Secret Cinema – A New Life Awaits You

by Andy Wicks

Deckard's spinner comes in to land at the LAPD headquarters in "Blade Runner."

Editor’s note: Secret Cinema builds immersive experiences around classic motion pictures, staged at secret urban locations. The following report comes from our London correspondent, Andy Wicks, who recently attended Secret Cinema presents Blade Runner: The Final Cut – A Secret Live Experience. Please be aware that minor spoilers lie ahead. Have a better one.

We met at the top of the escalators in Canning Town Tube Station, London. Two of us had experienced something like this before, while the third was a newbie. We were all excited and slightly apprehensive. My pockets contained some old cassette tapes and photos – my  precious photos. Chris had some seeds and Stephen wore gloves. Why had we brought them? Would we need them for what lay ahead?

All around us, bemused commuters mingled with strangely-garbed people from a dystopian future. There seemed to be two distinct tribes, defined by their clothing and accessories: industrial goggles, masks and transparent plastic coats versus veiled pillbox hats, glamorous makeup and sharp suits. We were part of the former tribe. As we followed the crowd, our surroundings faded into somewhere – somewhen – else  …

Andy Wicks suits up and prepares to enter the future world of "Blade Runner: The Final Cut – A Secret Live Experience," presented by Secret Cinema.

Andy Wicks suits up and prepares to enter the future world of “Blade Runner: The Final Cut – A Secret Live Experience,” presented by Secret Cinema.

“Does anyone have any injuries? Any chicken-heads here?”

The woman asking the questions looked like she could use a bath and some basic first aid for the welts on her face. She was dressed in grubby overalls and sheltered by a torn plastic sheet. I was in the crowd gathered around her, behind a makeshift wire mesh barricade. We were dressed alike – street scum, scavengers – harassed by the cops and looked down upon by the smartly dressed VIPs walking past. We leaned in closer.

“I’m an ant-head,” I said, which seemed to throw her. “Like a chicken-head, only worse.” She nodded like she knew what I meant. Stephen and I exchanged glances. This was close to the source material.

“Are you ready for action?” barked her colleague-in-filth, leading us to the barricade. “Make some noise!” We banged the fence and shouted. The cops turned and rushed us but our scavenger friends got away in the confusion. They’d made it!

“Well done, guys! You helped them get in. You’ll be next!” said our guide, before welcoming more scavengers into our area.

In Secret Cinema's "Blade Runner: The Final Cut – A Secret Live Experience," visitors spend the evening inhabiting Los Angeles, 2019, before experiencing an enhanced screening of the film. Photograph by Luke Dyson lukedyson.photography

In Secret Cinema’s “Blade Runner: The Final Cut – A Secret Live Experience,” visitors spend the evening inhabiting Los Angeles, 2019, before experiencing an enhanced screening of the film. Photograph by Luke Dyson, courtesy of Secret Cinema.

What the hell was going on? Reality had shifted. We had fallen through a crack in time. London, 2018, had gone, replaced by Los Angeles, 2019. We were entering the world of replicants, artificial owls, spinners and Blade Runners. If you’re a regular reader of Cinefex, then there’s a good chance you know what I mean.

The first thing we did was get a drink. Beers and gin. The street vendor was friendly and we were left alone – as long as we steered clear of the cops lurking in dark corners. And so we wandered through the bustling crowds. The setting was pretty authentic: a mix of the ‘noodle bar’ scene at the start of Blade Runner, and the later hunt for Zhora. Think darkness, street food, bicycles, giant neon billboards. For the next hour we explored, sampling the atmosphere, checking out the food. We could see different groups taking part in various stories. We even got caught up in one or two ourselves. Great fun, and some authentic empathy with both the film and the original novel.

Oh, we saw things you people wouldn’t believe. We drank at Taffy’s bar. We bumped into Leon and asked him about his mother. I saw Pris pushing through the crowd and she smiled at me. Hannibal Chew showed us his eyes, but didn’t know answers. The atmosphere was ramping up, something was coming …

Secret Cinema stages its immersive experiences at secret urban locations. Photograph by Camilla Green, courtesy of Secret Cinema.

Secret Cinema stages immersive cinema experiences at secret urban locations. Photograph by Camilla Green, courtesy of Secret Cinema.

When the film started, a cheer rippled through the audience.

Even though I’d seen Blade Runner numerous times before, this viewing was different. Enhanced. Subtle touches of practical lighting and live-action performance brought more life to the story. And the memory implants arising from the evening itself subtly changed the experience.

As the end credits rolled, we returned into the re-creation of Los Angeles, 2019. I had a huge grin on my face, as did most of those around me. Our newbie, Stephen, agreed with me that the evening worked best when it replicated the source material – film and novel. Some of the story elements fitted well, others not so much. He found some of the police oppression, well, oppressive, and some of the American accents were questionable.

Chris too enjoyed the experience, although she would have liked a clearer idea of how to get a bit of interaction going with the actors, and how, when and where we might have used our props. In the weeks leading up to the event, the Secret Cinema website had encouraged us to bring items like cassettes, photos and seeds, which we would be able to exchange for ‘experiences.’ As it turned out, we didn’t get to use them – maybe we just didn’t open the right door. Chris was disappointed at not getting into the LAPD office – something to do with our ticket level, perhaps, or else the actors were having a break.

Quibbles aside, the actors acquitted themselves admirably and blended in with the costumed punters seamlessly. The website’s advice on costume ideas – gloves, masks, raingear – was spot on. Food and drink options were varied, interesting and high quality – I was pleasantly surprised by the tasty vegan burger. And we all enjoyed the illicit hooch from the dodgy street vendor!

Photograph by Luke Dyson and courtesy of Secret Cinema.

Photograph by Luke Dyson and courtesy of Secret Cinema.

Walking back to Canning Town Tube Station with the other lowlifes and VIPs, I sensed the reality of London, 2018, seeping back into my psyche. I could feel the memories of the evening embedding themselves into my consciousness, and I knew that these moments would remain with me, unlike tears in the rain.

“Blade Runner” image copyright © 1982 by The Ladd Company. “Blade Runner” and all related characters and elements © and TM Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. © 2018 Alcon Entertainment. LLC. All rights reserved.