Yesou probably had to be there to fully grasp the subversive, demented thrill of the Scala, the long-closed London cinema famous for the anarchic creativity of its programming, the stickiness of its carpets and the exuberant, often X-rated antics, spectators. its audiences. But this utterly wild documentary, by former Scala programmer Jane Giles and co-director Ali Catterall, does a fantastic job of taking us inside the trembling walls (the Northern Line trains entering and coming out of King’s Cross station shook the entire building to its foundations) and recreating the unique atmosphere of the place nicknamed “Sodom Odeon”.
La Scala, the director said approvingly, was like “a country club for criminals, madmen and people who get high.” It was a temple of perverts, populated by reprobates, intruders from the squat parties of King’s Cross, vagabonds and cinema fanatics. It’s a place that left its dirty fingerprints on the tastes of everyone who passed through its doors (including my own – although even with 25 years of experience as a film critic, I still don’t think I have the vocabulary to do justice to one of the films regularly screened there, a crazy porn horror comedy called Thunderbolt!).
Borrowing a punky, homespun aesthetic from the famous monthly program posters, the film brings together hugely entertaining interviews with former staff and punters including Adam Buxton, Mary Harron, Stewart Lee and Ben Wheatley. It also contains a deliciously funny anecdote about a comatose spectator and a prosthetic limb. What enhances the story is the matter-of-fact presentation: for most people this would be the stuff nightmares are made of, but it’s just another night at La Scala.