A cold dark January night. A fur wrap and veiled hat. A terribly confused London cabbie.
Where was MLF? Following an emergency four-way window conference between Holders of the Sacred Knowledge, held at a red light somewhere in a dark corner in the City of London, no one knew.
Reluctantly cast out from the warmth of the taxi heater, MLF was left to totter in 5"s along the cobblestones down a shadowy alley on the hunt for the elusive - and true to its name - Secret Cinema.
Armed with nothing more than a vintage crocodile clutch, a password for entry and a somewhat mystical address, MLF stumbled across a small group of what appeared to be 1940s military police leading a rather large group of women in glamorous hats, pencil skirts, fox furs and men in trilbys and trenchcoats. Having received earlier in the day a one pager with dress code instructions (think muted fabrics, fitted suits, dramatic make-up (that's all they had to glam it up back then, bless them) and perky little hats - so post-war Europe), this had to be a sure thing...
Entering a dark alleyway with men lurking around in 1940s costumes and looking incredibly shifty, MLF supplied the password and was led to a small group of 4 consisting of sprightly Scottish newly-weds and a very handsome and dapper gay couple from Verona (totally in costume - loved it).
Introductions were made and Leon, a tall French spy-type character encased in wire-rimmed spectacles and a voluminous black trenchcoat, huddled us close altogether and whispered that we were incredibly privileged to be VIPs (we booked the dinner option so presume this was the key qualifier) and to remember this... He then led us towards a very large dilapidated old building, through a bustling open-air cobblestone market square-type scene in the heart of the building, where German signs pointed to 1940-style bars, a post office, delicious-smelling bratwurst stands, even a balloon seller.
Open-facing balconies overlooked the melee in the square, where a whole host of interactions were taking place, from a group of wide white wimple-clad nuns peering over a seemingly dead man on a stretcher, to a drunken brawl between a Russian and a French man, to some definite underhand deals being brokered in shadowy corners.
There was little opportunity to observe further as Leon led the group swiftly through a precarious underground maze, akin to a myriad of sewers with hissing pipes, dripping water and puddles everywhere, not the finest moment for the 5"s...
|Far more sensible shoes for navigating sewers|
After grappling multiple crumbling stairs, ducking a sea of uneven ceilings, Leon finally whisked us to a very dark, damp cellar which had a number of floating bodies wrapped in cellophane hanging from the low ceilings. Interesting...
With only the drips of water from the low-hanging pipes now audible, Leon proceeded to explain that as the group was a privileged one, the meaning of money was critical. The group were then instructed to hold hands and to chant "money" repeatedly. Ignoring the stifled - and at this point, just a tad uneasy - giggling, Leon then demonstrated the secret handshake which the group had to master before venturing back upstairs (this was critical to decipher whether someone was friend or foe, apparently...). MLF struggled somewhat with this wringing wet-fish action (was told too hard, not soft and shaky enough..) but eventually sufficiently mastered it to please our demanding spy.
Surfacing for air and light, Leon led the group up several flights of stairs and storeys, past cavernous rooms decorated to look like 1940s living rooms, kitchens with war-time bare necessities, a French liaison office, a British investigations bureau and even a children's hospital (with a mountain of eerie-looking one-eyed vintage dolls), to a scarlet-coloured draped pop-up looking restaurant where MLF was greeted by a sultry French Marlene Dietrich-look-a-like front-of-house and a flamboyant Viennese version of Rhett Butler Maitre d'. Having gained the chance to see more on the way up, the secret film's theme was starting to emerge...
Given the illustrated German signs, whilst seemingly war-torn and depressed, there was far too much joie de vivre than could possibly be imagined in mainland Germany at the time, therefore it had to be Wien. Secondly, with the number of shady spiv-type characters from Russia, France and the UK, and the general down-at-heel German speaking dramatis personae, it was now clear that the scene was set in a second world war occupied zone where chances were taken, black market extortion and bribes were commonplace and the fragility of the economic and political situation meant that everyone trusted no one and was out for themselves.
Having been led to a large circular communal dining table, decked with wine-bottle candles and next to a very talented Russian cabaret singer and French pianist, MLF was delighted to find dining companions that were fun, looked fabulous (divine black pencil lined stockings and exquisite veiled hats) and enjoyed stimulating conversation. The menu reflected the film epoch with various Central European type choices (think wild rabbit, pork loin, fowl - hunting the land-type food). MLF's particular favourite was the interesting "British" combination for pudding of a rather large whiskey accompanied by Eccles cake.
With the arrival of several French MPs, the table was whisked off to an intimate screening area (one of many different viewing areas) with a mix of red vintage cinema rows and wooden chairs. First up was a completely original, hilarious Flemish Noir thriller-love-triangle short film "The Bloody Olive" which MLF absolutely loved.
Then, the final reveal....Carol Reed's The Third Man by Graham Greene with the fabulous Trevor Howard, Alida Valli, Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten and, not least, the brilliant music score by Anton Karas with the ironic zither. A MLF favourite classic for a cosy winter Sunday afternoon.
|Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) searching for Harry Lime|
|Trevor Howard as the stoic Major Calloway|
|Alida Valli as the mysterious Czech (in The Trench) the Russians are after|
(otherwise known in real life as the Baroness Alida Maria
Laura Altenburger von Marckenstein-Frauenberg of the Holy Roman Empire)
|The devious and very-much-alive Harry Lime|
|That Ferris Wheel|
Given the subliminal theme of the darker side of human nature seeking opportunities, whatever the consequences in desperate times, there are many parallels that can be drawn between post-war Europe and recession-stricken Europe in today's world. However, it is the bittersweet romantic story that is shot so beautifully, in a suspense-fuelled, complicated political and social web, which is set in a yet-to-be-defined world, that creates a compelling experience. With its elaborate production to simulate both social undercurrents in post-war Vienna, and the twists and turns of the story Graham Greene created, the Secret Cinema certainly provides the context for adventure, a fun immersive experience and, perhaps on a more interesting note, reflection.
Secret Cinema runs monthly.
My Luxury Family Highly Recommends