The Scala London Underground Film Map 1916 – 2016, Part 2

London’s radicals, underworlds and counter-cultures over a century of cinema

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Another inspiration for the Scala map was an interview with the French film historian, critic, curator and God Father of the film conservation movement worldwide, Henri Langlois.

In Jacques Richard’s 2004 documentary ‘Henri Langlois: The Phantom of the Cinémathèque‘, answering an interviewer’s questions in front of a screen onto which a Lumière brothers’ film is projected, Langlois says:


My goal was to show shadows of the living coexisting with shadows of the dead, for that’s the essence of cinema. It collapses time and space. It goes beyond the 4th dimension.

[With the silent, black and white projected-image distorted over his caramel cardigan, Langlois turns to face the screen].


Here we see Seville in a fragment of a reframed Lumière film. It’s a procession there… in 1895. But that’s not what counts. What matters is these people are like us and as they walk, we walk along. So the audience is right there with them.


So it’s like early news reporting?


You call it news but it’s much smarter than that. Because news reports are rarely intelligent. They go about filming a head of state, or a horse or whatever, whereas these scenes live and breathe. It’s real life. Which mere news, as we know it, can’t capture.

[Langlois pauses. He gestures with his cigarette to indicate the passage of time as he chooses his next thought… He’s been smoking the whole way through the interview. Did we mention “French”?]


Call it super-duper news reporting.

Only cinema can do this: capture shadows as flickering, fluttering, moving images, moths in an illuminated jar. Chiaroscuro and technicolour ghosts, trapped in amber for eternity.

Not only how people and those moments looked, but people’s emotions in those moments as well.

We are the first generation of human beings who can look back into our great grandparents’ lives. We can see the gaze in people’s eyes a century ago, as they look out at us as well, into an uncertain future.

All the inventions of cinema – the mechanisms for capturing and creating moving images; the habit and cultures of cinema-going; the buildings; the business and marketing of film; the movie magazines, the bodies of film appraisal and criticism; the badges, toys, brochures and song booklets; the film archives, the libraries of DVDs in public buildings, in colleges, in people’s homes; the files on computers and hand held digital devices; the cosplay; the assemblages of images, film scores and lines of dialogue stored in people’s heads; all of this collecting, organising, cherishing of the interconnected past, present and the future – of the personal and the political – is an intentional effort by billions of people. Almost all human beings love cinema.


I love you.


I know.


Yeh dosti hum nahin todenge,
Todenge dam magar tera saath na chodenge

[We will not break this friendship,
I will be by your side to my last breath]

Yeh dosti hum nahin todenge

Conservative by nature, Labour by experience. Play it, Sam. As a cultural expression, as an “Art” form, cinema comprises all the other expressive forms – music, literature, drama, sculpture, visual art, design, costume and fashion – and the Sciences too, especially chemistry and engineering.


These forms of human expression transcend race, religion and nationality. Arguably, the only thing missing from a century or more of movies is a good film about football. (Though there’s a film about a murder during a ‘friendly’ game of footie on the Scala map: 1939’s ‘The Arsenal Stadium Mystery‘).

More importantly, cinema transcends blogs, tweets, ‘news’ oped columns, and opinions, because films are stories not seminars. Opinions are rarely intelligent. Stories live and breathe because they’re about more than two people. (There is more than an author and a reader in a story. There is also – at least one – character). Call stories “super-duper opinions”.


Multi-viewpoint stories are as old as stories themselves but in the age of the mass production, of words and then of moving images, Charles Dickens ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and ‘Great Expectations’ were among the first efforts to depict a city or a community as a complex system of interrelated personalities and emotions. On the Scala map, the David Lean film of ‘Great Expectations‘ – regarded widely as one of the most faithful adaptations of Dickens – is at Chancery Lane. In the 1860 story Pip (played by John Mills in the film) takes up lodgings in Barnard’s Inn, despite being a blacksmith’s apprentice. This reflects the fact that the area around Chancery Lane, while associated with the Inns of Court, was a far more socially fluid area in Dickens’s time than the well-appointed buildings may suggest.

Cinema is a team effort by humanity but the wealth to fund most of these inventions in the second half of the Nineteenth – and early part of the Twentieth – Centuries came from the last proceeds of Victorian Imperialism. The legacy of early cinema technology and culture began in Britain and in France. It was then transferred to and perfected in America, Germany, Argentina, British-run India, the USSR and elsewhere.

This is a mixed inheritance, but the benign aspect of this rolling process of recording people’s lives over one hundred years – the ability that the whole human race now has to travel emotionally in time and space through movies, for moments to exist now and forever – is an inheritance which the peoples of Britain and France should revel in. And they do.

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