Secret Cinema sends film fans Back to the Future in London

LONDON Wed Aug 6, 2014 10:01am EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - Film fans can break through the fourth wall and walk straight into 1955 and Hill Valley, the fictional California town that was the setting for the 1985 blockbuster "Back to the Future".

The latest incarnation of Secret Cinema, which aims to provide a full-scale immersive movie experience, brings to vivid life Robert Zemeckis’ science-fiction comedy.

The first hints at what's in store come during a walk-through of a farm, complete with live sheep and chickens. It's Twin Pines Ranch, where plucky protagonist Marty McFly, portrayed by Michael J. Fox in the film, crash-lands his DeLorean time machine.

Grounds near the Olympic Park in east London boast bungalows, retro billboards, a gas station, diners and a reproduction of the town square that featured in the film. The courthouse doubles as screen when the actual movie is shown.

Blurring the lines between cinema, theater and fancy-dress parties, Secret Cinema invites cinephiles to live inside their favorite films for one night.

"I feel there's a global shift toward doing things differently," creator Fabien Riggall told Reuters.

"It's about creating these real experiences that's mixing different art forms together, where people aren't sure if it's a concert, cinema screening, theater, restaurant or gallery."

Riggall launched Secret Cinema in 2007 with a production of the Gus Van Sant drama "Paranoid Park" for just 400 people in an abandoned tunnel near London Bridge.

Seven years and 23 productions later, international audiences of more than 80,000 people have booked tickets for "Back to the Future," the hit film that spawned two sequels, an animated television series and a cult following.

OPENING NIGHT DELAYED

Secret Cinema's latest production opened on July 31 after a one-week delay sparked an outcry on social media among fans who had flown in from around the world.

In "Back to the Future", actors playing geeks and jocks in 1950s attire mingle with a similarly dressed audience and deliver dialogue from the film in convincing California accents.

The audience gets in on the act, posing for prom photos and hitching rides in vintage cars that circle the event site.

Before the opening, the event was cloaked in mystery. A £52.50 ($88) ticket booked through the Secret Cinema website told the buyer only the identity of a character they should adopt for the night and advice on how to dress.

The location was kept secret until the last minute and attendees were asked to leave their phones at home.

One highlight was when a Marty McFly impersonator was chased through the crowd by his arch-enemy, the bully Biff Tannen, to loud boos from the crowd.

There are plenty of references to the 1980s. Dancers appear in Lycra leotards. A school bus is commandeered and the cast party with the audience to Van Halen's rock anthem "Jump" and Starship's "We Built This City".

McFly takes the stage at the town square and shows off his guitar riffs before the film screening begins.

Less popular with some of the audience were the pricey memorabilia and long queues for food, fun-fair rides and toilets.

Last year, Secret Cinema offered preview screenings of Wes Anderson's 2014 bittersweet comedy "The Grand Budapest Hotel".

Riggall plans to take "Back to the Future" to Los Angeles in 2015 to celebrate the film's 30th anniversary. He is also preparing to launch a "secret city" in the United States, but is giving little away.

"We're not going to reveal what the city is," Riggall said. "I'd like to create some kind of trail of strange happenings in different cities that eventually would be manifested in the secret city."

Secret Cinema's “Back to the Future” runs until August 31.

(Editing by Ayla Jean Yackley and Andrew Roche)

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