, the company behind Peter Pan Goes Wrong, because as a theatre lover I was one of the first people among my friends and acquaintances to discover them and their brilliant début The Play That Goes Wrong. I’ve dragged friends along to both that and Peter Pan and they have all, without exception, loved them. This is their special filmed-for-TV version of Peter Pan Goes Wrong, featuring David Suchet. It isn’t as good as the live show, but it’s still laugh-until-you’re-on-the-floor hilarious.

The Witness for the Prosecution
Not quite as good as last year’s And Then There Were None (not entirely because of the absence of Aidan Turner), the 2016 Agatha Christie drama for the festive season was still an impressive offering. It may have been bleak, but it was gripping.

Inside No. 9: The Devil of Christmas
I love Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s creepy and bizarre series and this Christmas special featured a folkloric figure that seems to have become more popular in the last couple of years – Krampus. Very funny as usual with a dark twist at the end, and gloriously filmed in a 70s style.

Life in the Snow
I have a bit of a thing about the Arctic/Antarctic so I really wanted to watch this documentary about animals who live in the snow. Obviously I loved the penguins the most, but the owls and the Arctic foxes were incredibly adorable too.

Red Bull Soapbox Race
A bit of a departure from what I usually watch, but my dad loves this show and binged on it over the festive period, and I grew addicted to it too. It’s on Dave, a channel which I wouldn’t normally watch (I don’t even know if we have it in our house in London) but I’ve just discovered Red Bull have their own TV channel so I can watch it online! Hooray! Basically, the show involves ordinary people – some with specialist knowledge, others with none at all – building soapbox cars and racing them. They decorate them in elaborate fashion and perform pre-race sketches. Sometimes these homemade cars do pretty well and fly down the course, other times they fall apart mid-race or crash dramatically into the side partway through. I’m really not a sport or racing person at all but this is just so funny. Races take place all over the world and it’s coming back to London this summer – I’m so tempted to get a ticket and see it “live”.

I’m not too gutted about the end of the festive TV season, because January means a new series of Great British Railway Journeys. Woo hoo!

What did you enjoy on TV over Christmas?

Phantom Phenomena

I recently attended a talk at the Guildhall School entitled Phantom Phenomena, about the many ways in which Gaston Leroux’s original novel has been reinterpreted and remade over the past century. Researcher Cormac Newark specialises in studying the reception of operas, and noticed that many critics who wrote about opera in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries also wrote novels featuring scenes set at the opera. Leroux was one such individual, and his most famous novel The Phantom of the Opera was published serially in 1909-10. The novel, which employs traditional clichés about the emotional and spiritual power of opera, makes heavy reference to the opera Faust, which would have been familiar to many readers at the time as one of the most important operas of the age.

The original Phantom book has spawned musicals, ballets, spinoff novels and over fifty films. The talk focused largely on the film and TV versions, which come from all over the world: the USA, China, South America and Italy are just some of the places which have created their own versions of the Phantom story. We saw several clips from different versions: one early black and white version had the Phantom admiring a male protégé rather than a young female singer, while another had a bizarrely cheery musical number. A telenovela version from South America saw a woman being doused in acid – the implication being that the Phantom was originally disfigured in some way. Yet another version combined the characters of the Phantom and Dracula, and I was particularly intrigued by the Eighties horror version with the music being played on a computer.

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Full, very long list of films and TV shows

The continued popularity of the story in the modern age can be largely attributed to the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, and fans continue to explore and develop the story online via websites. I enjoyed this interesting talk and it’s certainly made me want to see some different versions of the Phantom story.

Labyrinth Masquerade Ball

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I’ve wanted to go to one of the Prince Charles Cinema‘s famous Labyrinth Masquerade Balls for a while, but it wasn’t until the sad death of David Bowie recently that I was finally prompted to go, along with some friends. The Masquerade Balls are designed for die-hard fans of the film (that’s definitely me): attendees are invited to dress up (although I didn’t do this!), sing along, cheer and generally take part in the action.

On entering the auditorium you are given a little goodie bag: I won’t give away the surprise, but you need to keep it handy as the various things inside it will be used at different points in the film. Once seated, you get to enjoy a bit of pre-show entertainment, including a judging contest for those people who did turn up in costume. And then the film begins!

I usually hate it when people talk, sing or move around in the cinema, but this kind of event is completely different – everyone there knows the film back to front anyway and the emphasis is on enjoying it as a community. I have to admit I did really like this way of enjoying one of my favourite films! Of course, I could have stayed at home and watched it on DVD for free – but then I wouldn’t have got to experience the atmosphere. An entire roomful of people singing “Dance Magic Dance” is not to be missed!

I definitely recommend the Labyrinth Masquerade Ball for any fans of the film. They do run fairly frequently, so check out the cinema’s website.

Labyrinth

Labyrinth is a 1986 fantasy film that has developed something of a cult status. I was only one when it came out, but watched it at some point during my childhood and forgot about it until I was seventeen, when I bought it on video. Of course I’ve since replaced my video with a DVD!

Labyrinth boasts the legendary David Bowie as the Goblin King (how many modern musicians could star in a fantasy film and still retain their credibility?) and a young Jennifer Connelly as main character Sarah. The film was directed by Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets, and the film bears many of the hallmarks of his work, including a variety of weird and wonderful puppet characters. It was produced by George Lucas, known for the Star Wars films. Jim Henson wrote the screenplay along with children’s author Dennis Lee and ex-Python Terry Jones. The film was designed by Brian Froud, a fantasy illustrator, who also worked on The Dark Crystal, another Henson effort. Interestingly, Sarah’s baby brother Toby was played by Froud’s little son, who was named Toby in real life!

Surprisingly, despite all these factors, the film was regarded as a commercial failure, only grossing $12,729,917 despite a budget of $25 million (according to Wikipedia). I find this really hard to get my head round, considering how brilliant it is, but sometimes these ‘flops’ become cult classics, and this is certainly what’s happened to Labyrinth.

The film follows the adventures of a teenage girl, Sarah, who lives in her own fantasy world and loves to act out the story from her favourite book, Labyrinth. Angry at having to babysit her little brother on a Saturday night, she wishes that the goblins would come and take him away. When the Goblin King himself actually DOES spirit little Toby away to the castle in the centre of the Labyrinth, Sarah faces a race against time to make it through the maze and rescue her brother.

The plot is in many ways a typical fantasy adventure plot, in which the main character must battle against the odds to achieve some goal or perform some feat. It is gripping throughout and the film never gets boring. The opening sequence, set in our world, sets the scene concisely and it isn’t long before you get into the Labyrinth. The environment within the Labyrinth changes continually: there’s a desert with built-up stone walls, a paved maze, an underground oubliette and a hedged garden, as well as a lush forest and a goblin city. The castle itself is beautifully and cleverly set out like an Escher drawing. There is always something new to be amazed by, and the special effects stand up really well nearly 25 years after they were originally done. The models and the puppetry produce a rich organic feel to the film which is sometimes missing from modern films with their CGI effects.

There are very few human characters in the film: most of them are puppets, apart from one dog! Sarah’s father, played by Christopher Malcolm, doesn’t have much of a role while her stepmother, played by Shelley Thompson, makes a similarly brief appearance but comes across as rather nagging. Baby Toby is very sweet in his little striped romper suit but I bet the actor is embarrassed about it now!

Jennifer Connelly has gone on to star in films such as Requiem for a Dream and A Beautiful Mind to critical acclaim, and it’s not hard to see why as she does an excellent job in the film, even at the young age of 15. Sarah is still very childish in her outlook at the start of the film, prefers her fantasy life to her real life, and is rather stroppy and moody – in fact she is rather annoying, but you really see her grow and develop throughout the film. She is brave and loyal and devoted to her friends, and this really comes across as the film progresses.

Most of the characters in the Labyrinth are puppets, but they still manage to be three-dimensional characters, figuratively as well as literally. There’s Hoggle, the grumpy goblin Sarah encounters as soon as she enters the Labyrinth (urinating into the lake!). Hoggle is torn between his growing friendship with Sarah and his duty to the Goblin King, who threatens to throw him into the Bog of Eternal Stench if he doesn’t do as he is told. Whose side is he really on? Ludo is a large fluffy orange creature, who is very gentle despite his size, and has special powers. Sir Didymus is a quixotic fox-like creature who rides around on his trusty steed Ambrosius (who bears a remarkable resemblance to Sarah’s dog). There is a wealth of other characters who make brief appearances: the little Worm, the frightening Fireys, the Wiseman and his talking Bird Hat, the Junk Lady, the Guards and the Door Knockers… too many to list! These characters, which are all puppets of some description, really add to the richness of the film and are the source of much wonder and humour.

Last but by no means least, there is Jareth, the Goblin King himself, played by David Bowie with a mean hairdo and rather tight trousers! I bet that if you are female and of a certain age you once had a bit of a crush on the Goblin King. Jareth is an interesting character – he is manipulative, cunning and cruel, and he is clearly the ‘baddie’ as he has spirited Sarah’s little brother away and is threatening to turn him into a goblin, but you suspect he has done this out of ennui more than anything else, as the scenes with him in the castle suggest it is rather dull living with a host of silly goblins! Throughout the film his attitude to Sarah evolves and it seems that he starts to develop feelings for her!

The influence of ex-Python Terry Jones on the script is obvious as there is a lot of humour, much of it unexpected. Try and solve the puzzle of the Four Guards before Sarah does – it’s incredibly difficult! The film was scored by Trevor Jones and also contains many incredibly catchy songs written and performed by David Bowie, including ‘Underground’ (which opens and closes the film), ‘Magic Dance’ and ‘As the World Falls Down’. I do own a copy of the soundtrack album as well as the film! In a documentary included as part of the DVD extras, Bowie admits that he made the baby noises during ‘Magic Dance’ as the baby in the studio would not!

This is a film about growing up, and the difficult transition from teenager to adult. Sarah is a particularly childish teenager who is very attached to her fantasy life and material things. The film is about her adjusting her priorities and learning to put friendship and family before toys and trinkets, while at the same time maintaining the delicate balance between living in the real world and keeping that connection with your imagination and your childhood. At the same time it subtly explores sexuality and romantic feelings: it isn’t something children would pick up on – the film is comfortably rated U – but any teenagers or older people watching would notice the changing relationship between Sarah and Jareth, who also represents the fantasy world that Sarah is in danger of completely succumbing to. Fantasy is a medium that is often used to explore important themes and after watching Labyrinth a number of times I think the film does this remarkably well. According to the DVD extras, the film has over time proved especially popular with teenage girls, and I can certainly understand why, as it certainly resonated with me as a teenager (and in fact still does).

Labyrinth is a film that repays repeat viewing. The storyline and characters remain exciting and fresh and are not dulled by familiarity. When watching again you notice things you didn’t pick up on the first time. For example, in Sarah’s bedroom you see things that are reflected in the world of the Labyrinth: a musical box with a doll in a white dress that looks remarkably like Sarah in the ballroom scene; an M. C. Escher poster that resembles the castle; a doll resembling Ludo; and more which I will leave you to spot for yourself. During the part of the film set in the Labyrinth, there is more to see: watch out, for example, for the three standing stones that when viewed at a certain angle look just like Jareth! The makers of the film obviously took great care and time when designing and filming it.

My DVD is the 2007 2-disc Anniversary Edition. The DVD includes a number of extras including a very informative and entertaining documentary, including interviews with the main people involved and a look at how the characters and sets were made. There are also a number of featurettes and some beautiful concept art. Unlike some DVD extras these are really worth paying attention to.

While I was doing research for my review I found out that Labyrinth was also turned into a novel by M. C. H. Smith. Three volumes (with a fourth on the way) of an English-language Manga sequel, entitled Return to Labyrinth, have recently been released. The sequel follows the adventures of baby Toby once he turns fifteen, and have received mixed reviews on Amazon. I still think I would like to get hold of them though, more out of curiosity than anything.

Overall, Labyrinth is one of my all-time favourite films, and I recommend it for children, teenagers, and any adult who still likes a bit of fantasy. It’s a wonderful film and has everything: great story, beautiful design, interesting characters, humour, songs and a message. There is an excellent informative article about the film on Wikipedia, but I recommend reading it AFTER watching the film, as it does give away some elements of the plot. If you haven’t seen it – do!

Shoreditch Underground Station (Pillow Cinema)

This post should probably be about Pillow Cinema, the east London phenomenon dreamed up by the same people who founded Hot Tub Cinema. The idea of sitting in a hot tub surrounded by strangers has never particularly appealed to me, but the Pillow Cinema idea is much better-sounding – sprawl out on a giant bean bag, pillow behind your head, and relax while watching a classic movie. I saw Billy Elliot on Saturday, and the experience was a great one – but that’s not why I wanted to write this post, and it isn’t why I wanted to go in the first place. After all, I could probably have recreated the experience much more cheaply in my front room with a couple of duvets and a pile of cushions.

No, it was the location of Pillow Cinema that appealed to me, much more than the concept itself. Screenings are held in the former Shoreditch Underground station, and being the Tube obsessive that I am – particularly when it comes to disused or “ghost” stations – I was certain that I wanted to get inside.

Shoreditch Underground Station is located near Brick Lane, at the end of Code Street. It’s covered in graffiti so it’s not hard to spot. The station used to be the northern terminus of the East London Line, and it closed in 2006 in preparation for the development of the Overground network, which now runs through Shoreditch High Street station.

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Approaching the station from Brick Lane

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Sideways view

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View from Code Street

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The original entrance

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Inside the building

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Looking west

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Trains still run past the station towards Liverpool Street

Originally opened in 1876, the station had only one platform and track in use towards the end of its life. It had low passenger footfall, and when it was closed, the platform and track area was filled in.

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Inside the cinema

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The arches

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The opposite wall

The cinema is located where the platform and the track used to be. You can see the walls with their filled-in arches, and the hooks on the side designed to hold the cables. I’m probably the only person who got excited by this, but I kept imagining ghostly trains moving through the space where we were sitting, one era layered upon another like Russian dolls. Pretty impressive to me.