Critics of Secret Cinema Aren't Real Film Fans

Oh, how easy it would be to write a deliberately provocative click-bait article based on that title! How simple to appeal to all the Star Wars fanatics - many of whom have shelled out enough money over the years for cinema events, home media releases and merchandise - and rile the po-faced complainers in the same breath. Wouldn't that be fun?

Well, no, it wouldn't. So I'm not going to do it.

When the tickets for Secret Cinema's 2015 event - screenings of The Empire Strikes Back throughout the summer - went on sale last week, for every excited tweet bragging about a successful purchase there was a Newtonian counterpart baulking at the £75 price tag (plus fees).

On first glance, you can sympathise with the complaints. Is it really worth paying such a sum to be herded like cattle into some mystery venue; steered from one (lovingly recreated!) feature to the next where, most likely, the outlay of yet more cash will be encouraged? Can pricing out genuine fans in favour of a wealthier subset be justified?

I won't deny: the negative opinions left me wondering whether I should be shelling out for a ticket. I'm not a die-hard Star Wars fan; I can give or take the fact that there's a new one coming out at Christmas. So what kind of over-privileged middle-class type does it make me when I'm prepared to jump on board the hype train?

The more I thought about it, though, the more that £75 (plus fees) seemed to represent reasonable value. After all, we're talking about a city where, three years ago, you could pay £120 to watch two hours of Olympic trampolining from the best seats. However good the atmosphere might have been, I doubt the audience were (ahem) bouncing for that one.

Maybe comparing a fortnight-long sporting festival to a four month run of film screenings is unfair, so let me go to the other extreme. Last year I watched The Mousetrap - in it's 62nd year of production - at St. Martin's Theatre. For the experience of a poor view in the Upper Circle I paid between £20 and £30; I could have paid £65 to sit in the stalls.

Yes, I had a choice of seats - as did people attending the Olympic Games - but would Secret Cinema have been justified in setting tiered prices? No, they'd have been accused of elitism and of giving the best experience to the wealthy few. Not entirely unlike modern football, which is rapidly forgetting its working class roots, or any number of big music concerts.

Instead of Star Wars I could have gone to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Any idea how much a single day ticket costs? Try £155, for which cost you need to arrive at 6am to claim your preferred vantage point because the ticket doesn't entitle you to a seat. About as many of my friends are Formula 1 fans as are Star Wars fans, but I'd have had a hard time convincing them that the Grand Prix was worth joining me for.

As it is, eight of us are going to Secret Cinema. Because it's an event; a fresh take on something that is ingrained in popular culture. None of us have ever thought to arrange a group viewing of all the films, but the idea of experiencing a large scale celebration of something that these days often feels taken for granted is ... well, it's exciting!

Simple as that. The motivation for its conception could be looked at as a cynical exploitation of the impending Episode VII, but having seen the effort that went into last year's Back to the Future set up (first week problems notwithstanding) and read the positive comments of people who attended, there's no reason not to think that Empire won't be worth every penny.

And if you disagree then, so what? Maybe you'd pay £80 for something that I can't imagine being worth that money. You say tomato, etc.

It's easy to get worked up about the cost issue and I understand why people do. I am the first to admit that I'm fortunate to be able to commit money to what will essentially be an afternoon of dressing up with my friends. But amid all the knee-jerk social media 'commentary', lets give credit to the Prince Charles Cinema, just off Leicester Square.

At the same time as Secret Cinema tickets became available, the PCC put on sale a screening of Spaceballs to coincide with Empire's first night. The cost? 75p. A sense of humour like that is something we could all do well to adopt. In that light - and based on me feeling the need to write this post - perhaps I should have called it, 'Film Fans Need to Get a Sense of Humour'!

A Tour of the Indies cover.jpg

If you enjoyed this blog post ...

... then you might like the tale of my journey around some of the UK's finest indie cinemas (and a few further afield). A Tour of the Indies: A Creative Quest for the UK's Best Cinema's ... and Cake has this dedicated page where you can read more.