Monday, 1 August 2011

The Scala Cinema and All That Jazz

I once slept with a girl in The Scala Cinema – can’t remember what we dozed through, but it was no doubt one of their famous triple bills. It was the kind of place where you could doss, drink, smoke and dream film buffs dreams. It was a dive, a dark space through which the resident cat crept like it was in Jacques Tourneur’s film, making you jump as its tail brushed your leg.  A place of cult films that became a cult in itself once it closed in 1993 for illegally showing ‘A Clockwork Orange’, which is ironic in my case since that was the first truly great film I saw as a young teenager, the first to show me how amazing cinema could be – thanks Stanley. Thanks to Steve Woolley, I could walk down the road from my new London  residence and watch films I had only heard of, as they should be seen. Looking back it seems as if London still had a whiff of former glory days about it in the 80s, a residue of Soho chic complete with dive bars and all that Jazz. Yes, we all like to mythologise our past, but London then made a dream real to me in some aspects – Slim Gaillard at The Wag Club connecting to my Beat obsession, and secret bars that only the In Crowd knew about. The Scala became part of all that, one Jazz all-nighter being my strongest memory of the place. Jazz, all night! DJs in the foyer downstairs and my heroes on screen! Pre-DVD and YouTube, it’s where I got to see classic clips such as the one featuring Billy Holiday, and Coltrane with Miles in that studio. I saw ‘Pull My Daisy’ for the first time there. My friend and I were high, running along the corridor at the back as if possessed by the spirit of Neal Cassady. The place was part of the culture club I joined the day I set my suitcase down in the big bad city. How could I have foreseen that it wouldn’t always be this way? That Soho would change, The Wag would close, and Slim would die along with Jazz clubs where you danced to Blue Note tunes. So The Scala went too. The girl I slept there with also disappeared. The last I saw of her was in a park where we wandered amongst Autumn leaves, and she said ‘This is like a scene out of Brief Encounter’, and we knew what that meant, but like  Laura Jesson and Alec Harvey, we weren’t destined to stay together. I suppose The Scala wasn’t destined to last either. At least an effort’s being made to revive the spirit of the place with a festival in London running from August 13 to October 2. Details are here.

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