From 'The Santa Clause' to 'Santa Claus vs the Devil', we speak to Christmas pop-up cinemas across London.
Since, well, popping up in 2010 following the success of Secret Cinema, pop-ups have turned into a total staple of the London cinema circuit. They’ve become as much of a feature as sticky floors and overpriced West End tickets. But this Christmas they seemed to have reached their peak. It seems no rooftop or derelict space is safe this year from enterprising programmers turning woebegone London spaces into Winter Wonderlands showing White Christmas. Got a spare room? Don’t Airbnb it, just put up a sheet and show Elf.
In those seven years, however, the bigger players have got much grander ambitions. In 2010, a Guardian article visited the Cineroleum. Housed in a disused petrol station on Clerkenwell Road, the cinema was built from scrap building materials, with a screen one of the organisers found in a skip around the back of the National Theatre. Across its short lifespan, the screen showed bona fide classics like Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville and Terrence Malick’s Badlands. They even had a night where they showed the best Buster Keaton shorts of the ‘20s and ‘30s.
Skip forward through the Obama years (*sob*) and back to today. A highlight of this year’s pop-up programme is Backyard Cinema’s Winter Kingdom in Elephant & Castle’s Italian market Mercato Metropolitano. Visitors climb through a secret tunnel into a lantern-lit ice palace, and then into a luxury cinema full of icicles. The films on offer include Die Hard, Home Alone and Love Actually. “We knew we wanted to do something magical and Christmassy” said Backyard Cinema’s Dominic Davies, “but we didn’t want a ‘Christmas theme’. A magical wardrobe would be very fitting and create nostalgia, we felt. We also love working with real trees and plants to create things to touch and smell.”
Clearly there has been a big sea change in pop-up cinemas. With more money needed to create the cinema environment, the films on offer have to become of broader appeal. Buster Keaton shorts are pure genius, but they’re not paying for the expert mixologists needed to craft bespoke icicle cocktails.
Then again, perhaps I am the Scrooge of the pop-up cinema world. It is easy to be cynical about this change, and to do what I spend most of my time as a Londoner doing; screaming into the sky about the evils of gentrification.
But speaking to the Pop Up Screens team, who popped up in my inbox like an email-based Ghost of Christmas Present, perhaps I am due a conversion like Michael Caine, Bill Murray, Alastair Sim et. I asked Pop-Up Screens, who this year are showing festive fare like Bad Santa, The Grinch and The Santa Clause at the Hackney Showroom, why they think the scene has evolved in the way it has. They told me, “we’ve been doing this for 5 years, each year we take the theming and idea a little further making it bigger and better than before.” Just like how the first Christmas was just people giving a baby metal, perfume and ointment and now we have iPads and Furbies.
Pop-up cinemas have got bigger because they’ve become more popular and the people who run them have got better at doing it. And surely anything that revives a flagging cinema industry is a good thing.
People love these films, despite my personal feelings about Love Actually (which for the record is that it’s a film filled with stories bunged together because they weren’t good enough to sustain a whole film). Pop Up Screens told me that, Elf and Love Actually tend to get the best audiences’. Backyard concur. They replied, when I asked them what films get the best audience reactions, “Home Alone for the laughs, Love Actually for the tears.”
Perhaps we all need films of broader appeal, especially at Christmas. I have Die Hard Christmas decorations. I also personally love to watch low-key slasher film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, a candy-striped Saw prequel in which homicidal maniac Wonka invites kids into his lair and picks them off one by one. I’m going to watch it while wrapping presents. You can see it at the Snow Kingdom on the 27th of December.
However, for those of you looking for alternative programming, look beyond the cinematic snow-globes. Check out some of the weird and wonderful film programming happening across the city. Look for groups like Cigarette Burns Cinema, who on 11th December brought the ‘Mexpoitation’ classic Santa Claus to Hackney. “I’m over and done with Home Alone and Die Hard,” said Cigarette Burns’ Josh Saco. “Perhaps it’s a case of Christmas comforts, traditions and things you are familiar with, so returning to them is a requirement for some people. But I’d much rather see people engaging with films they haven’t seen and challenging themselves.”
Familiar festive films are the Lynx Africa gift set of cinema. We’ve just received them so many times that they’ve become a Christmas tradition, despite not being that good on their own. So why not mix it up this year? See Elf, see A Christmas Story, but also see films like Santa Claus.
As Saco notes, the film “sits in the infamous Bottom 100 of IMDB. IMDB has catalogued nearly 5 million films, so to be in the Bottom 100 is quite a feat.” The plot? According to Saco, it features “Satan trying to corrupt children in order to undermine Santa, who himself runs a slave labour camp of multinational children. Inevitably Santa wins, but only after getting chased up a tree by a dog, and Merlin has to come and rescue him.” Give me a Christmas-themed film featuring a man fighting a demon any time over… well, a film in which two men fight against demon child Macaulay Culkin.
And for those of you happy to venture out of Christmas-themed fare? Picturehouse are showing ghost films across the festive period. This is inspired by everyone’s favourite tale of a man haunted by ghosts, A Christmas Carol. Who doesn’t want to get soused on mulled wine and watch a film called Blood on Satan’s Claw?
God bless us, every one, from pop-up populists to Grinch-like gorehounds.
This post was categorised in Archive.