Doc: “It works! Ha ha, IT WORKS! I FINALLY invent something that works!”
Marty: “You bet your ass it works”
…And my, how Secret Cinema’s Back To The Future works. When new versions of a film are released, there’s often talk of watching it “as the film-makers wanted it to be watched”. I think last night’s BTTF love-in surpassed how the film-makers ever thought it could be watched – but it was joyous.
Things got heavy for Secret Cinema last week when time circuits failed them, and they cancelled a week’s worth of shows. This event is ambitious in the extreme, and it looks like they just took too much on. I really hope that if you’re reading this and were one of those unfortunates who just clicked the wrong date when buying your tickets, that you can reschedule. Hill Valley is finally ready: A Nice Place to Live. We happened to book tickets a week in… which miraculously became the opening night.
I’ll keep this spoiler-free (although we’ve all seen the film, so there aren’t really any spoilers. And if you haven’t seen the film, this probably isn’t the way to see it for the first time, as you’ll be largely confused for a few hours). But there are a few pointers, that if you’re going you might like to know to get the best out of the event. Secret Cinema’s missives have been wilfully obtuse, so this may help clear the manure from the windscreen. Conveniently, there are 19.55 points I have to make. (I couldn’t muster 88)…
1. Mill around, embrace the experience. There are genuine shops, recreated experiences, and drama school graduates doing pretty solid accents. You can interact with your favourite characters, be told you’re a slacker, or a butthead… but if you can’t stand that sort of thing, they won’t trouble you if you don’t want it. You can be as involved as you like (well not that involved – you can’t drive the Delorean, no matter how many lines you quote at them). You’ll spot the ‘actors’ – they look like everyone else, except their 50s apparel looks actually good.
2. Soak up the Hill Valley atmos, but before too long make sure one of your group has reserved some turf. My pitch would be near the very front, ideally on the left. Forget about a good distant view to take in the screen. If stuff happens for real up front, you’ll want to be near it. But even if you’re at the back on the right, they’ll make sure they bring the show to you at some point.
3. The list that Secret Cinema have sent out telling you what to bring… (well a list would have been helpful – instead it’s titbits gleaned from clicking on various links they’ve hinted at) …Don’t break your neck trying to find it all. Photo of me as a kid? Photo of favourite movie star? 3D glasses? Homework? None of it used. I’m sure if you end up in the right part of the square at the right time, then it might be, but I didn’t need any of mine.
4. On that, if you want to get really involved, listen out for announcements about reporting to certain shops, school etc if you work there. You can go if you like, and get some interaction with characters, and maybe even get to march in the parade. Just make sure your friend is still reserving that pitch on the grass (front left, remember?)
5. The grass. A blanket etc might be nice, but it’s astroturf not real grass, so you won’t get muddy. Maybe just check the weather forecast before you go (but whatever it says, expect lightning…)
6. 1955 Hill Valley is a delight. But don’t miss out on the secret 1985 space they’ve hidden there. You’ll have to go looking for it.
7. To unparaphrase Huey Lewis, “DO need money, DO need a credit card to ride this train…” Bring cash. There are cashpoints there, but with a queue and possibly a fee. Beer and wine is available at a premium cost. Food is available at very-much-non-1955 prices. You can get a souvenir T-shirt, and most of the shopfronts aren’t just shopfronts: so if you want to have a 1950s haircut, buy some comic books or even a red puffer jacket, you can do so. Just bring oodles of cash. And if someone quotes you the price in $, they mean £- don’t go asking about exchange rates.
8. On the red puffer jacket… You will see a few. The rare folks who’ve come dressed as 1985 Marty McFly, or Doc Brown, stick out like sore thumbs. Your best bet is to make a 1950s effort if you like – or just wear white T-shirt and jeans if you’re a guy. Can’t be bothered? Not a problem. Wear your normal clothes. But if you can make an effort, do.
9. My advice: Eat at 4:30 before you get there. Maybe you’ll want something later too, but expect a loooong queue for any food in there. You want to bring your own? That’s forbidden. Buried in your bag? Well it would have to be right at the bottom. But wouldn’t security check your bags? Yes, a quick look at the top of the bag sure. You’re still thinking of bringing food? Oh well just eat it discreetly. Maybe wait till the film’s about to start and the square’s full of people. Bring in wine or beer at your peril – security will nab it, and drink it, and there’s nothing worse than a drunk security guard.
10. You will have a long time to meander before the film starts. You don’t need to rush around all the sights in an hour. Give yourselves two. Or three…
11. Secret Cinema have been strict in their instructions about leaving phones at home or in the car. Or in your pocket. That’s another option. You can check it in at the gate, but many brought theirs in. If you do though, just keep it in that pocket. Security will spot you if you take it out. Plus as m’good friend Owen pointed out, the advantage of a phones-free event was that people actually, you know, talked.
12. Of course the real reason they don’t want phones is they don’t want cameras. (Although at the end of the night, people were taking their phones out and snapping away.) Well guess what? They also sell cameras on site. For £6 you can buy a disposable one with old skool wind-on function. You can’t check the picture once taken, and there are only 24, but I look forward to seeing how mine turned out, when I get the snaps back from the chemist in 4-6 working months.
13. While it’s delightfully phone-free, it’s impossible to ignore other 21st century invasions. The giant John Lewis sign hanging over Hill Valley Telegraph looks odd, as does the clock tower being situated within eyeline of the Olympic velodrome, but hey, any minute a Delorean’s about to appear, so so what if everything’s ‘outatime’?
14. Make sure you spend at least 10min in Hill Valley High School. And only be in the middle of the school hall if you really know how to dance.
15. When the film does start, you’ll find yourself cheering and booing at things you never thought possible. You’ll know if you’re sitting near hardcore fans, as they’ll try and cheer/boo before everyone else, at things like Huey Lewis’ cameo (in the film – he’s not there live).
16. Then there are the drunk fans. The three-hour build-up means people will be doing some drinking. Pace yourself. The prices will help with that. No one got out of hand that I could see – the worst it got was that the guys near us were drunk enough to be yelling, “Do it Marty!” every time Marty’s mum comes onto him. (But maybe they yell that when watching it sober.)
17. Secret Cinema implied it could go on till 12-12:30am – Our ended by about 11:20, with not much you need to stick around for. So I think that means you have one tube train you can still catch, if you pace it on a bit (it’s 15min back to the station).
18. If you’ve brought a hoverboard, you will get looks. Wrong film.
19… Watch the screen. Enjoy the movie. But take a look around every so often. If the scene on the screen is in Lou’s Diner, maybe dart a glance to Lou’s Diner…
… .55. My biggest tip of all, is that once you’ve enjoyed it, and months have passed and you’re starting to miss it, and it’s approaching August next year… then that would be a great time to look up my forthcoming Edinburgh Festival stand-up show (for 2015), ‘Back To The Futon pt 2’. I will be there, with Delorean, hoverboard and more jigawatts than you can shake a stick at.
And just to prove my credentials, here’s are two short video inserts from the 2007 show I took to Edinburgh festival that was a kind of stand-up tribute…
“Libyans!” – my version of the chase scene… https://vimeo.com/102323127
A flying Delorean that ended the show… https://vimeo.com/102323666
Your friend in time,