An extravagant revival of the all-night movie show feels a bit too civilised and unadventurous for our tastes.
Coming to London’s Picturehouse Central on November 18th 2023 – which astute readers will note is only a few days away (assuming you read this in advance) is The World’s Biggest All Nighter II, which promises no less than seven all-night film screenings across (you guessed it) seven screens, each one themed to offer the maximum choice. Each one runs individually, so what you do if you fancy films showing across the board or – equally as likely – only want to see a couple of movies from Option A, one from Option B and so on… well, I guess you’re going to be disappointed unless the ushers get too exhausted to check individual tickets.
We’re big fans of movie all-nighters here at The Reprobate. At least as an idea. Our days of sitting in a cinema for several sleep-deprived hours are long gone I fear, but even if you are an energetic young person, an ageing speed freak or simply game for an endurance test, many of these might seem a little unadventurous for you.
Let’s start with the most interesting. ‘David Lynch‘s Dream Theatre’ offers up (presumably in order of screening) Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, The Straight Story and Mulholland Drive. One of these films seems an odd choice to include other than as a break from the weirdness that might become a bit overwhelming after three films… but you know, in for a penny, in for a Fire Walk With Me I say.
The odd choices are a bit of a theme for this event. ‘Isn’t It Romantic’ starts well with Bringing Up Baby, Pillow Talk and What’s Up Doc?, but then fizzles dramatically with Sleepless in Seattle and The Big Sick, presumably programmed to allow romantically-inspired couples to slip off home early. ‘John Waters – The Pope of Trash’ opens with the new documentary Scala!!!, which I suppose is vaguely connected to Waters, given that some of his films would sometimes play at the Scala Cinema, which was also the home to London’s most eccentric movie all-nighters, even if much of its legend is now more myth than accuracy. This is followed by Polyester, Female Trouble, Pink Flamingos and… erm… Serial Mom.
There’s the ‘Paul Thomas Anderthon’ with There Will be Blood, Boogie Nights, Punch-Drunk Love and Licorice Pizza, a mixed bag that doesn’t really scream ‘wild all-nighter’ to me, where short, sharp and outrageous is surely the order of the day. However, it sounds wildly preferable to ‘Wright on Wright’, where Edgar Wright will be on hand to introduce his movies, seemingly in order of awfulness given that it starts with the dreadful Last Night in Soho. You might be better off with the ‘Pot Luck’ option, where nothing is announced in advance. However, the promise of nothing but “big screen hits” doesn’t suggest anything adventurous. You might end up having to sit through four Marvel movies.
The best choice for us would be ‘Arrow’s World of Horror’, which has no overriding theme beyond (a) horror and (b) Arrow Video as the UK distributors. With Battle Royale, Tenebrae, Vampyres and Bride of Re-Animator showing, it’s only 2020 South American horror movie The Last Matinee that feels a bit of a question mark, as if something recent had to be crowbarred into almost every screening just to attract the Gen Z audience who never watch anything more than ten years old. Of course, the rest of the films will put them off anyway.
The all-night shows I remember from the Scala, festivals like Shock Around the Clock and Black Sunday and assorted weird events across the UK that I used to attend – or sometimes organise – back in the 1980s and 1990s benefitted from a certain chaotic randomness – even if they were themed, the films chosen tended to be a very mixed bag. These seven options all feel a bit too studied and cautious for me – perhaps the Arrow show comes the closest to having the oddball choices that made those old events so entertaining. As much as I love Lynch and Waters, I’m not sure I need to watch four or five of their films in one session – especially not Lynch’s complex and intense work. I suppose if you think ‘Lynchian’ just means weird as fuck movies to get stoned to, it might work… but no.
That final point reminds me that no screening now will ever match the anarchic chaos of those older shows, where the air might be heavy with the smell of dope and depravity, where people were fucking in the toilets and vomiting in the aisles, where there was a whiff of danger and a ramshackle approach that meant prints would break down, catch fire or simply be replaced with something else at random. The Picturehouse promises “a drink on arrival, free tea and filter coffee all night, plus sweet treats and surprises throughout” and assigned seating, all of which is very civilised – but a world away from desperately trying to stay awake while surrounded by tramps, junkies and assorted miscreants who were only there because it was a cheap place to spend the night.
Nevertheless, for all my cynicism, if you have the energy for it, I have no doubt that this will be a rare treat – a reasonable facsimile of a long-lost world of cult movie madness. Tickets are £35 per screening and can be bought here.
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