Talking Movies

August 10, 2019

Personalities: The IFI

The IFI is about to start serious refurbishments to fix the leaking roof and restore screens 1 and 2 to a level equal to the plush comfort of screen 3. I thought it would be meet to reflect on the personality of the IFI and its three very different screens.

Screen 1 is the biggest screen with 258 seats and I have seen some appropriately big movies on it: Apocalypse Now Redux, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Blade Runner Final Cut, and Vertigo 70mm. Vangelis’ glorious synthesiser score bouncing around that relatively small space made far more of an impact than seeing the same cut of the movie in the cavernous space of the ‘IMAX’ screen in Cineworld. But not all films in screen 1 are as totally packed as the four shows just named were. Paul Fennessy and I once had the wildly disconcerting experience of seeing Olivier Assayas’ Apres Mai in a private screening because nobody else showed up for the matinee, and we greatly enjoyed seeing Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip very unexpectedly on that big screen for the benefit of about a dozen punters.

Screen 2 is far smaller at 106 seats and I have sat thru many press screenings there, and witnessed the rush at Open Days for the good seats: those in the first of the two rows placed above the fray to the right at the very back which thus afford infinite legroom, or the seats in the front row which also afford infinite legroom. Legroom, as you may have divined, is an issue in this screen. It has also had a tendency to emulate the late lamented Screen and get overpoweringly hot when at full capacity. I vividly remember stumbling out of an Open Day screening of 8 ½ feeling dehydrated. But screen 2’s intimate nature has made for bizarre audience interactions; the previously described outraged Bruce Campbell fans at Bubba Ho-Tep and accidental heckler at The Tree of Life.

Screen 3 has but 61 seats, it is the Old Dramsoc of the IFI’s screen, and for the vast majority of the times I have been there it has been half-empty at best. Indeed for a spell there I was plagued with shows where audiences halved within the first hour as people walked out in disgust. My favourite non sequitir being the people who walked out after the long-take of two successive monologues in Queen of Earth; obviously disgusted at Alex Ross Perry’s virtuoso directing. There have been startling exceptions such as uncomfortably crowded shows of Mulholland Drive and The Disaster Artist. There was the unexpected occasion of not seeing Le Doulos at all because there was only one ticket left when we arrived expecting the usual relaxed atmosphere and found a frenzied queue. But usually it’s laidback as Jazz24.

Maybe Jazz24 is the key to how I regard the IFI; the only cinema where it seems right time after time to get a coffee to bring in to the film with me. Perhaps because I’ve seen so many French films there. It’s been suffering thru something of a malaise for the last two years, maybe sprucing the place up will be the key to regaining the half a yard in pace lost to the Lighthouse.

May 2, 2018

IFI Stories

Reading through Talking Movies’ back catalogue after 10 years (sic), and archiving the lost reviews that came before, has set me thinking about memorable cinema trips of the past. So here are two great memories of unexpected audience interventions in screen 2 of the IFI.


In late 2004 I went along with three friends to see Bubba Ho-Tep. Let’s call one of these friends Friedrich Bagel, because that’s who it was. Herr Bagel was, at best, a Bruce Campbell agnostic, and two of us laid on the Bruce hero worship perhaps a bit too thick just before we all walked into the cinema. This led to some unfortunate timing of snippy remarks on the part of Bagel the Bruce agnostic, because as we took our seats he exploded at us, “Just who is this Bruce Campbell character anyway? And how many fans does he have? Just you two?” As we touched down on our seats 4 guys in the row in front of us rocketed up out of their seats. They turned to face us, all wearing Evil Dead t-shirts. Ah… The tallest, looming over the Bruce-baiting Bagel, waved his arms around while booming – “How dare you sir! This is the Church of Bruce! You shall not blaspheme in the Church of Bruce!” Luckily the other guilty party in boosting Bruce beyond Bagel’s breaking point was just as tall and far bigger in build. He stood up and assured the Pastor of the Church of Bruce that our Bruce agnostic did not need to be killed for heresy, but was a potential convert, and needed only this film to push him into Bruce’s arms. Calm returned to the cinema, even if it was a slightly cowed calm on the part of Bagel who now realised Bruce Campbell did indeed have more than just two fans.

2011 found me at one of the last screenings of The Tree of Life in the IFI, in the afternoon with an audience of Malick devotees. Well, maybe they weren’t true devotees. Maybe like me they just really liked Badlands. I’d been trying to concentrate on just luxuriating in the visuals of the creation of the universe montage, rather than thinking too critically about it. The choral soundtrack got louder and louder, and I was thinking about how on earth Terrence Malick was achieving this (was he adding in extra singers for each verse?), when an exasperated older man a few seats down from me suddenly turned to say to his female companion – “Oh, this is just pretentious f****** nonsense! It really is…” Unfortunately life imitates art far more often than art imitates life, and, in a hilarious occurrence straight out of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy film, at that precise and most wonderful moment the soundtrack abruptly went mute. His bellowed whisper bounded around the entire cinema and was heard by everyone. You could feel the audience stiffen in their seats like an electric current had been passed thru all the rows. Some were offended by this philistinism, but many more I think were suddenly roused, out of somnolent acceptance of Malick’s montage as being High Art, back into consciousness and began a critical evaluation of what the man had just said. And do you know what, I swear that I felt most of the audience suddenly silently agree and think, “It is pretentious f****** nonsense, isn’t it?!”

I can’t think of Bubba Ho-Tep or The Tree of Life to this day without remembering the odd way I saw them in the IFI.

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